The Art of Seeing

 

 

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~Jonathan Swift

If I were going to select one thing that makes the difference in a poet and their poetry, or in the daily life of an average man, it would be the vision with which that person looks at himself and the world around him.

Jonathan Swift, a prolific writer, (best known for the prose masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels, and considered the foremost prose satirist in the English language*) gives a near perfect definition of (artistic-spiritual) vision when he says it is “the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

The poet’s true gift is his ability to see these invisible elements and then translate them. An excellent poet will see deeper than the average person. He will use this deeper vision, take in the essence of truth before him, and then use the medium of language to translate what he sees with intense emotion and minute detail. All great and poignant poetry is about vision, translation, and audience.

Poetic Eyes

Imagine yourself as a child opening a birthday gift – you tear the paper off the box and find a large magnifying glass inside.  The very first thing you do is go look at all the things you’re interested in with your new glass. You will see everything as before – but then, in a new way as the tiny elements of these things grow larger and clearer under magnification.

Now, imagine the poet, looking at everything in his world through a magnifying glass. He is already looking at the world around him, but he learns to tune his vision in such a way as to see deeper – as if he were holding a magnifying glass up in front of everything that catches his attention. This is how the poet “sees the invisible.”

Here is an example of detail from the poem, Death in Leamington, by John Betjeman:

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the evening star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa.

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have worked it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high’ mid the stands and chairs —
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs./ …..

Betjeman uses a variety of poetic techniques in this excerpt, but pay special attention to his translation into imagery with meaning.

The death in Betjeman’s poem is recorded in slow-motion, each detail carefully carved in the readers mind, each small thing translated to perfection. We see the scene as the poet sees it – with the shared depth of sadness the poet experiences. He brings the moment to life in a vibrant, deep way which changes us, the reader, as we move through this episode with him. We see through his eyes.

Poetic Translation

The following poem is an example of a poet’s ability to use the smallest details, along with connotation, to create a vivid picture and joined experience with the reader. Robert Hayden is a master of experience translation in Those Winter Sundays:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Hayden sees the past with his father in the new light of his own maturity. The poem explores the coldness (ingratitude) felt as a child and creates a mirroring effect with the coldness of the house.

The reader sees and feels the sadness, the understanding and regret, as the poet drills-down to the simple weekly experience. The poet is, at once, both child and adult speaking to us, telling us his story in a way that brings us inside of it with him. The words are translated into an experience for the reader.

Poetic Audience

A poet writes for himself to large degree. However, he writes in a fixed time and place – each decade belongs to the lingering poetic voices which have named it. This means that a poet must always be conscious of Audience.

The poem cannot exist away and aside from audience. It speaks from a place and time where others live, where history occurs, and the future becomes the past. In thinking of audience, we must bring time and place to the table, and also class, status, country, and world-view.

Audience, in the larger sense, is demonstrated perfectly by Allen Ginsberg in this excerpt from the poem, America:

America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.

Ginsberg is speaking in and from a particular time in American history. His poems resonate strongly with people of that generation sharing similar experiences. They resonate now in a more general sense or as an example of defiance and rebellion to the status quo for people of a different culture or time.

Culture is a part of poem and audience alike. The following excerpts, by Gwendolyn Brooks and Sterling A. Brown speak with a strong voice that is both living in and speaking from a particular culture:

We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

We Real Cool
The Pool Players
Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk Late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Excerpt from Riverbank Blues by Sterling A. Brown

A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin’, no need for doin’,
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary’s, Big Mary’s, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man’s roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak./…../

Brown’s poem about the Mississippi River speaks of a local, rural culture that lives with the good and the bad of the river. His poem tolls a warning while speaking generally of danger and oppression, yet deals specifically with the danger and oppression locally in relation to the River.

A “good” poem is hard to define. There are variances, personal preferences, and socio-political elements that make definition impossible. However, we can see that the hallmark of good poetry – poetry that lasts and brings a voice to it’s people, culture, and generation – is a combination of poetic vision, translation, and audience. The poet writing with strong abilities in these areas will be heard. ~

 “A culture is made – or destroyed – by its articulate voices.”   ~Ayn Rand

 

Art Prints

ARTWORK: Red Rose by Karen M. Scovill, courtesy of www.fineartamerica.com. You can find out more about the artist and view other works here.

*from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

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Conversation


I don’t
think
it’s supposed
to feel
this good to
talk to you

* * *

It’s like Roses
in the morning
covered
in dew, too
important (beautiful)
for words.
Or, it’s like
the feel
of soft-warm
sun touching
your skin
on a cold
November
day — just
perfect and perfectly
amazing.

* * *

You
are a shadow
love haunting
my memory
like
a deep,
cool breeze
on a
blazing-Hot
day.

~July 2011, South Carolina

 
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ARTWORK: Gentle Woman by Svetlana Nivikova. Read author Bio and see more work by this artitst here.

