Can poetry exist without language?

Since we’ve been discussing poetry as it relates to the physical image, I’ve been considering the existence of poetry without language. After all, it seems that art in itself is poetry, as is photography. A new kind of book has emerged in contemporary literature, where we have, in a way, returned to childhood—a book accompanied by a few lines or a caption and then an image, sometimes lacking direct relation to the words, but more often than not establishing some other kind of relation through mood, composition, etc.

So, it is very clear that poetry CAN exist without language, that is when we are speaking about the very broad definition of it, where almost all things complex with some sort of sense become a poem. The song, the photograph, the drawing, the tradition, the life of a person, science, etc. But then, what about us poets of language? Do we become useless? Since the whole world can practice something that we hold as dearly as we do with just as much precision through a different form, does that require us to step OUTSIDE of language and, as students of the poem, take up multiple forms, so that we may truly master the ‘poem’?

I’m not sure. Maybe, we can consider the traditional form of the poem. How it began, how it evolved. It’s almost like my desire to invent the typewriter because it facilitated the storage of knowledge, the creation of the computer, and thus other complex methods that exist because of our ability to work at a faster pace than before. The traditional form of the poem informs the other forms of poetry that exist outside of language. And art informs the poem, photography informs both, and so each form becomes the other. This confuses me. Is the word poem then supposed to be more narrow than we are considering it to be? The word poem is used to explain the creative use of language to create a specific form on the page or when spoken, and the word art is used to describe the creative use of drawing or other methods to bring about an image or form on a canvas, etc. With these words, poetry, art and photography, are we describing the same thing in different forms? In other words, are these words a substitute for something larger, intangible and then presented through different forms?  I don’t know, what do you think? As you can see, this question is driving me a little nuts.

Honey, I Love

Although it’s probably less sophisticated than the kinds of texts we usually talk about in this class,  I’ve been thinking about doing a blog post on children’s poetry for a while, so when I got Eloise Greenfield’s 1978 book of children’s poems Honey, I Love and other love poems in the mail from my mom it seemed like a sign. Honey, I Love was one of the first books of poetry we read in my first grade class, so I wanted to see if I could approach it from a new perspective beyond simple enjoyment, thirteen years later. The book is a collection of sixteen poems having to do mostly with the love the speaker, a young black girl growing up in the 70s, has for her family and friends, and some of her meditations on travel and poetry.  Most of the poems span a page or two and are spoken in a declarative tone, the way little kids talk, so as I went through Honey, I Love
I took note of “Aunt Roberta,” one of the shortest poems in the collection and the only one phrased entirely as a question.

What do people think about
When they sit and dream
All wrapped up in quiet
and old sweaters
And don’t even hear me ’til I
Slam the door?

Although audience is something we’ve all been told to keep in mind, I’m not sure how consciously I make an effort to appeal to a certain audience when I write. “Aunt Roberta” seems to me to have been developed with an audience very much in mind — the language and line breaks would be easily understandable to a child reader. At the same time, though, the poem doesn’t seem childish, and there does appear to be method in how the line breaks are utilized: “Slam the door” being on its own line, for instance, emphasizes the silence broken and recalls the sounds itself. The poem as a whole being phrased as question I find interesting, not only  contextually with its being the only such piece in the collection, but for how well it creates a realistic narrative voice in replicating the sort of question that a child might ask. The narrator draws no conclusions, leaving the interpretation of meaning entirely up to the reader, and doesn’t even use specific names (Aunt Roberta only being named in the title), which invites the reader to project their own experience into the question asked of them.

The Writer vs. The Actress

My best friend and I have grown up in artistic households. Both of our mothers are writers, painters, and musicians, and encouraged the two of us to follow in their paths. Today, my friend is an actress and a painter, and I am a writer and an artist. This past summer, we talked about the different forms of art we find ourselves drawn to–her, preforming, acting, and abstract paintings, me, writing and surrealist ink/charcoal drawings–and where we gathered inspiration for our separate mediums. My friend talked about observation of other people’s actions. She can mimic the speech patterns of someone after speaking to them for a few minutes, she can master their small tics, the gestures they make with their hands while they talk. She can mimic what they do, but does not always think of why they may act in a certain way. At least not to the extent that a writer would. She described writers as being more internal, going out of their way ton understand both their own feelings and the feelings of others, and allowing that to be the guiding force in both the thoughts and actions of their characters. She went on to make this analogy:  a writer is a self-sufficient island, while an actor requires attention and aid from the outside world. (It’s been a few months, so I may be misquoting her)

I’m not sure if I agree with this, so I’m taking it to this blog to see what other’s think.

