Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 27 July 2009

Responsorial poetry


yin-yang Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. - Frank Zappa

Before we start this post properly I'd like you to read a poem and decide what you think about it. It's a wee experiment.


T-JUNCTION

This is the way to go.

This way or that.
It's hard to tell.

They are Yin and Yang.
They are Chang and Eng.

If I'm not here
I must be there

or on the road to there.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


That's us. For the moment we'll just leave it there. We'll come back to it later. Thank you for your patience.

Now, on with the article.

Since I've begun writing this blog I have found that I have taken my poetry into some interesting directions. I've certainly written a steady stream over the last couple of years and that's a good thing. I think that's a good thing. I always feel more real when the poetry is flowing. If I never wrote a line of prose again it wouldn't bother me that much but when the poetry dries up I wander around like a little lost soul. I really do.

I almost never sit down to write a poem and it has annoyed the hell out of me the number of times I wanted to write a poem in response to something and come up blank. And then at other times the daftest thing gets me started. And I've never made any great efforts to muck around with that arrangement. I enjoy the unexpectedness of my poetry. Like an old friend I never know when it'll call or how long it'll stay when it does.

One question people ask sometimes is, "What inspired you to write that?" and most of the time you're really stuck because you have to translate what you saw or what you experienced into words for them and that's never that good. My poem 'Common Denominator' was inspired by simply walking down a street in Glasgow one afternoon, the street was Blythswood Street and it was notorious – at least Blythswood Square which was to my right was – for being a place one could go to pick up a prostitute. It's not a very inspiring street. You could transplant it and drop it in San Francisco and no one would notice. It's part of the business district, nothing but offices. And then there's the lane running off at right angles on my left. (Surely it should be left angles if that's the case.) As I walked down the street – it was a nice day, not raining – the cars drifted by me – it's a pretty steep hill so they have to be careful – and I imagined that scene later that day, once the sun had set and I would be safe and sound at home. I'm sure you've got a picture in your head but it'll be wrong. Because you can't possibly imagine what I saw. And I'm sure what I see now is not what I saw that day. There are no fire escapes in that part of town for starters and, let's face it, they're not commonplace in the UK anyway.

That said, you don't need to know what inspired the poem. You have the poem and it can take you any place you want. Inspiration is like the husk – it gets chucked away leaving the soft, juicy poem. The husk is a part of the process – it protects the poem as it develops in you head – but then its work is done.

Now that's fine if your poem is a coconut but what if it's an apple? The peel can be cut off – I remember my mother doing that for me as a child (she even cut the skin off my cucumber) – but there's no need. In fact, as that same mother was keen to tell me years later – the goodness is in the skin. She used to say you should eat the skin of a potato and throw the rest out, not that we did.

I only discovered the term ekphrastic poetry a few months ago. If I'd heard it before then I must have blanked it. Simply put (What would be the point of putting it complicatedly?) it's writing that comments upon another art form, for instance a poem about a photograph or a novel about a film. Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is the one everyone cites, since the entire poem concerns the appearance and significance of an ancient piece of pottery, and that's us mentioned it too.

Urn The first time I read Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' there was no picture accompanying it. It worked just fine. I didn't like it much. I'm still not that keen on it. But the important thing is that I didn't feel there was something missing. I'd seen Grecian urns before. Was Keats responding to a specific urn or to Grecian urns in general I don't know. I do know that he was prompted to learn more about the subject after reading two articles by Benjamin Haydon in the Examiner on 2 May and 9 May 1819. I do know he visited Haydon's office and saw various collections of prints that contained imaged Greek artwork including urns. According to James A. W. Heffernan though, in his book Museum of Words:

The urn, as Ian Jack has demonstrated (to my satisfaction at least), is an ideal object composed from various actual sources: neo-Attic vases, the paintings of Claude Lorraine, and the Elgin Marbles.

It doesn't matter that ekphrastic poetry has a name. Most things have names but we don't need the name before we have permission to do the thing. We do the thing and maybe years later discover it has a name. Maybe in the interim we've given it our own name. I guess that's where many euphemisms come from, not so much avoiding using the proper word but not knowing it in the first place.

