For this month’s topic, I will highlight a form of visual poetry I have been creating during this time of self-imposed ‘social distancing’. So, this is my attempt to focus on the upside of isolation; an opportunity to explore creative projects I enjoy, but at a deeper level. However, I will begin with a personal insight from earlier this week. You see, as I come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic that is totally changing our daily lives right now, it occurred to me that my life has *already* been shaped by another pandemic.
I grew up with a keen awareness of the sudden, devastating and traumatic power of influenza. I was aware of this because a beloved Aunt’s mother was struck down by the Spanish Flu when she was just a small child (1918-1920). Her widowed father re-married and he had two more daughters, the younger of which became my adoptive mother. My Aunt V loved her step-mother (she called her “Mamma”) but the loss of her first mother was always acknowledged as a sad event she had learned to live with. Aunt V is gone now and I like to imagine that she is happily reunited with both of her mothers in the next world.
Pondering this chain of events, I realized that if V had not lost her mother to the Flu, my mother would not have been born from the parents she had, and she would not have met my adoptive father, and I would not have been added to their respective families. I would still exist, but my name would be different, and I would have grown up in a different town, attended different schools with different friends.
My mother also introduced me to the Early Family, so I might not even be married now, or have two daughters. I would almost be a totally different person! I say “almost” because I believe I would have the same core personality, but many behaviors would be different as I have adapted to conditions (good and bad) that I have experienced.
So, this time of quiet isolation and introspection has brought me to a feeling of increased connectedness to the global energies that shape our individual lives. Everything about my current life has a mysterious quality to me right now. Is it destiny or fate that I am here, with this persona? If I have value to the planet and the global community in my ‘current configuration’ then perhaps my current condition is an *upside* of a 100-year-old tragedy.
BE WELL and stay safe everyone – I am buoyed by the phrase being used in Italy right now:
“Andrà tutto bene”
Okay, so POETRY… which is what I had planned to write about before the world spun out of control.
On New Year’s Day I found a book at Strand that is designed to be used for ‘Black Out Poetry’. Seeing it there, hidden in the stacks of new and used books, reminded me of how much I used to like to play with this poetry form.
Basically, you take any block of existing text and you eliminate all the words that do not belong in your poem, essentially you ‘black them out’ using an unlimited variety of methods. I am reminded of this quote that refers to 3-dimensional work but expresses the same idea:
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” —Michelangelo
I bought two copies of the book so I could give one to my younger daughter for her birthday and keep one for myself. I thought it would be interesting to compare the poems we create using the same source material. (We have yet to do this – rumor is she has completed 4 so far, and I think I have 8) The book begins with a few instructive and inspirational pages but the bulk of the pages are for creating poems. The paper is heavy-duty weight, ideal for this creative writing style.
I include a few of my recent poems here. They are each slightly different in terms of the materials I used to eliminate the superfluous text or to add visual elements. However, process I use for discovering each hidden poem does not really vary for me, I usually do the following steps:
- Read the page through a couple of times.
- Overlay a sheet of very sheer tracing paper (this allows me to write on the page, but erase, and re-do and make lots of changes without damaging the page itself.)
- IMPORTANT! (Especially when using permanent markers) Place a sheet of plastic, waxed paper, or cardboard directly behind the page to prevent bleed-through to the next page.
- Using a pencil, I start by lightly circling words or phrases that jump out, or especially appeal to me.
- Then I search for the story these words hint at, or the memory they invoke, and look for other words I can link to that will add to my idea.
- I like to write the poem in my personal journal and read it out loud to myself, before I commit to it on the actual page.
- Sometimes I let it rest a day or so and I go back and make changes before I am ready to commit to the poem. And,
- sometimes I feel like the poem is ready to be isolated from the other text right away, so I decide how best to do this based on the layout of the words and phrases on the page.
- I make visual/artistic decisions – how do I want to isolate the phrases in the poem in the poems? Will I outline the words or phrases with a pen or other tool?
- How will I ‘black-out” the unwanted text? Dark markers, white-out, paint, tissue paper, or images? These decisions are often based on how much time I have, or how much disruption would need to occur. Pens and markers are very quick and easy to use. If I want to paint, or use images and adhesives, I need to clear an area to work, in my room or on my little table (I have a small apartment.)
- After I have thought through design ideas, I consider adding an additional image or decoration to enhance the theme of the poem.
The poems on this page all use different methods:
SO-ON: Black and silver ‘Sharpie’ permanent markers, yellow highlighter, blue gel-pen.
Transition: Magazine image, silver Sharpie marker, and acrylic paints.
Spring Haiku: Acrylic paints, clear acetate, and colored Sharpie markers.
Tears’ Lesson: White-out (White liquid paper), watercolor paint, and fine point Sharpie.