Monday, 29 December 2008

Thinking in Images

"Poetry is a special way of thinking, it is, precisely, a way of thinking in images, a way which permits what is generally called ‘economy of mental effort,’ a way which makes for a ‘sensation of the relative ease of the process.’ Aesthetic feeling is a reaction to this economy."(Shklovsky, Victor, 1917, (translated by Lemon, L.T. & Rees, M.J. "Art as Technique")

Monday, 27 October 2008

Paring down Poetry

Can you pare down poetry too much? George Szirtes taught me that cutting some of the superfluous words from my poems made them stronger and I can see that he was right. After the initial shock in my first year at uni of seeing my poetry with words, lines and even stanzas crossed out I was able to see that my poetry was evolving and growing. It is stronger, clearer, more direct, it speaks in its own voice without getting bogged down in ands and buts and explanatory lines.

Minimalist poetry is the kind of poetry that I prefer to read myself - poets like Lorca and Neruda. Poetry that appears simple yet the beauty of the language can bring tears to your eyes and make your heart sing. What I find myself wondering though is whether poetry can become too refined? Does the constant paring down mean that you might lose some essence of the original poem? Will I keep obsessively paring down my words until each line is but a single word? Will my poem eventually be simply a blank page?

There is without a doubt great beauty in silence, but in the silence of choice not that of procrastination.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Opposition in Art and Poetry

"In dialectical terms we claim that there is a continual state of opposition and interaction between the world of objective fact - the sensational and social world of active and economic existence - and the world of subjective fantasy. This opposition creates a state of disquietetude, a lack of spiritual equilibrium, which it is the business of the artist to resolve. he resolves the contradictions by creating a sythesis, a work of art which combines elements from both these worlds, eliminates others, but which for the moment gives us a qualitatively new experience."
(Read, H. in Germain, E.B. Surrealist Poetry in English, 1978)

Monday, 6 October 2008

Thoughts on visual ideas

I am finding it difficult to know where to go next with my visual project. I am drawn to the idea of fragments and fragmented texts - but I am also interested in the poetical nature of everyday language. Last week I found the page of an old recipe book on the street and was immediately struck by the poetic nature of some of the writing. I like the idea of somehow marrying fragments with the poetic elements of everyday text - for example recipes, news stories etc - but as yet I am unsur how to do this. One idea was to make some kind of collage.

I am also continuing to develop my idea of using dymo to add text to existing things. My favourite is still the one that i put on the graffiti-ed power cupboard. Not only is is the most aesthetically pleasing but I also feel it has more levels of meaning. The dymo letters are placed in response to the graffiti that someone else has placed there (probably in response to the cupboard itself). So the viewer is viewing a response to a response - taking a photograph changes the nature of the work again and makes it into something else.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Self and its obsessions

"Marcel Duchamp and John Cage use chance operation to get rid of the subjectivity of the artist. For Cornell it's the opposite. To submit to chance is to reveal the self and its obsessions. In that sense Cornell is not a dadaist or a surrealist. He believes in charms and good luck."
(Simic, C. Dime Store Alchemy - The Art of Jospeh Cornell. New York: New York Review Books, 1992, p.61)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

More about Reality

Reading back through my previous posts on this blog I realise that I have only recently come to view poems as fiction. It seems that I used to assume that a confessional style poem was a representation of reality - or was it that I viewed it as such whilst I was reading it. Rather like the way I like to get immersed in a good film - while I am watching it I can become totally absorbed, for the time the film is on (especially in the cinema) the film is all that exists - it is my reality. This form of escapism can be equally applied to poems - I know in my logical mind that they are probably at least partially, if not fully fictitious but I believe in them totally while I am reading them.

A Trap for Dreamers

"A toy is a trap for dreamers. The true toy is a poetic object."
(Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy - The Art of Joseph Cornell)

Confessional Poetry - Fiction or Lie?

I read an interesting essay last night by an american poet called Ted Kooser who was basically saying that he felt writers should not write what seems like autobiographical poetry unless what they are writing is absolutely true. His view is that a reader implicitly trusts that what he/she is reading and responds accordingly (i.e. feels sypathy for the writer etc). If the reader believes that a poem is a true representation of the poets life and then finds out it is fictitious they feel cheated.