What I'm working up to is the fact that, up until very recently, I have never written a poem about or inspired by a work of art. And in 1000+ poems you'd think I might have had a crack at one. I've certainly referenced works of art – One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest – jumps to mind but the poem wasn't about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest I simply quoted a chunk at the end of a poem that was probably far too long already which is why I have no intention of reproducing it here.

And then I met a bloke called Art Durkee. What can I say about Art that he hasn't said himself in ten or twenty-thousand words? Actually nothing because everything I know about Art comes via words. Well, not everything, but I'll get to that. Let me just say that we are very different people. We shouldn't get on and yet we do. It's the chocolate-coated pretzel thing. I never got it either but I kept shoving them in my gob as I tried to work it out. I like to give Art a plug every now and then because he writes one of the most intelligent blogs I've come across and I heartily recommend you check out his site. Here's a link. If you want to go and have a look now I'll wait.

One major way that Art and I are different is that he doesn't see music, art and writing as separate things. Me, I like to colour inside the lines.

Another way that we're different is that Art spends a great deal of his time in natural settings. He goes on road trips and camps in national parks and the like. I couldn't tell you the last time I stepped on grass or even wanted to.

Art seems to need nature. It revitalises him and it inspires him. His site is full of photographs of trees and rivers and waterfalls and even the occasional creature if it'll stay still long enough. And frequently he responds to what he sees by writing poetry, haiku mainly. Here's an example:

 

Flowers

   trillium:
   ghosts ascending
   the hillside

 

Now the question has to be asked: does the poem need to photo to be meaningful? Personally I think not. However, the photo is given added significance by subjoining a poem.

Does nature need poems written about it? I mean what says 'sunset' better than a real live sunset. Words are a sorry alternative. Art is not simply concerned with replication however. Part of its function is interpretation and communication. It's a huge topic and I'm not going to get too involved in it here, suffice to say that a poem about a sunset, even if all it talks about is the sunset will really be about something else. Words are tainted. You cannot say one thing without evoking other things.

Take a word like 'cat'. I have a very personal understanding of what a cat is and that understanding is growing. My daughter has just sent me a photo of her new cat – she's been pining after one for years – and that photo is now my desktop. And when I get to meet the cat in person I have no doubt that a connection will be made even if she hasn't decided on a name for the creature by then. 'Rufus' is the going favourite by the way. Of course each and every one of you will have different and unique experiences of cats. Bottom line: there is no such thing as a 'cat' – it is as real as the number 4.

Cat

My daughter's cat

A cat is not a work of art even if most of them act as if they are.

You might argue that Art's photo of the trilliums is not a work of art. And photography has had that cross to bear since it arrived on the scene. I think that any image taken out of context can be a work of art. If I framed the photo of 'Rufus' would it suddenly become art? I think so. I think it is art all on its own.

Now, when Art Durkee wrote his wee poem was he responding to the flowers in situ or, later on, did he look at the image afresh and was struck by what he saw? If it's the former is his poem truly ekphrastic? It's all semantics but I would say not.

In Art's case he is both photographer and poet. I'm not sure it makes a damn bit of difference since everything is all running about inside his head. Keats' poem is a different kettle of fish completely since he was merely an outsider responding to what he was seeing, be it an image of the urn or the actual urn itself.

Okay, here's another photo by Art and the poem he wrote, whether in response to the location or picture of the location I don't know. I could ask but most of the time we get presented with some art we don't have access to the work's creator. So, let's just run with it:

 

Road Sign

   Lake Superior, Upper Peninsula, MI


   taunted by warm winds
   of mid-March, the mendicant
   longs for summer's road

 

You can read the original post here if you're interested.

W104 Personally I've never been to Michigan but there's a sign like that on the A77 near Fenwick as I recall; it's been a few years. It's pretty much a universal road symbol I would have thought. The British sign doesn't have the arrows though. If it's a one-way road then there will be a single arrow to indicate the direction the traffic is coming but that's about it with arrows.

The photograph struck me. Who knows why one thing catches a man's imagination when something else doesn't? I've long stopped worrying about it. The best one can do is to be open to it and make the most of every opportunity that comes.

I didn't write my poem right away. I'd read his post – I may or may not have commented – and then passed on. But I found the image stuck in my head so I found the post again and copied the photo onto my desktop where I could focus on it sans text. It didn't take long before I wrote this:


T-JUNCTION

This is the way to go.

