Tag Archives: Poetry
T. S. Eliot had a theory about poetry, which he explained in an essay called Tradition and the Individual Talent. “Most of us,” Eliot wrote, “think of poets as people who express their feelings in verse.” He thought poetry was stranger than that. As Eliot saw it, poets were less like people and more like laboratories. “The poet has, not a ‘personality’ to express,” he wrote, “but a particular medium . . . in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways.” Within this medium, ordinary emotions are compressed together until they produce an “art emotion”—an emotion that doesn’t exist in ordinary life, and is available only through the poem. That’s the whole point of poetry: while we’re under its spell, we’re not ourselves, or anyone; we feel things no ordinary person feels. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality,” he concluded.
The above is quoted from a New Yorker article.
In the tradition of Matt Kish, another great illuminated classic has been created by Allen Crawford. Whitman’s collection Leaves of Grass, with Song of Myself as a centerpiece, is a keystone of American poetry, and Crawford uses drawings and hand-lettering to deepen the reader’s experience of the poem.
Each page is a hand-drawn spread created mostly through a process of improvisation rather than of careful planning, a method of which Whitman no doubt would have approved. Some pages are nothing but elaborate compositions of text, while others are images floating in empty space with a few lines of verse. Most are a pleasing combination of both.
Several reviews I’ve read say that this copy is not the best introduction to Whitman since some of the pages are difficult to read. I have only skimmed the original, but I would have to disagree. Whitman wanted to break free of the traditional bonds of form in poetry. He wrote sprawling verses that are hard to follow even in traditionally printed books, since artificial line breaks must be added to make Whitman’s free verse fit into the standard paperback format. Crawford makes Whitman’s dream of breaking free from poetry’s form a reality. While it is almost impossible to read the page above in the exact order Whitman wrote it, it is just as impossible to miss the experience of the verse when seen in this way. The drawing, the floating text that forces you to turn the book around in your hands as you read, surely get at the heart of Whitman’s cosmic scale and intimate verse. I believe Whitman was seeking after the experience created by the reading of his poetry rather than the dogmatic adherence to his choices in form, line length, and word order.
Some pages are harder to decipher than others, though I wonder how much that has to do with some obscurity in Whitman’s poetic language and how much it is a failing on Crawford’s part to create a flow through the text. No doubt repeated readings would make such pages more clear (and re-reading is a necessary reality of reading any kind of poetry). Crawford does have a lyrical sense of how to arrange words so that at first glance the page seems illegible, but once the reader dives in he is carried through with a sense of excitement and engagement rather than confusion or frustration.
This illuminated manuscript does what all beautifully bound and illustrated books should, it forces the reader to understand that he is not superior to the book. This is a book to be experienced, not marked up and analyzed. To read this copy of Song of Myself is to more fully enter Whitman’s world, to more holistically experience the scope and intimacy of his poem.
You can find Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself illustrated by Allen Crawford on Amazon or at your local bookstore.
Good art operates on many levels; cerebral, emotional, physical, transcendental, etc. However, I have found that each category of art has a general strength or primary mode of functioning.
1. Music is one of the most emotional art forms. Every chord seems to strum the heart strings and carry the listener along through intangible and undefinable peaks and valleys of emotional experience.
2. Poetry, and by that I mean words used for their own sake as art, is the most cerebral. The language is already known to the reader and they engage with their mind first. Even if their mind takes them almost immediately to a place of emotions and images they are starting with the intellectual structure of words.
3. Visual art is the most immediate art form in the sense that a viewer can take in the gestalt of a piece almost immediately. Even if it takes them hours to notice or discover something their eye can rove the entirety of a picture relatively rapidly. Visual art creates a self contained aesthetic experience that can fully immerse a properly prepared viewer almost at once.
These are certainly generalizations and I have left much unsaid, but what are your thoughts?
The above drawing, along with the poem by Joy Patterson that inspired it, was published by The Curator, a web publication of the International Arts Movement. Their mission is to “encourage, promote, and uncover the artifacts of culture—those things humans create—that inspire and embody truth, goodness, and beauty.”
“Anamnesis” by Joy Patterson”
See the lights from above and try
to pick out familiar places
in glowing cul-de-sacs,
highways, restaurants, homes.
Might as well stare at a fire,
find patterns in soft glowing coals—
Click on the link to read the rest of the poem- http://www.curatormagazine.com/joy-patterson-jacob-rowan/anamnesis/