24 March 2020
Where Does Poetry Come From?
Where Does Poetry Come From?
This is my reflection on a question I was asked recently
for National Poetry Month.
I use the word “art,” interchangeably with “poem/poetry.” This essay reveals my core belief and my personal experiences over nearly five decades of writing and lecturing in the art And poetry field. My response reflects my worldview as an Academic Scholar, Judeo-Christian believer, and visual thinker.
My experience is that there is no difference between them. My intention, process, and finished product are the same.
The closest occupation that I connect with is a truck driver. We do the same job. We carry something from one location to another. It is as simple as that. We are kindred spirits. The truck driver travels to a place to pick up a load, puts it onto her truck, and drives it to a new location where it will be unloaded. Her job is completed when she drives off to the next area, where a new load is waiting to be put onto her truck and carried to another site. Her job is physical, and she must use her entire body in the process. The job description requires a woman who has the capabilities to use the full range of possibilities she encounters in a day’s work.
Her occupation requires that she have parallel skills in physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual segments. She must be complete and equally engaged and balanced with each part working collectively and concurrently with the others.
As a visual artist and writer,
I am gathering information through the use of my entire body. I gather, sort, change, alter, and blend each ingredient that will become the load I will eventually deliver to the next location. The products in the bundle I leave behind are the footprints in the sand. These tracks are evidence of my journey through this place. The process itself is the art. What is deposited at the new location is not the art, but only the evidence of the process that was my job. Creation is the process, the actual painting, not the product.
Like all good truck drivers, each time I am delivering the load to its location, I am longing for moving on to the next place with a new amount to carry. It is the gathering and the making that is at the root of my work. This is where my heart is – in the making. I am a Maker.
The Maker longs to make. It is a physical act, the making.
With each delivery of the product, the Maker begins the process all over again. I live to make, to engage in the steps of manufacturing. This is the endless journey I embrace.
“I make, therefore, I am.” This is my core belief.
I work on multiple projects at all times. I have to focus on one and stay with it for a time. Each day, I find the focus for that day. The beauty of this method is that I often get a couple of creations completed simultaneously.
I’ve been entirely focused on writing and re-writing a collection of haiku poems. I will most likely spend a few weeks with my focus on writing haiku as well as tanka. The sensibilities of the process are similar, so I can work back and forth between the two genres. One usually leads to another in the process. I make a collection of paintings to appear in a gallery exhibition. I am mindful it is a collection – aka, a body of work.
This one thing is what separates a professional from an amateur. The professional always works with the end result in mind – the work will be viewed as part of a whole. The rookie will focus on only one product – with no intention of the work-in-progress being displayed or read within the context of a group of pictures or writings – in a collection. For me, I learned many years ago that my work is set into a historical context. It is part of a collective memory of the entire scope of humanity. It is of value as part of a significant story – like the telling of stories by a Griot, in an African village. The Griot holds the collective memories that will be passed down to future generations. I see myself as a collector of memories, and this is what I give to the world.
My keen ability to concentrate on minute details is because I do not think in words at all – I believe totally in pictures. I am a visual learner and a visual thinker. Words are a left-brain activity, and my work manifests through my use of the entire body.
If someone comes into my office or studio when I am working, I am so engaged in non-verbal work that it is often tough for me to switch over to be able to speak to them in words.
Words are the last thing to enter my mind. I have to struggle to get to the most times. There is lag-time for me to switch my brain into only using the logic and fragment of the left side.
I am very aware that I live in 2 worlds, and I have to be able to move back and forth between the 2 planets, by intention. This is precisely why most artists are non-verbal – and they must learn to be able to transverse 2 entirely different worlds to be successful. Most artists never do that, however. I am fortunate that I had a professor (Akiko Kotani) who clearly understands this about artists – and she taught me this early on in my career.
So the product people see in my books and articles are never created through words. Initially- words are the tracks I’ve left behind in the creative process. They are never the ARTWORK itself, but they are what remains of the journey – the traces left behind – the evidence of the art-making but never the art itself. I can explain it in this way – when anyone stands in a gallery looking at my art, they do not see the actual painting – but they are looking at what was left behind as I worked through the process of making. For my poems, it is the same. What you see on the page are impressions I left behind from my journey or my pilgrimage of making. They are the evidence that I was there in the past. I have left them back as I moved on to find the information to begin again.
This is why, for me, a work of art or a poem is precisely the same thing – the real art happened in the process, and it is not what is on the page or the canvas.
This is a perfect time for me to say that the physical space we are observing right now because of the viral infections has not altered my life much. I am an introvert, as are nearly all Virgo people. I love being alone, single days with my books and art, and just thinking about something for long periods. I believe with my entire body, of course.
I like having no schedule, no time management, no goals, or urgent matters for the day.
I am living as I did in the summertime during all the years of my teaching career. When the classes were over at the end of each semester, I removed my watch. I wanted to live, for a while, with no clock and no schedule for the day. I returned to who I am by nature, and that is the real person behind the artworks and writings that the world sees. I am, necessarily, a truck driver, delivering my loads to the final gallery or page in a book. I am a blue-collar worker who earns my living through the use of my body.
I am reading the most beautiful book right now – Dr. Temple Grandin, Animals in Translation. Have you read this? It gives such great new insight into animal behavior as well as human behavior. As I see people going berserk over a roll of TP or other resources, I can clearly see what she said about the group that humans would be classified in – predators. The predator core of a human is really coming out of seclusion these days – everywhere. I particularly love her discussions about the vast difference in creating between a visual thinker and a verbal thinker. Grandin gives excellent examples of studies and observations in her writing – I want to read more of her work. She is the perfect blend of science and liberal arts, which is so rare.
The second part of this question on how I work is to provide an example of a favorite writer’s work.
Immediately, my thoughts jumped to “Danse Rousse” by William Carlos Williams. I’ve done years of academic writings and studies of his poetry, and this poem gives a good insight into his own use of the body in creativity. In this poem, we can see the poet in solitude in his private home – and the way he celebrates life. Isn’t this magnificent!
You can link to this poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46483/danse-russe
William Carlos Williams, “Danse Russe” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I, 1909-1939, edited by Christopher MacGowan. Copyright 1938, 1944, 1945 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Visit the artist, Akiko Kotani at:
Article courtesy of Lynda McKinney Lambert. March 24 2020.
Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.
Animals in Translation_ Dr. Temple Grandin at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Animals-Translation-Mysteries-Autism-Behavior/dp/B00C9QZ9HC/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=Temple+Grandin&qid=1585071487&s=books&sr=1-4
“Danse Russe” is French for “Russian Dance”