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.