I found this very interesting. Personally I always view poems as being fictitious (like novels) unless the writer states otherwise. I often use things from real life as a starting off point for poems - but my poems are sometimes written by a fictitional narrator, I use real experinces but change them or add to the in the same way that I might do if I was writing a novel or a short story. Obviously if I was trying to write my autobiography I would do my utmost to try and recreate a true account of the events of my life. Poetry, however, I use to explore life events - events that really happened and the ones that didn't. Writing for me is a way to explore alternate realities. To do things differently, to imagine what might have happened if things had been different. I do not do this to try and deceive the reader. I see writing poetry as similar to writing short stories - I create a little universe that I hope the reader can believe in for the time that they are reading it. That is what I look for in the poetry I enjoy reading too.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Into the Dust

The placing of the lettering on the dusty ground was especially effective - it made it look like it had been there for some time. I still prefer photographs where you see a fragment of the text rather than the entire thing. I like the mystery of it and am beginning to feel that the content of the text is actually not that important. The text exixts as a gesture of communication and it can add to our understanding of what we are seeing. In trying to work out what the text is saying the viewer is interacting with the work and they may add their own words as they try and work out what the text might be have been missed off of the edges of the photograph.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Autobiographical poetry and memory

Written autobiography seems to me to be fictitious in its very nature. The act of writing down a life story, containing it within a narrative framework and fleshing out the bones of a persons memories make it at least semi-fictitious – a story that may contain more or less elements of the truth. (Sometimes it seems like modern autobiography is a type of metafiction – especially when reading authors like Alan Bennett whose writing style is like a sustained monologue or one-way conversation with the reader).

Autobiographical poetry differs from traditional autobiography in that it is able to contain just those bare bones of memory, yet those bones can be changed and manipulated in a way unfeasible in traditional autobiography.

Poetry, like visual art allows us to embellish, manipulate our memories and use the truth as a trigger, starting point or a small element within something larger. Poetry allows us to revisit memories and examine and re-examine them, to tell the same story over and over again from different perspectives. It allows us to go back to the past and add the what-if – something that is much harder to achieve in traditional forms of autobiography.
Autobiographical poetry is more akin to real memory in the way that it reveals snippets of a person’s life. Most people don’t organise their memories in a linear way. When I look at my past I don’t see it as a time line stretching back into my childhood. I remember key events, people and places and as I remember each memory triggers other memories, which, in turn trigger more memories – rather like throwing a pebble into a pool of water and watching the ripples radiate outwards.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Seeing things as they are

"Poetry allows us to see things as they are. It lets us see particulars being various. But, and this is its peculiarity, poetry lets us see things as they are anew, under a new aspect, transfigured, subject to a felt variation. The poet sings a song that is both beyond us yet ourselves. Things change when the poet sings them, but they are still our things: recognizable, common, low. We hear the poet sing and press back against the pressure of reality."

(Critchley, Michael, Things Merely Are, Abingdon: Routledge, 2005)

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The Unswept Room - believability and autobiographical poetry

I have been reading a book of poetry by american poet Sharon Olds called The Unswept Room. The poems have a strong autobiographical flavour, many of them being about childhood and the author's relationship to her mother.

I found myself wondering this morning though how autobiograhical they actually are. It's interesting that when I read a poem I assume that it comes from experience but I know in my logical mind that this may not be the case. I have written poems that appear autobiographical; some of them are, some of them draw on my own experience but are embellished or played down, and some of them are entirely fictitious. The beauty of poetry is that you can create any persona or scenario you want to. So in some poems like Barabrith I have given the narrator a strong sense of history and ancestry:

but now, after all these years
full of black tea
and sticky brown sugar,
I think I know what it was that she meant.

and in others I have recounted incidents that might of happened like the argument in After the Party. Poetry gives the writer the opportunity to work through their difficult past events - to get them out of their system. The writer is able to acknowledge the past's power and and then stand it on its head and take its power away.
In Old's case some of the poems were so bleak (recounting incidents such as being tied to a chair as a child) that I almost wanted them NOT to be autobiographical. I suppose for me reading a poem is like watching a film or reading a noveL, I want to be able to believe in it while I am reading it. If it has a narrator I want to be able to believe in them and what they are saying and if I assume the poem is true then it means that the poem has succeeded in making me believe in it.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Art as Poetry

For some reason, this evening I found myself thinking about the work of Robert Rauschenberg - not the collages of iconic images of the twentieth century which he is most famous for, but his other works - paintings with objects incorporated into them.