This way or that.
It's hard to tell.

They are Yin and Yang.
They are Chang and Eng.

If I'm not here
I must be there

or on the road to there.

I sent Art a copy of the poem and he seemed quite pleased and then I printed a copy out along with Art's photo and stuck it in my big red folder. Personally I don't think it's that great a poem but it's certainly a better poem with the photo. Art's photo was and is complete in itself. It does not need the poem. The poem, however, was designed to comment on the photo; the photo is a part of the poem; the poem is an extension to the photo.

Proximity is important and yet no one notices the plinth on which the sculpture stands. It's not art even if an artisan spent many hours in its manufacture. Firstly, there's never any collaboration between the plinth-maker and the sculptor, and, secondly, the plinth is not – and here's the key word – representational; the plinth was not created in response to the sculpture; it supports it, it compliments it, but that's it. And indeed there was no collaboration between Art and I. He took his picture and, unbeknownst to him, I wrote a poem after seeing it. Is this a bad thing? Does it take away from the photo? Yes, I suppose it, does. This ekphrastic piece is like a diptych, an art form I've always struggled with a little – What do you mean it's not two paintings side by side? – and I find my eye drifting back and forth between the photo and the poem, trying to connect them.

Art is designed to generate a response. In most cases all I get is: "Yes, I like it. It's a good poem," and I have to be satisfied with that. No one's ever presented me with a drawing and said: "Your poem made me want to do this," and I can live with that, but it would be nice. Most people who have read my stuff though are not creative people. They respond in the only way they can. Some have burst into tears. That's good too. I mean what more could any writer ask for? And yet an artist's natural mode of expression is, in my case, to write about things; for others it will be to paint or compose or do a wee dance. Each to his own.

The way Art talks about it, in his post 'Responsories', is like this:

There is something sacred about the act. It is, in the hands of some artists, worshipful, almost religious. It is not impossible to view artwork as responsorial, in the sacred sense: responsory chants to the voices of the other singers. Two choirs singing across a gallery from one another.

You see how different we are? I'd never use language like that. But I agree with his point of view. I like the notion of responsorial poetry. It makes more sense to me that ekphrastic poetry although it still falls short because all poetry is written as a natural reaction to something. The word 'ekphrasis' comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, 'out' and 'speak' respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. Either term works I suppose. Then again, why not reactionary poetry?

Let me go back to Art:

What do we call art that responds to the art of other artists?

Recursive self-referential art? Insular, navel-gazing art? Critics of art that interprets and responds to other art would call it this and many other disparaging labels, all the while forgetting that recursion (self-referentiality) is a natural function. The branching forks of a river delta repeat the veins of a leaf, the branches of a tree, the way capillary blood vessels merge into veins in your own forearm.

See, again, I would never look to nature to explain that. What comes to my mind are mathematics and science. In both these fields everyone stands on the shoulders of giants. No one has enough life to prove every formula for themselves. But they build on them and they get lauded for the bit the added on that expands our knowledge. No one objects that they've not done all the groundwork themselves. It's accepted and expected.

So, why is my building on Art's photo any different?

I don't think that it is.

I think Keats' poem is significantly different though in that there is no specific work of art to which he is appending his poem. The poem does, and always has, stood on its own. I would therefore question, although it is often cited as an example of ekphrastic poetry, whether it really is the best example. It doesn't mean it's suddenly a rotten poem but it does stand or fall on its own merits. At best you could call it 'notional ekphrasis'. If you're looking for what I think is a good example, have a look at Auden's 'Musée des Beaux Arts'.

There are different schools of thought about what ekphrasis should be and maybe I'll come back to the subject later; some say you should describe the object, others are more flexible. Personally I think as soon you label a can of worms everyone starts fishing for their tin openers.

For the moment I'll simply leave you with the complete work and you can decide for yourselves whether it works.

 

Road Sign

   T-JUNCTION

   This is the way to go.

   This way or that.
   It's hard to tell.

   They are Yin and Yang.
   They are Chang and Eng.

   If I'm not here
   I must be there

   or on the road to there.

22 comments:

Titus said...

Very interesting musings, and pertinent to something I'm working on at the moment: an exhibition of written responses to a sculptor's work. Thank you Jim, I shall tease the distinctions out in my own mind for quite a while, I suspect.