The Art Assignment

Given that we talked about ekphrasis last week, I wanted to suggest this youtube channel, “The Art Assignment,” to everyone on this blog. “The Art Assignment” is a youtube channel founded by PBS and hosted by contemporary art curator of the Indianapolis museum (2007-2013), Sarah Green, that interviews contemporary artists about their work. Green will then provide some background art history on a topic related to the one the artist is talking about. The neatest thing about this channel, though, is that the artists create an assignment  (does the channel name make sense now?) for the viewers. There’s an interactive community around this channel as well, because viewers will take on these assignments, submit them to the art assignment social media accounts, and then the channel makes compilation videos from some of the submissions.

The channel also does interesting work in challenging it’s viewers’ perception of art. The first video uploaded to the channel was about an art project where two people would measure the distance between them and find the exact middle point. Then they would both travel (and document their traveling) to that point. There are also videos about art that we could “conventional.” It’s a nice mix.

I also feel like this could be a good resource for us poets, because it can get us thinking about art in a dynamic (rather than static) sort of way.  It also allows us prompts that we could use to do the art assignments or for our writing. I’d highly recommend checking out the channel, and, specifically, the video “Episode 9: Off,” which is a personal favorite of mine.


The poem, alive

These past few weeks, I’ve been feeling poetry in a different way. Maybe it’s workshop, maybe it’s because of the literary organizations that I’ve decided to join, maybe it’s something happening to me neurologically that I could not pinpoint without an MRI. Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever it is, it is a marked point in a lifetime when one starts to think in poetry, feel in poetry, and move in poetry. No, I am not a walking precocious self-proclaimed poetry prophet, but I’m definitely a little different. It happens in moments rather than states. It’s a flitting feeling. But it’s pretty rad when it happens.

It’s all in the interaction. This past Friday I had the awesome privilege of helping out Guerrilla in the set up of their poetry installment in the Rochester Fringe Festival. On a cold and rainy afternoon (when I very conveniently decided to wear Birkenstock sandals) I helped haul 20-pound hand-painted magnetic boards and place laminated anonymous poems onto wet tables with unyeilding sticky tack while questioning the well-being of my bare toes and watching strangers fiddle with my words.

There’s something so present about moving actual words around on a board, wiping off the water from laminated sheets of poems, and watching the ink drip from stanzas as the unlamented counterparts flap on the fences of the Spiegel Garden. People say that poetry is physical, but right there poetry was truly PHYSICAL. Poetry was transforming, both from natural and human interactions. Lines were changing and living in different universes, but the individual words of the poem rang with the same truth, as if the words had a character of their own, unchangeable by the changing of order.


Bridge to Poetry

This post is me trying to figure out where the disconnect between me and poetry is. Or where the connection is, because there must be one…right?

I appreciate how creative and aesthetic poetry can be, but so far not much poetry has fed my soul. I like reading things I gain a deep understanding of, whether the understanding is more on an intellectual, emotional or spiritual level. Just as long as I feel changed or feel like I gained something after reading, I am usually satisfied. However, poetry to me often feels like it’s hiding something rather than revealing something. Perhaps the action of hiding itself reveals something, but so much seems hidden from me that it frustrates me.

The art of revealing more through less – now that I think about it, that is actually something truly admirable. Too often, perhaps, I scramble to find as many words as I can to accurately describe the exact message I want to convey. When I write a poem, I often feel as if I need to deliberately hide something I want to express, or express it in a less complete way. However, I know that good poetry expresses an image/images, and part of the beauty is how different people could interpret these images in so many unique ways, or even get different images from the same poem – if a picture is worth a thousand words, than a good poem could possibly be worth a million words. Instead of thinking of a message I want to convey before I sit down to write a poem, perhaps I should just start visualizing images and writing them down, and then discover the meaning behind the images and connect them in a way that makes sense to me.

Okay. I think I feel a bit less intimidated by having to write poems after breaking down a possible process of writing it – see the images, write down the images, connect the images.

Transcending and learning patience

I am now in a place where I am wondering how I could explore my identity through poetry while at the same time make sure that readers are able to determine the underlying message about the bigger issues happening in the world in regards to human expression and current events. This brings me to the question, how can I weave my exploration of self, philosophy, and the things I learn from observing the world around me, without losing my reader in musings about my personal life and abstractions?

This past year I have felt a mental block whenever I write. When I was younger, I would put my pen to paper and the words would flow right out. But now, I am understanding that what I previously thought was a mental block is actually an awareness that my poetry is no longer just for me, and because of that I am more aware and more careful about what I write on the page. That means that my poems require more time, more research and more introspection on my behalf.