Remember You Sleeping

In this velvet
silence of night
almost turning into day –
I can hear your voice,
see us talking, laughing,
remember you sleeping —
me tenderly watching
you breathe
in soft rhythm —
as I waited
for those first rays of light –
the rooster crowing,
the birds singing —
I roll to hold you
warm with sleeping,
one last time,
before the morning comes
brightly shinning
burning the memory away.

~South Carolina, 2011


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ARTWORK: Love’s Dream Fulfilled by Jindra Noewi. You can find this piece and others here. More information on the artist here. Or, visit her website at: http://noewisart.com/wordpress/

Unfinished Sunrise

~from the Collection, Odes to Plath

Hidden in dark-petal
groves where trees of
doubt and rivers of
fear flow –

You stand neck-deep
in the mud of
disillusionment, all
the false promises,
desiccated dreams,
chirping in your ear;
their malevolent
voices
haunting the darkness
as you struggle
to rise,
sinking deeper
until the mud crawls
inside your mouth
forces itself
down your throat,
into your center, attacks
the dreams hiding
in hope of light.
Out of this dire swamp
of human condition
you reach for a
twig, limb of a tree,
for something to hoist,
push-pull yourself
to freedom.

Hidden in dark-petal
groves where trees of
doubt and rivers of
fear flow –

You are growing,
push-pull-leaning
toward
that one ray of light,
struggling to pull
yourself out
of this thing called
Depression –
because there’s an
unfinished sunrise
you’re trying to
find.

~South Carolina, 2011

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ARTWORK: Anhelo by Ryan Swallow. To see more of Ryan’s artwork, including this piece, please go here. You may read more about the artist here. Or, you can visit his website at: http://ryanswallow.com

** ** **  **  **  **  **

A very special Thank You to Jingle and Thursday Poet’s Rally for the award below! You are all deeply appreciated.

 I nominate mindlovemisery  at: http://mindlovemisery.wordpress.com/

Crumpled Sheets

 

 

I can remember
the way you walk –
a fluid movement
with erotic appeal.

The way your hair
falls a certain way
across your cheeks,
beside your eyes.

A slight lift to the right
whenever you smile –
the honey sweet taste
of your lips, of you
in a passionate kiss.

I can remember
the way your back
feels soft and muscled –
warm – as I roll closer,
snuggle into sleep.

Waking to feel
the length of your legs
entwined with mine,
the width of your chest,

the weight of you
shifting, above and within
me — your chest touching mine,
soft whisper of words
against the nape of my neck.

I can remember
the strength of you
holding me, taking me,
hot against my flesh –
filling me completely
all those long years ago.

~July, 2011 South Carolina

Photography Prints

ARTWORK: Reverie by Richard Young. For artist information, other available works, and further details on this piece, please go here.

That One Peach

 
 

There is
that
one peach
over-ripe
battered and bruised
on one side
that I must have —
craving modest
imperfection
as the bite sinks deep
and the juice
rolls gently
down my chin.
The
imperfect things
often hold
the greatest pleasure,
a lingering sweetness
that outlasts time.
I am
a devourer
of imperfection —
leaving
all the perfect things
for someone else.

~July 2011

 

 

 Art Prints

Find out more about the artist at this website.

BrainBlogger: Look at Yourself…

From BrainBlogger: Look at Yourself


A wonderful article that delves into body image and perception in relation to BDD# Interesting read with excellent research data to consider# Take a look here

Dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is not abnormal in itself, but in individuals suffering with BDD the distorted perception of oneself is extreme enough to impede their functioning in day to day life making it a candidate for a serious mental condition.

the excavated self

the excavated self

~from the Collection, Odes to Plath

I admit there is an obscurity
in your work
that lends itself
to my confusion.
But —
don’t bother yourself about it.

I am not expertly aware of how
stone is cut either but
I can still appreciate
the majesty of the cathedral.

So it is,
block by block,
piece by piece,
this building we must do.

The excavated self of blood-raw bone
and glistening sinew,
taken-out, twisted and cut,
examined, the warm blood lingering
fresh on our hands.

Poems are pulled
from a raw-bright-red center,
twisted-cut, re-coiled,
reconstructed,
to form words into lines
into stanzas into poems.

Poems
born at the center of
an excavated self,
becoming our cathedral
as we worship at the center
where creation hides
poems
that we build.

~September 2010

Gleaned from Ink


Gleaned from Ink

~from the Collection, Odes to Plath

It is never a shock that you died.
(You announced deaths’ presence often
enough, explained your acquaintance
with his cold, familiar person.)

Not your dying, but the final distorted picture —
Isolated, alone, invisible gas, babies in the next room.
That stunning portrait shock-ripples our consciousness.
The proximity of life and death
so closely knitted together —
touching threads aligned
evenly in your created tapestry.

Your destiny was to become a great poet,
immortality gleaned from ink
flowing across a contrast-white background,
the dark-lined letters of your life
a glistening hue.

~composed September 2010.

ARTWORK CREDIT: The Scribe and the Scroll…, by Jon Gemma. Original and other artwork here.
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