Rachel Fenton said...

You see, I like things better without the pictures...hence so few on my own blog...but I think most people like the image with the poem...but I see the pictures of my own words simultaneously, in my mind's eye as I read/write...very interesting and thought provoking...

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the feedback there, Titus. This was a very new experience for me. But that's the great thing about interacting with so many different poets online, they stimulate me to try new things.

And, Rachel, I guess I'm the same. It was very interesting reading Personal Velocity recently because I had images of the women in my head and then I got to watch the film and see how someone else imagined them. The third part of the film I hadn't read so when it came to reading that story in the book all the images had been set out for me. It didn't spoil it but it might have. It's like seeing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and trying afterward to imagine anyone other that Jack Nicholson as McMurphy – quite impossible.

Rachel Fenton said...

There are a number of 'classic' films that have (for me) been ruined by the re-makes alone for that reason, Jim, and I do prefer to read the book before I see a film adaptation - even though I like to regard the film as a separate entity from the book altogether - which is why I'm furiously reading The Time Traveller's Wife; next will be The Vitners Luck...and at some point I'll get the films out on DVD because I'm so far behind I'll have missed the cinema!

McGuire said...

You see, I only have one poem that is a direct translation of a poem; it's called: Boy at the zoo. But other than that everything I write has no relation to any photograph. Sometimes I worry about paring them with photos because readers might think I have simply selected a photo and wrote about it. When in reality the poem stands alone, I write it entirely without recourse to a picture, it is only when I decide to put it on the blog that I spend a long time hunting through the internet looking for the precise picture that compliments the poem.

I feel a bit chea simly paring ictures with my poems but the poems stand by themselves, the pictures are merely to signify the general idea of the poem and to give the reader something to look at. I sometimes think I should have no pictures what so ever but it's just to add a bit of colour and interesting visual.

I hate seeing the film based on a book first. But then, so many books I read would never be made into films. It kind of corrupts my understanding when I read the book after the film. Mind you, I really enjoy the film of tin drum and I loved the book too.

God, I'm a bit concerned about the pictures adorning my blog now. Should they stay or should they go now?

A picture is shared
between ten thousand eyes.
A page one thousand words.

Rachel Fenton said...

McGuire - From what I've gathered, most bloggers like to see pictures...I know some who don't like posts without pictures...you should do what ever you like - it's your blog! It is entirely subjective. I think anyone who read your poems and thought you had written them about the pictures would not have appreciated your poems in the first place! I like the idea of posting a seemingly irrelevant picture with a poem though...if that poem you mention is on your blog I will read it...so far the one about the apples is my favourite, fwiw...'they know how to fall'...beautiful...

Jim - Personal Velocity sounds like it's moving up my 'to read' pile!

Art Durkee said...

Thanks for the mention, and for being "made an example of." It's quite a compliment, really.

I think one area in which we differ as poets is our topics and styles. That's pretty fundamental. But I also think both styles and topics are valid—poetry is a very big tent, with room for a lot of variation and possibility.

This was fun to read. I rarely get much feedback about what I do artistically, ever, so this was doubly fun for me.

Art Durkee said...

I wrote a review of "The Time Traveler's Wife" on my blog after having read it twice. I thought it quite good. I thought that most of the reviews once again revealed an utter lack of knowledge about SF, which I discussed in my review.

I'm not really looking forward to the movie, because despite what some might think, not every book MUST be made into a movie. That everything IS made into a movie tells me that Hollywood has a real lack of creative thinking at home, so they have to parasitically go looking to other media. Some might argue that that's always been true. But in the past, many more original screenplays were produced, and some even won awards. Actually, one reason the indie film movement began 30 or so years ago was to film more original scripts, rather than adaptations. The reality is, since the film industry got taken over by those more interested in making profits than in making films, the choices made have been increasingly conservative, artistically, and less risk-taking overall.

Maybe they'll do a good version of this book. I'll suspend judgment till then. But I'm not holding my breath.

Rachel Fenton said...

