Monday, June 29, 2009

Footnotes: Being Willing to Leave Stuff Out, or It's Just Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

Looking at my previous two entries criticizing the use of footnotes: I'm not suggesting that providing information is a bad thing. I am, however, saying that providing information that is of no value to the reader is...of no value. Also, providing information without explaining in terms that are meaningful to the reader...isn't meaningful (the Latin used in my previous blog isn't helpful to me, for instance, and I suspect that I'm a typical reader in that respect). For Sunflower Splendor, The editors' time would have been better spent either in omitting these footnotes (making room for more poems) or in explaining what the words meant. The footnote I used in my my first blog, for instance, could have been more usefully defined as "The near by Coal Valley Pool" or "The distant Coal Valley Pool, reached only by those willing to risk the climb to the mountain."

I often have clients who suggest that putting in extra information, even if most readers don't want it, is still a good thing. The premise is "They can always ignore it." Of course, the reader can't. For any strategy in reading these poems (first reading the footnotes and then the poem, reading the poem and then the footnotes, reading the footnotes as they appear in the poem) the extra information actually interferes with my ability to enjoy the poem (especially for the last strategy). Have you ever put together a jigsaw? Would you regard it as a benefit if the manufacturer threw in 12 extra pieces from some other jigsaw puzzle--not enough to do anything with, just enough to "give you a feel for it"?

If you tell a joke, who gets to decide if it's funny? You or the listener? Who gets to decide if your material is providing value? You or your reader? If it's the reader then you need to be willing to bow to their judgment and omit what has no value to them.

And, by the way, for all my whining about footnotes, I really enjoyed Sunflower Splendor. An equivalent volume of Japanese poetry is From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry which I liked even better.

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