What I am struggling with right now, and I am hoping is not a decision I have to make any time soon is choosing a subject to dedicate my poems to outside of myself. The work I have to do is implement both my personal perspective, while informing the reader about the world around them in order to inspire, reveal, or bring about change. While my personal emotions and recollections can be inspiring to some by themselves, I am beginning to think that it isn’t exactly fair to just have someone read a poem for the sake of feeling like my personal thoughts are important enough to read about. While I thought once upon a time that this kind of poetry was about connectedness and bringing someone into my own world or creating empathy, the question I am currently struggling with is, what makes my world worth stepping into?

Throughout my time as a poet, I have lacked a sort of focus. I have always tried to squeeze all my ideas onto a single poem and I have tried to rush the process. What time has taught me is that anything good takes patience, it cannot be done impatiently. There is nothing really more important waiting for you than the product that will come out of taking your time with something.

A Train of Thought

For the past few months, I’ve been struggling with the topics in my writing which my brain has been leading me to (if that made any sense at all). I feel I write too much about specific aspects of my life that, at this point, I’d rather put to rest.

Evidently, this is where my mind and I disagree. Because even when I try to write about other topics, I can’t help but return to the older topics, and I feel as though I am writing the same story from different angels: kid leads shitty life because of x, y, and z, grow up to be a messed up adult dealing with a, b, and c… It’s actually kind of annoying.

The idea of seeing things with one eye that we do not see with the second resonated with me. No, I doubt the writer was referring to anything PTSD/trauma related… but I liked the idea anyway, and am hijacking it for the sake of this post.

I’ve worked with both foster kids and adult-aged drug addicts via internships, and something I’ve noticed in both groups is they each have dealt with trauma through their lives. The kids (aging anywhere between infants to ~21) generally don’t register their own trauma. They may talk about it, but it’s like they’re just stringing words together that they’ve heard without understanding. This is how trauma is seen in the eyes of children. The adults have a greater understanding of whatever trauma they faced as adults. Even if they can’t put words to what happened, you can tell that they–through their older eyes–have a clearer picture of what happened.

And this is where writing about trauma get difficult. Trying to write from both eyes, the younger and the older. Viewing the image from the younger, but analyzing with the older.

I have no idea where I’m going with this. There’s my train of thought.

Where Do You Get Your Inspiration From?

Hey friends,

I’ve been considering lately the different places from which we, as artists, draw our inspiration from, mainly for the purpose of borrowing ideas for potential muses from other artists. So what inspires or informs upon your writing or other creative endeavors? For me, I love writing when I’m out in nature, although I haven’t gone out in a long time. The writing itself, however, is often prompted from snippets of conversation I hear or some interesting word or phrase I read. I usually can’t write with music on, but I love looking up lyrics or listening to other poets and mimicking their styles.

So, I’ll admit, I have an ulterior motive for making this blog post. I’m also writing another blog post for another class (Editing & Production/Gandy Dancer) and I need your help! If you’re willing for your response to be reproduced on the Gandy Dancer site, please indicate so somewhere in your reply so that we can spread the inspiration! If not, then no worries, I’m still curious for my own personal sake.


Scattering the Pieces of an Image

One thing I struggle with in my poems is to have a sense of urgency to one image – or have an image that tells a story and gets across one very specific feeling. In a lot of the things I write, one specific image isn’t central even when I want it to be, or the wordiness of the rest of the poem overshadows the images themselves.

Something my friend and fellow poet Evan suggested during a workshop was to read David Roderick’s collection The Americans—and he specifically pointed out this short poem in the collection:

Dear Suburb,

Just once I’d like to come home
to find that you’ve scattered the pieces
of a saxophone all over my bed.

Looking at the pieces of the poem, it’s a bunch of different things – a letter to a suburb, a claim of frustration, the want for destruction, something about music, etc. But all together, in the one short stanza, it becomes something else entirely. I’ve been trying to emulate this kind of thing in my own poetry, but can never quite get it—I’m historically terrible at writing very short poems and being able to make them meaningful, but referencing Roderick’s writing has helped me start to assess the necessary pieces needed to make the images pop. What is it about those individual parts that, when read as one, make them transcend into a very specific emotion? Why the saxophone specifically? How would the image have changed if it had been a violin scattered on the bed? Did he stress about the kind of instrument for as long as I’ve thought about certain words in my poems?

This poem, like the ones I’ve been struggling through in my writing, exists in a series of poems titled Dear Suburb, as well as in the collection itself, which has made me start to wonder if images change when presented alongside other poems. If we had read Pound’s Metro Station immediately after reading Whitman’s Song of Myself, would Pound’s image have become something different, or is the image such a perfect objective correlative that the feeling it represents remains the same regardless of the environment? Is that something we should strive for our images to be, something that can remain the same regardless of what happens around it?

I’ve been muddling through all of these questions in the past couple weeks (and months, even) as I’ve examined the central images in my poem, or the lack thereof. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on whether it’s helpful to break the image down into pieces, or if our interpretations of image based poems change depending on their surroundings!