I like the idea of juxtaposing surreal or abstract imagery with concrete everyday images (or objects) . This is something that I try to do with words in my poetry - making the mundane surprising (for example licking a photograph). Through a process of defamiliarization we are forced to see things in a new way. Shelley describes this process as making "familiar objects be as if they were not familiar’ by stripping ‘the veil of familiarity from the world" Viktor Shklovsky called this ostranenie (making strange).

Rauschenberg does this by juxtaposing abstarct painting with everyday objects like clocks and electric fans. He creates a kind of visual poetry - although mostly without words. Arman too creates a kind of poetry with his art owrks although in a slightly different way to Raushenberg. In his works the objects are the main focus - in effect they become the art. My particular favourite is a collage made of old typewriters pinned to red painted board.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Visual Poetry - Where Next?

I have been trying to decide where to go next with my visual poetry. The first thing I need to decide is what the product is - is it the photograph or is it the poem itself in whatever context it has been placed? This is a difficult question, when I was placing the text it felt like it was more about the actual text and the context - which would mean that the photograph was merely a record of what I did. However when I printed out some of the photographs the ones I most liked were the ones that were close up fragments of the text. I especially like the one I posted yesterday with the red and white text, which is reminiscent (although unintentionally) of some of Barbara Kruger's works.

Being a big fan of collage I have looked at Kruger's work before. Kruger places text over blown up photographs usually taken from advertising or the media (see picture). I have often made collages in a similar way to this but with my visual poetry I wanted to place the text into a more physical environment than that of a flat page. I also liked the idea of putting the text/poem into an environment that was related in some way to the text. The fragment photos though are definitely remininiscent of Kruger's work. They almost look like advertisments or posters.
Looking at the photographs again has posed more questions - is the content of the text the important thing or is it the context that the text is placed in that is most significant? or are both things of equal importance? Clearly putting text onto the object changes the nature of the object somehow. The object becomes a blank canvas or the equivalent of a blank page. If the poem was about the object itself that would also change the nature of it - making the viewer think about and maybe re-evaluate their relationship with the object.
Another option would be to write the poem as a still life like Popa's poems in "Bark." These poems "start as descriptions and then proceed to withold the usual attributes of the thing being described. They defmamiliarize perception." (Simic, C. in Popa, V. "Homage to the Lame Wolf" Oberlin College Press, 1987).

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Homage to the Lame Wolf

I have been reading Vasko Popa's "Homage to the Lame Wolf" (translated by Charles Simic) and have it inspiring. Popa's poems are a brilliant example of the distillation of language. Each poem is pared right down until only the essentials are left. There are no extras here, nothing that could be added or taken away. The poems set me off on a train of thought that has inspired me to start writing. Popa references family quite a bit in his poems (Father, grandfather, grandmother, great grandfather etc) and this made me start thinking about my own family, their dysfunctions and quirks and I guess my heritage. For my work in the coming year I had been contemplating the idea of writing a kind of fictional autobigraphy as a series of poems, but reading this book has made me wonder about whether I should limit the poems to one voice, one narrator or widen my scope.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Electric Poetry

Electric Poetry
Originally uploaded by pupski
This is another of my visual poetry experiments. this one was on the front of one of those green electricity cupboards that there seem to be loads of in my neighbourhood. I chose one that already had a lot of graffiti on it - partly to add something visually to the piece, but also because somehow I felt bad about defacing one that was more pure and unadulterated. I took quite a few pictures but preferred the ones like this which show a fragment of the text. The text is from a poem that I had written some time ago but that seemed appropriate for the environment. I made the labels from memory and realised today that I had missed out a line - not that that matters really.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Black and White

Black and White poem
Originally uploaded by pupski
Here is the black and white version.