I have a sinking suspicion that the film of the TTW will be all rosy tinted love story and ignore the psychopathic tendencies of Henry...actually, the book ignores his psychopathic tendencies, too, from the third of the book I've read so far. Bit of a worry there...I love the structure - postmodern novels are my thing more than SF, really, skitting about, little fragments, that I love...unbelievable characters though....hmn...so far it seems as though Henry is written with the same narrative voice as Claire..I'll reserve judgement till I've read the whole thing..I'll have a look for your review Art.

Jim Murdoch said...

Rachel, I could talk for hours on this subject. What gets me is when they decide to reboot brands that should have been one-hit wonders at best. I'm talking here about Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street all of which spawned several sequels and are now on their second run around the block. Why, for God's sake? And then there was that remake of Psycho that added nothing but colour to the original being a faithful blow-by-blow copy with an inferior cast.

I've never read The Time Traveller's Wife so I'll not be able to comment on its film adaptation although, like you, I virtually never go to the cinema these days. I made one exception recently to see The Dark Knight and guess what I got in my Xmas stocking?

McGuire, keep your pictures. They enhance your posts. If you ever get the pieces published they'll most likely not be illustrated but you can't be sure of that. I've had magazines pop though my letterbox only to find a picture beside my poem that I would never have chosen in a month of Sunday. That said, although I always have plenty of pictures in my posts I don't think I've ever used one as an illustration to a poem. I used a granite head when I posted my poem about my dad but it wasn't illustrating the poem per se.

This is a bit off-topic though. This article was about artwork that came first. Keep your pictures. They brighten up your blog.

And, Art, you're very welcome. Just a part of my master plan to get everyone reading your blog to take the pressure off me feeling I have to comment on every post. Seriously though, you have a lot to say and I wish more would find you.

Yes, we do differ – in so many ways – and I sometimes feel quite out of my depths reading your stuff but then we've had very different lives. I'm not going to learn much by reading a blog written by another sad git like me, am I? No, you talk about stuff that is new and interesting and stimulating and, as you know, this is not the first poem I've been inspired to write after one of your posts.

Angel said...

Part of the fun of writing for me has been finding the perfect picture to go along with my post or poem, and I'm often inspired by photographs and paintings. I never knew it was called anything so fancy;)

Art Durkee said...

Rachel, I don't view Henry as psychopathic, just someone who has to do desperate things in order to survive. I'm quite certain they'll play all that down in the movie, though, just as you suspect they probably will.

My guess is that you'll discern how Henry and Claire's character voices are different, as you get further along. The thing about the novel that's interesting, too, is how it moves around in time, just as Henry does. It's non-linear and non-chronological, which makes it non-traditional in terms of standard, linear narrative. The thing is, while mainstream lit crit hails that as innovative and post-modern, in fact it's very much a tool invented by the Modernists, and not at all PM.

PM critics have this bad habit of claiming credit for inventing techniques that have been around a long time—especially in what the mainstream often likes to denigrate as "genre fiction." That's almost always a pejorative term when I hear a "mainstream" (i.e. fine-art Literary) critic employ it. The bias inherent is obvious.

So I understand what you mean about "postmodern novels," but as I've said many times before: the PM non-linear novel was pretty much invented by fabulists—in fantasy, SF, and metafiction. I'm thinking of Borges, Delany, Zelazny, LeGuin, Joanna Russ, and numerous others.

What's so amusing about PM authors claiming to have invented the non-linear narrative is that I can almost always point to examples in SF and metafiction that pre-date their "inventions" by many years. What this says to me is that most of these critics are pretty much just ignorant of the literary innovations that have been employed for decades by "genre" writers. In certain cases, ignorant at best; dismissive at worst. (I wrote a blog post about this subject, too, recently. It's not quite a pet peeve, but it was reawakened in my peeves corner by the critical over-praising of McCarthy's "The Road," which from my viewpoint is incredibly unoriginal and derivative. I even proved that to a couple of well-known blog critics—and got roundly ignored for doing so. LOL )

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you for your comment, Angel and I've seen your site before. Yes, you clearly put a lot of effort into getting the right picture to illustrate your poems. This, however, is not ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrastic poetry is poetry written which is inspired by works of art; having an image of that art is not necessarily part of the poem as in the case with the ode I mentioned.

Rachel Fenton said...

