Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Ty Newydd 2

A heavy workload day for me despite a not particularly good night (I rarely sleep well on the first night away) so I was closer to being a wreck than I could afford to show.

But once I start something it generally carries me because it is interesting in itself. So the session begins with a long discussion about what we understand an image to be, what it does, how we seek images and how we might find them in representations of the world, specifically in visual art. Generally, I just ask questions then comment around the answers. We talk about what kinds of visual art lend themselves to being written about, and the forms the writing can take, starting from the notions of art history, art appreciation, art theory, journalism, conversation, moving on to what we think of as creative writing - fiction and poetry in particular. Why do we respond in this way? What are we hoping to achieve? What obligations do we feel to the art object and in what way might we be free to go our own way?

Is there something second hand about it all? Like bumming a ride? Is ekphrastic writing a lesser form because it starts out from that which has already been digested and formed? Is 'life' the primary experience, and 'art' merely a secondary one? Is there such a thing as primary experience and secondary experience?

On the other hand, do we not find that in confronting 'primary experience' we bring to it a great deal we have absorbed at secondary level, so what appears primary is already a 'subject'? We know about things before we meet them. They belong in our field of real and imagined knowledge. In that respect there is no real primary and secondary. The 'secondary' constitutes 'primary' in that it confronts us. This leads nicely on to the coffee break and what lies beyond.


The second half of the morning was spent on photography, which Pascale and I had agreed would by my area for the purposes of the course, while she dealt primarily with the various forms of what are referred to as fine art - paintings, sculptures, installations, etc. Here I used two central texts - Barthes's Camera Lucida and excerpts of an interview with the photographer, Diane Arbus. There is a close similarity between what Barthes and Arbus say about photography, and what they both say can be applied very well to poetry too. So we are looking for a poetics of photography that is also a functional poetics for a writer.

I set a brief exercise, to imagine a portrait photograph and to see it as Barthes sees it, that is to say in terms of studium (its interest as a subject), punctum (the discovery of an incidental, unintended detail that moves the image beyond subject into the field of the personal desire and possibly even subverts it), and blind field (the surprising unknown place where the punctum might take us). This corresponds with my general hunch that most lyric poems are tripartite - the first part the original scenario or setting that, like the studium, is known in some way, the second part a shift through some detail or association is removed to another place, and the third part that is the reult of of the journey between parts 1 and 2.

But how do we find the punctum? The way a great photographer does, by positioning ourselves in a likely place and hoping to spot it. Experience in poetry is about having a nose for where to position yourself.

The imagined photograph is a good idea though it may be best to specify that it be a photograph of someone not too close to the person. The knowledge of the person can be overwhelming - too much knowledge floods in. But it is just a brief exercise so no harm done. At the end I deal out a photograph to each person. They will take that away and work through it considering the various ways we discussed. I also give a few constraints. The poem must have 13 lines, in other words it will be aware of the sonnet just beyond it, and must contain one set of end rhymes. If 13 lines isn't enough then the continuation must be another 13 line piece, and so on, possibly to form a set.

These constrains are partly arbitrary but contain a suggestion of precedent. The arbitrariness is important because it allows the language to make conditions, and not be too passive. Language for a poet must be like the camera to Diane Arbus - 'recalcitrant'. Dealing with this recalcitrance is what is called technique. Arbus finds the camera recalcitrant but she takes technically very fine photographs. It is her way of dealing with the recalcitrance. This is by no means easy of course, but at the same time I assure people it's no great problem if the poem doesn't work. That's my fault not theirs.

Responsibility is a great killer of the imagination.

Then supper, then Pascale and I do our readings followed by discussion. Then I stay up another hour and a half in a conversation in the kitchen about major / minor, great/ insignificant poetry. Conclusions another time.

Then about five minutes ago a young house martin (or swift?) flies into my room and bangs against the walls. It is magical and endangered. I fear it might hurt itself, I open the windows wide and, finally, it flies out.

There, he is just gone.

1 comment:

Poet in Residence said...

I enjoy it when you tell us what you do in class.

Yesterday I was in a house in Burgenland looking at a painting of two Hungarian donkeys dragging a heavy cart when somebody told me what the future held for them.

I've done a piece 'homework'. Maybe, not exactly what you had in mind.
best, gwilym