Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Poetically Speaking: Sharing the Creative Process

I've recently finished reading _God Is at Eye Level_ by Jan Phillips. While the book was inspiring overall, from both the perspectives of my artistic nature and my spiritual nature, I was really affected by what she had to say in Chapter 15: Through the Lens and Beyond. In this chapter, she talks about the unwritten rule of photography exhibits that it isn't appropriate to include words with photographs. She discovered when working in a framing shop that people asked her questions about her photos, and she would launch into descriptive tales of how she came to take the pictures, what sort of interactions she had with folks, etc. I, myself, thought about sharing my own history of pictures with others and how they recalled for me long stories of relationships. She likened this to the poet and poetry, and the typical mode that poets have of sharing the process of the poems read aloud.

This caused me to think about my own poetry-reading experience. During a time in my life when I was feeling particularly isolated, I was a member of a poetry group that met on a weekly basis and who had regular performances. One of the 'rules' of performing was that description of process was to be kept to a minimum, because--well, I was just going to put some rationale for this here, but I honestly don't know why. I do know that at the time, I felt isolated from my audience time and time again. In looking back, I am intrigued, because we shared process and background when discussing the poems as a group, but that kind of background was frowned upon for performances. There was always a lot of enthusiasm when discussing form, where the ideas came from, etc. I think about my books (see earlier posts from 2007) Panmixia and Resipiscent and how excited I am about where the ideas came about for the pieces that make up those collections. And, I remember how excited members of the group were about the collections, particularly when they knew how intricately thought-out each poem was.

Here it is: I belong to A Word A Day, who sends me a new word every weekday along with its definition, some history and use in a sentence, typically from some published writing. Well, I had hundreds of words that I particularly liked the sound of saved in archive, and I wanted something to do with the words poetry-wise. So, I devised a plan to use the words as the titles of the poems, with their definitions as subtitles. Then, I decided that the poems would be ABCDErian poems, but I didn't want them to all start the same, so each poem starts with the letter that follows the first letter of the title word and ends with the letter that starts the poem's title. In case that wasn't enough, I decided that I would have one poem for each letter of the alphabet, and the first poem of the book would have a title that started with the letter following the first letter of the title of the book, which I also took from one of my archived words, with a definition sub-title on the cover, as well. What I particularly love about these two collections is that they chronicle a healing process at the time. There's no order to that process, as the poems weren't written in a particular order--they were written according to whim, really--I chose a word I liked and wrote a poem in the form. There are a few recurring characters--like the zebra. Honestly, I did this because I didn't want to have to spend a lot of time trying to come up with new and creative ways to experience the "z" in every poem, so I decided that the zebra would be an all-knowing, all-loving and beloved character. I think it works out pretty nicely, and doesn't really feel over-the-top. Some people may disagree about that, but if the zebra is over-the-top, I'm okay with that, too.

Whew! It felt good to share that! Especially since it's about a dual-collection of poetry that I'm proud of! I think art is about sharing and connecting to others. So much about human existence is about connection--Alfred Adler had a lot to say about that--and art and poetry definitely exist to reinforce that. I think about the connections I've made with people through books that I've read, particularly when I've contacted the writers after reading the books, but also in sharing certain books with friends and family--both fiction and non-fiction. That's why artists share their voices. Art is intimate, photography is intimate, poetry is intimate. There's no way to leave oneself out of any media. We are only able to see the world through our own experience, and therefore cannot hide that experience when trying to create art. Even the items I knit are indicative of my own personality, from the patterns I choose (and the changes I make to them) to the colors I choose. Jan Phillips says that looking at a series of pictures that I take can give you a look into me that you wouldn't necessarily find in anything I tell you. That's also true of my poetry. If I'm bitter, my poetry is, too. If I'm happy, angry, sad, etc., it's all there. I love my poetry for the reflection of my experiences that it is. I think about the time that I was feeling isolated, and I suspect that if I looked back at my poetry, I would find a sense of that there, too.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before how it's taken till relatively recently for me to admit to myself that I'm an artist. I like that fact about me. It allows me to experience the world a little differently than I would otherwise.

Thanks for reading!