Art -

Henry enjoying kicking the living daylights out of another man who called him names, and again going back to kick a guy taped to a tree - for enjoyment, and then contrast that to his fondness for Laura Ashley sheets, is at least odd.

I agree, there is too much uninformed and negative criticism levied at SF. All too often critics make judgements without, I suspect, having read much SF. There is a lot of literary snobbery which gets in the way of genuine criticism. There is also a tendency for SF fans to jump down the throats of anyone who is not immediately seeming to hail the praises of SF's literary merits.

I offer, not a review, or indeed a measured critique - merely a potted opinion. I am almost through the novel and cannot discern a difference in Henry or Claire's narrative voice. My opinion, thus far, is that it is Mills & boon meets Doctor Who, with literary allusions bolted on. And I hope Niffenegger got paid for mentioning Laura Ashley and Random House, too!

As I understand, the film rights were sold before the book was finished - the book, I feel, reads more like a screenplay than a novel...On the whole, I feel its merits outweigh its failings. I look forward, now, to the film.

As for the poetry....:)

Art Durkee said...

Nothing wrong with potted opinions. :) As long as one keeps one's mind to alternate possibilities, of course.

On the other hand, I've been around two sociopaths in my life, family members who were such, and three friends who I knew were diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Henry is not a psychotic in any classically diagnosable sense, based on the psychological standards. He is much, much more like a Vietnam veteran who loses it from time to time: highly traumatized, in his case ongoing trauma from an early age, coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, and when he's violent it's in ways I recognize from having seen similar personality types in real life. I knew a 'Nam vet who who would destroy any opponent in a bar fight simply to end the fight as fast and cleanly as possible; he had trouble determining when to let himself go berserker, and when not to, but then, most real berserkers do have that trouble. (Read the Viking sagas, which are full of examples.) He also does feel remorse—which is something a genuine psychotic never does. So for me he remains a sympathetic, understandable character, because of people I've known from real life. (Any writer who really wants to understand trauma and its effects on people, I recommend volunteering at a veteran's hospital, or a burn unit, or an emergency room, or a chemo ward. Spent my share of time in those, and learned some HUGE life-lessons.)

I'm not one of those SF fans who stridently defend SF's literary qualities at all costs, all the time—Sturgeon's Law was coined *about* SF after all (see below)—nor am I any sort of apologist for SF. SF doesn't need apologizing for. Still, what there IS in SF that's of high literary qualified simply gets ignored by mainstream critics. ("Mainstream literature" is itself a genre, to be blunt.) So while I agree that literary snobbery can go both ways, the truth is, more snobbery comes from the dominant paradigm than the "genre" as a rule, in any given case, with any given sub-paradigm. It's as true for "chick lit" and "immigrant lit" as it is for "SF lit."

Art Durkee said...

(part two)

The whole point of post-modernism was to reveal that the dominant paradigm has no innate value superior to any of its sub-paradigms. So, if you really want to talk about post-modernism in literature, let's talk about how mainstream lit continues to beat the dead horse of its lost assumed superiority over all other "non fine art literary" writing genres. No one likes being knocked off the seat of central power. Some of the critical reactions against "genre lit" from the mainstream are so obviously reactionary and defensive that it's laughable.

Does that make "The Time Traveler's Wife" a post-modern novel? I argue that it doesn't—except to those ignorant of these same styles and tropes having long been used in "genre lit" as opposed to in "fine art (mainstream) lit." I don't think TTW is remotely postmodern fiction; I think it's a decent crossover novel, which I enjoyed reading, not much more than that. The only thing PM about it is the non-linear narrative form. Ten years before TTW, Michele West published a brilliant high-fantasy duology of novels, "Hunter's Oath" and "Hunter's Death" (which I've re-read twice for pleasure, a marker for me of good writing), in which one of the central characters is similarly cut loose from linear time. How that affects here, and the other characters, is one of the central plot points of the novels. Once again, so much for PM's originality.

And it was a great SF writer, Theodore Sturgeon, in fact, who coined Sturgeon's Law, which states: "Ninety percent of science fiction—heck, of everything—is crap." Pick a genre where that isn't true—there aren't any. One thing that sets great SF writers apart from many fine art literary writers is that the SF writers don't have any literary ambitions or pretensions. :)

As for what we bring to what we read, you won't hear many US critics mentioning Doctor Who in their reviews of "The Time Traveler's Wife." LOL That's a comment that does indeed indicate a Pond-wide separation of viewpoints. (For the record, many SF fans *would* know about Doctor Who, but again, most US reviewers wouldn't. Just more of that same ignorance.)

