Friday, January 30, 2009

Poet + Museum = Poem

(image: interior of Hagia Sophia)

I did write a post concerning "homeopathic treatments for writer's block" once, but otherwise I don't recall posting anything like "an English assignment," chiefly because it seems like such a nerdy, English-professory, assignmentish thing to do.

However, one of the few readers of this blog recently asked, "Where do you find your creativity?" and a) I haven't answered that question, b) I'm not sure how to answer it, but c) one way to answer it is very specifically: by suggesting a task for anyone (including oneself), any poet, in the unlikely event that person needs a task to spark the writing or the "creativity."

Before I give the task, I should probably answer the question more generally.
I like how the question is phrased, first of all--using "where" as oppposed to "how." Poets or any artists can find stuff (now there's a precise term) to interest them anywhere. So I guess one answer to the question is, "Almost everywhere." Places, situations, language (especially odd overheard phrases), conditions, new places, familiar places, strange places, work-spaces, and so on.

Another answer is that I don't feel especially more creative than other people. I think I've always just liked to write, especially poetry, and if you enjoy "doing" some kind of art, then the creativity usually arrives in a steady flow, a trickle, at least. I don't enjoy writing fiction nearly as much as poetry, so when I'm writing that, I'm aware that sometimes the creativity is running a bit low. So I guess the answer is that one finds the creativity in the making itself.

Now that that paragraph is, thankfully, done with, here is an assignment I give poetry classes. It entails visiting a gallery or a museum, although one could just as easily pick up an art- or photograph-book of some kind and go from there.

But as I almost suggested earlier, posting an "assignment" may be taken as an insult, especially by those who know quite well what they want to write about, thank-you-very-much. If you count yourself in that number, you have my apology. Then there are people who recoil from the very idea of "assigning" a poem, although I think this assignment is so loose that it almost avoids the stigma of being an assignment. Almost. Anway, if you're in the anti-assignment group, you, too, have my apology. In the unlikely event you are a poet or are wanting to write a poem and might like something new or unexpected to write about, here 'tis:

An “ekphrastic” poem is one that is in some way inspired by a work of art, usually a work from a non-literary art. W.H. Auden’s “Museé des Beaux Arts” is one of the best known examples from 20th century poetry. In the poem, Auden argues that paintings by Old Masters such as Brueghel reflected a particular view of suffering. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” is another example; it focuses on the art in a church called Hagia Sophia in Constantinople/Istanbul. That poem seems to express a desire to live permanently in an ideal world of art. Our field-trip today takes us to [ ] Gallery, which features two exhibits, The Island and Juxtaposition, which hold especially rich possibilities for poetry. Look at the exhibits and then find a space on the floor, have a seat, and write either notes toward a poem or a poem or both. The poem might react specifically to one piece in one exhibit; or it may embody an overall reaction to the exhibit; or it may concern a topic triggered by the exhibit. The references to the art-work might be strong and obvious, subtle, or ultimately even non-existent. That is, the poem will begin as something that plays off the exhibits or a piece in the exhibits, but its real subject might be something else that springs from your memory and/or the process of writing itself.
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