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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Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race! Part 1

“All runners (writers) in place!”

“Ready! Set! Go!”

The starting gun fires and the race begins!

Half the contestants stumble and turn, blindly running in the wrong direction. The other half run toward an imaginary finish line in the distance . . . somewhere?

Welcome to the world-cup championship race for the best Author Bio!* You, the writer (or hope-to-be writer), must tell the world who you are, and why they should listen to you, in a succinct 25 to 150 words. No solid guidelines exist to help you and there is no definitive formula for winning. Ready! Set! Go!

Does this scene sound familiar to you? Do you sit at the keyboard, palms sweating – trying to figure out who you are, what you have to say, why your work matters – trying to create the perfect Author Bio? If so, this article will help you understand and formulate a great Author Bio that works for you!

Warming Up: Defining Yourself as an Author!

I’ve been thinking about Author Bio’s for several weeks due to my blog getting more clicks on that page. It’s time to revise and update, and that decision, to re-work my own personal Bio, led to this article. Honestly, I never enjoy writing my Author Bio. It always seems a bit egotistical and pretentious – listing all my previous publication credits,talking about myself formally, introducing myself with all that pomp and grandeur – it’s not really a comfortable process even if you’re an old hand at it.

It’s even worse if you’re new to the writing profession. How do unpublished writers create credibility for their work and a professional sense of who they are in the Bio? After all, it’s not like you can say, “I’ve never written anything before, but I know my work is worth publishing. Trust me.” Right? Well, you can do that, but it never works out to your benefit!

The Author Bio is the starting point for any serious writer.**  Most editors read your Author Bio and your cover letter before even glancing at your submission. (I’ll talk about cover letters in another post.) The effort to write a good Author Bio is both necessary and worthwhile. A “good Author Bio” will help to define who you are as a writer and what your work says to the world. It is a source of clarity and purpose if done correctly. It is also, based on my years of experience as an editor, one of the most neglected parts of a submission package.

Starting Line: Understanding the Three Types of Author Bio’s

The Author Bio is the first impression an editor will have of you. It should contain the same level of writing expertise as your work. It should provide a glimpse into your philosophy on writing and the motivation behind your work. The first key to writing a good Author Bio is to understand that it is intricately linked to your work as a writer.

There are three main types of Author Bio’s:

1. Author Bio A: Educational credentials and previous publications in the small-press arena and/or winning or high placement in literary contests;

2. Author Bio B: Non-educational credentials, but combinations of publications in local or online arenas, mixed with small-press and literary publication credits;

3. Author Bio C: Non-educational and Non-published credentials, may have a blog or informal online publications or no publication history of any type.

These Bio Types are intentionally broad to allow for varying degrees of writing expertise and publication history.*** The Type label is an organized way for us to discuss “writers” as professionals, using their background, particular focus and interests, and their degree of publication experience in order to write an effective Author Bio.

It is important to remember that your Author Bio is actually your writer biography – not your mom biography, your I keep a perfectly clean house biography, or I love ice skating biography – your Bio should represent you as writer and your specific area of interest regarding a piece of work and it’s inclusion in a specific magazine or market. (The exception to this rule: Stephen King can say anything he wants in his bio!)

The Type A Bio will typically be a more experienced professional writer or an academic with numerous publication credits in their field of study. They often have a PhD or an MFA,  attend well-known workshops, are involved with writer colonies, and may be a full-time writer, professor, or editor. They often blog professionally for various media,win numerous prizes and grants via writing competitions, and may have published books one or more books.

The Type B Bio often holds a college degree and is a writer for local publications or literary magazines. They may own or edit a small-press magazine, have numerous literary publications, have won or placed in literary competitions, and may be a professional blogger with a medium to large following. They are usually less involved with national events/publications and more involved in local arts programs and cultural events or organizations in their area.

The Type C Bio is typically the beginning writer or a more mature person who has retired and is now pursuing a life-long dream. They may or may not have a college degree, may have written for local regional publications, may have some published credits or none at all. They often start writing as an emotional release, an escape from troubled lives, or because they are an avid reader and have always wanted to be a writer. They often have a blog with a small following and may or may not participate in community writing activities or reading groups.

The first step in writing a great Author Bio is to decide your Bio Type and then make an  honest assessment of self.  Nathaniel Hawthorne was right when he said:

“No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.”

Many people in the world wear masks on a daily basis, but the writer must to step from behind his mask and view himself with distance and perspective.

It is the element of distance that allows the writer to find truth in himself and the piece of work he’s creating. Again, Hawthorne makes a succinct point when he says, “Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” Good writing always flows from a place of emotional honesty and perspective cultivated and polished by the writer. instinctively, the reader understands this and backs away from the work of an overwrought, dishonest writer.

(E.g. Writing a story of Aunt Martha being fat because you hate her guts, and with no other intention or depth, will seem hostile, petty, and pointless to the reader. You’ll lose them before the end of the first paragraph. On the other hand, writing a story about Aunt Martha, from a place of honesty and compassion, detailing your journey to forgive her and move away from hatred, will gain a reader’s interest and involvement. They’ll want to know how the story – your journey – works out and will likely continue reading.)

Take a long, serious look in the mirror and then take a long, serious look at your writing from the position of observer. It’s time to start writing.

(Read Part 2 Here)

Photo courtesy of:training racing pigeonswebsite.

*The term Author Bio is used in its general, wider meaning throughout this article to include any writer, poet, author, etc. that would be formally submitting work for acceptance and publication.

**I realize that writing and publication has changed a great deal these past years. However, whether submitting work in a traditional snail-mail manner or via online submission tools or emails, I still believe a certain level of professionalism is required. Thus, the Author Bio and cover letters are treated as necessary to any submission process regardless of the format.

***I firmly believe that you can be a successful writer regardless of your particular Bio Type or level of experience. I also believe that no one type is better or worse than the other. These Types are used as a simple guideline to understanding the various levels of professional achievement, along with the slant or focus of particular writers. It is not intended to be in any way discriminatory, argumentative, or seen as support or rejection of any particular group or individual writer.

Self-Portrait February 2011

Sell Art Online

 

I am

a poet – grateful, artistic, eclectic, tired.
a writer – driven, but quieter than before.
an editor – always seeking, seldom finding.
a manager – sad, competitive, immersed.
a mom, a grandmother, a wife, just “me.”
a woman refusing shackles, chasing destiny.
a person seeing deeply, dreaming cynically.

I am

hungry to understand.
seeking the “why” of things.
afraid of missing something.
concerned I’ll leave something undone.

I am

one of those people who will bore you
with a poem that is nothing more than
a list of meaningless titles.