Art Durkee said...

To return to the original questions of this essay, and some of the on-topic responses to it (meta-responses?), I just want to point out that when I write a poem in response to a photograph, which I do often with my own photos, as Jim mentions, I'm also aware that there have been occasions when an illustration was a response to the poem.

It's not, for me, a question of the photo "needing" the poem, or of a poem "needing" and illustration. The response is its own thing—it's not a question of need at all, but a question of, well, desire. Most such responses arise spontaneously. They're not planned-out, they're often unintended.

I get the sense that some folks think this is all very intentional, very planned. The truth is that planning and intention are not engaged at all in this kind of response. They just happen. I look at something, and words arise in my mind. Or I read something, and respond to it.

Every time I read a poem by Rumi, in recent years, I feel moved to respond with a poem. Rumi makes me want to "talk back" to him: usually in my own version of what he says, to underline the truth I find there. Not typically in contradiction or defiance, but most typically in affirmation or validation.

When I edit my own photos, when I work with them—which is a process of looking at them carefully, with mindfulness and full attention—it's not uncommon for me to see things I wasn't aware of when I first made the photo. Often I am surprised, in a good way.

In my experience, I find that poets much more than painters or photographers—perhaps it's a function of verbal language being the elemental medium that makes up the art—tend to think that intention is primary. That we never set out to do something unless we really want to. I can say truthfully that many of my very best photos have been complete "accidents"—rather, to be more precise, they have been created without my personality-ego being engaged in the process. They have been made indeterminantly, which is a way for me to get out of my own way, and let the larger (preconscious, nonverbal, hidden, shadow) self make the photo.

Often I see something that catches my attention, and I make a quick photo. This produces good photos just as often as when I take my time, really LOOK at the subject first, and only then make the image. Both ways of working yield good results. And the latter way of working is still not an intellectual process in any way. It's rather a form of empathy, or merging, with the subject. You sort of feel your way into the image, and when the moment is ripe, you snap the shutter. It's not planned, it's patient.

Jim Murdoch said...

What I felt about my poem here, Art, is that it needs your photo to complete it. You poem is complete on its own, it's 'completed' by the addition of your own poem (it then becomes a separate thing) and it's also 'completed' by my poem (becoming something else). It's like me, I'm an individual and yet my wife 'completes' me; we become something greater than the sum of our parts.

The thing about my poem is that it was never an individual. It was designed to compliment your poem and in that respect it 'completes' it. On its own there's something missing.

Intent is an interesting issue. I had no intent when I wrote my poem. It was a response just as I'll respond to something I experience or a line of dialogue off the tele. Only when it was complete did I start to think about what it was I'd created.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

The mouth opens black
under an inaccessible sky.
You look at the mouth,
black and open like that,
no way into it.
You're considering the ways
you might get away from it.
There’s left
and right
and back the way you came.
You could walk under it, too,
duck right under its big black gape,
those two broad teeth poised to bite,
one tooth to each stiff jaw.
You could stop,
and with an open palm,
whack that mouth -
whang!
Then on into the unfenced field,
leave the road stopped before the mouth
that’s going to bite, looks like,
going to bite a piece off and swallow it.
You’d be brave,
marching down the throat of that future,
past where any road’s allowed.

Jim Murdoch said...

Excellent response, Glenn. Now that is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for. Yes, I suppose the arrows do look like a mouth. I never saw that. Yes. Very good indeed.

Art Durkee said...

That's very cool, Glenn, and thanks.

Wow, this image is getting more attention via poems being written about it than most of my other photos combined!

I wonder if there are certain categories or types of images that evoke an ekphrastic response, while other images are so "finished" or "self-contained" that they not only don't "need" an ekphrastic response, they don't evoke one. I'm pretty sure that's an unanswerable question, but it might be worth thinking about some.

Art Durkee said...

Okay, so now I've written on my blog a response to the response to the responses to the response.

Let me know when this gets too confusing, unless of course it's too late already. Meanwhile, another response.

:)

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