Steinfeld’s Creating Meaning of Meaninglessness

Steinfeld’s poems make us question the absurdity of our efforts to make meaning, and at the same time, are a testament to the imperative to keep trying

 

Having a goal and then following through on it with consistency and commitment–that’s the way we achieve things of significance in our lives. But what if the things we are achieving have little or no significance? Can we still create meaning out of meaninglessness? That poignant question underlies JJ Steinfeld’s latest volume of poetry, Absurdity, Woe is Me, Glory Be: One Hundred Poems Hovering Between the Absurd and the Existential.

Steinfeld’s volume seems to come at a crucial time when technology, perhaps more now than ever before, forces this question into the forefront. Take, for instance, this new app called “1 Second Everyday.” On your phone, you video record one second of your day, and at the end of the year, the app puts them all together in a six-minute video of your year in retrospect.

This app seems to come from the same place as Steinfeld in his poem, “A Lifetime’s Lost and Found:”

 

Everyone, especially late in life,
should be able to view
all that was lost in a life

all that was found in a life . . .

And when you line up all those lost items, you should find something of meaning, right?

While the app is in earnest, Steinfeld is more skeptical. In his poem, “Your Pencil Shaking Like a Tree Branch in a Movie Storm,” the poet offers us a moment to contemplate how difficult it is to “rework a life like a too sparse story.” Turns out, it’s not so easy to make something significant out of haphazard bits and pieces, Steinfeld seems to suggest:

maybe you, pencil in hand,
should have paid more attention
in all those English classes
when the great works of literature
were being discussed.

Lucky for us, Steinfeld’s poetry offers an alternative path. His poems make us question the absurdity of our efforts to make meaning, and at the same time, are a testament to the imperative to keep trying despite the odds.

Absurdity, Woe is Me, Glory Be: One Hundred Poems Hovering Between the Absurd and the Existential
JJ Steinfeld
Guernica Editions

Written By

Elizabeth Johnston’s video poem, Keepsake, was shortlisted in two film festival competitions, and her poetry has also appeared in the anthology, A Room at the Heart of Things. She received a Canada Council grant to write her non-fiction book, No Small Potatoes, and currently teaches at Concordia University.

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