Recycling Day

This is part of a poem that I collaged onto boxes that had been put out for recycling. To use the whole poem seemed too much, it would have made the image too busy. I tried the image in black and white but actually I think that I like the slightly cropped colour version better. I was trying to write in response to the situation so that the poem related more to the context in which it was placed whilst (hopefully) standing up as a poem in its own right. I still feeel that the text is somehow seperate to the background and I am wondering if I should try writing on objects and leaving them ouside for a few days to weather them.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Process or Product

Is it the act of writing itself that is the most important thing or is it the finished poem - the product? Or is it perhaps the editing process? The moving through stages, the paring down and stripping away of cliches and superfluous words until only the bare bones are left: the essence, the distilled meaning - undilluted, like an injection of pure heroin into a vein. When you read a great poem it can lift you to a place of pure emotion, a connection with something bigger and altogether more wondrous than the reality of the here and now. Although sometimes the poem might actually be about this reality but might resonate with you (the reader) so sharply that you almost shout aloud "yes, that's so right" or "I feel just the same way."

For me it is hard for me to say which element of the writing process is the most important or whether they are equal. But I do love the paring down and my aim is to make poems that are not overly wordy or pretentious but that take joy in the use of words and language and hopefully create an experience that the reader can relate to in some way.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Lyrics versus Poetry

After reading "The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison" I found myself wondering about the differences between lyrics and poetry. Lyrics are more akin to classical or lyric poetry than to modern poetry in that they usually rhyme and have a clear structure of verses of equal legnth. They also tend to have less pretensions of goodness or worthiness than poetry (unless you're Bob Dylan or Billy Bragg of course). The words can be meaningless or about the most mundane things and it doesn't matter, no one really minds - what matters is how the lyrics scan, the pentameter, the rhyme and how they fit with the music. Just listen to the lyrics of Spandau Ballet, Black Sabbath or "My Sharona" by The Knack for examples of songs that work well but contain pretty meaningless lyrics.

It must be because of the way that the lyrics fit with music that we find songs easy to remember. I am a big poetry fan but know very few poems all the way through. However I can think of loads of songs that I know all the lyrics to and some of them I haven't heard for years. I might find it hard to remember people's names, important apointments or my shopping list but I can sing you the whole of "Spirit of Radio" by Rush without a moments hesitation! And they're not easy lyrics, if I tried to memorise them like a poem I think I would struggle.

Words by Neil Peart, Music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson
Inspired by 'The Spirit of Radio' in Toronto,

Begin the day
With a friendly voice
A companion, unobtrusive
Plays that song that's so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood

Off on your way
Hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the Spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact
In your happy solitude

Invisible airwaves
Crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle
With the energy
Emotional feedback
On a timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price ---
Almost free...

All this machinery
Making modern music
Can still be open-hearted
Not so coldly charted
It's really just a question
Of your honesty

One likes to believe
In the freedom of music
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity

"For the words of the profits
Are written on the studio wall,
Concert hall ---
Echoes with the sounds...
Of salesmen."

Todays reading: Jim Morrison - Wilderness, The Lost Writings
Frank O'Hara - Selected Poems
Simon Critchley - Things Merely Are

Album of the day: Station to Station - David Bowie

Lost in Translation

I am wondering as I am reading translations of poetry by Jacques PrĂ©vert and Georg Trakl how much of the original essence of a poem is lost in translation. In a sense the translator is writing the poetry him/herself just using a set of words gleened fronm the original work. For example when a friend who could read German translated one of Georg Trakl’s poems aloud he translated it word by word and it was very different to the translation in the book. In fact in these translations words have been changed for poetic effect. It makes me wonder if as a reader I would want a direct translation from the German or am I happy to read the artistic interpretation of the author’s work by another poet (in this case Robin Skelton). If I read ten different translations of the same poem done by different translators how different would they be from one another? Would I find myself reading ten completely different poems or would the essence of each poem be essentially the same? For me as a reader I think I might like to see a direct word for word translation as well, just to satisfy my artistic curiosity.

Visual Poetry

I got a great gadget this week that makes embossed letters on plastic tape and I started playing around with the idea of using it to make visual poetry. This is my first attempt so it isn't all that great but I can already see that there is great potential in the idea. This one isn't really a proper poem - just something that I came up with on the spur of the moment that was in keeping with the wall on which it is displayed. The problem for me with this piece is that the text seems too removed from the wall that it is displayed on I really wanted it to look more as if it belonged there. However that is very hard to acheive and maybe I am approaching it the wrong way. Maybe I should make the alienation of the text from the medium it is placed in more an integral part of the piece.