Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Function of Poetry as Painting et al

We now take a break from my accursed novel to bring you the following reflection upon poetry:

Once upon a time poetry was pretty much the only literary medium. All theatre was written in poetic forms, there were no novels or journalism, etc. There was only poetry. In those days, it was important for you poetry to say things, to speak truth, whether literally or poetically through image. Over the centuries, new forms have opened up--prose in the form of fiction and non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and drama. So with all forms and genres, we have to continually ask ourselves, what is the function of the genre we are writing in at this time.

I believe that poetry, more than any other written form, has the power to open up the imagination to altogether new realities that we could not have otherwise imagined and in my mind, the best way to do so is by experimenting with language, scrambling reason and reading, and yes, to be a literary form of visual art.

Bryon Gysin has said that poetry is 50 years behind painting. Poetry can and should embrace the image in all forms by being abstract in meaning and form as well as by presenting us with literal and literary pictures of things.

I tell the students in my poetry class that things like metaphor and simile exist to explain what we do not know in terms of what we do know. With medical students, I use the metaphorical example of "the human body is like a machine . . ." because that is a simile that they have heard so much they don't even think of it as a poetic sentence. All of those things that are not tangible -- love, freedom, justice -- must be represented in terms of something that we do know and can visualize.

In the same way, we can strive towards things -- emotions, conditions (like freedom), even social structures -- without having them all thought out, but by describing them to people in terms both strange and knowable, that will make readers want them too. Poetry, rather than being proscriptive, can encourage people to desire something and then think for themselves about what that might look like.

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