Saturday, September 20, 2008

Musing on poetry and Bembo's zoo***

"But I want to record the other times too, because they are hard. Because growth never comes from the moments of easy pleasure. Growth comes when the ache is greatest, when wanderlust and terror swell equally in my chest and I choose instead to stay, to say I’m sorry, and to grow with this man at my side. Again and again and again."

What is poetry to you? A rhyme and metre, a phrase or line, an emotion, a state, a combination? When does a handful of words take on that shape you call poetry?

And what do you think about the tools of expressing language visually? Well, yes, one picture is worth a thousand words, but other than that - letters, the alphabet? Does the word font mean anything to you? What about calligraphy? The way of writing letters so beautifully that it became an art? When I think calligraphy, I think perhaps of those elegant Arabic letters curving in delicate traceries of the tree of life, or of the nuanced minimalistic strokes of haiku simplicity in Chinese or Japanese paintings. Certainly I did not imagine a children's book about English alphabet showing animals made of the letters in their names.

Bembo's zoo is a book written - or illustrated - by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, also a designer or book covers and posters, and author/illustrator of another book for children - 'The counting book of the number bug', and others. This webpage is an animated version of the book, where letters move to form the shape of an animal, and then, just as quickly, dissolve away, to the sound of animal noises.

Perhaps it is not very educational, but it is fun , more so for its novelty, for the younger kids, and the older ones may enjoy being introduced to the art. If you can get your hand on the book, it would make it a lot better :) Worth a look at any rate. One page, flash based, loads quickly, and easy for the small hands to navigate. (A contrast from the artist's own site, which for one, was extremely difficult to locate, and then, is a lesson on when not to be minimalistic.)

The url -

P.S. The words I quoted at the beginning are from a recent post by Christina Rosalie, at {my topography}. That is the blog that got me here in the first place, the blog which suddenly unraveled my resistances to the cyberworld, to even reading blogs - who wants to read about other people's reality shows? But when I read the way she writes - all prose and never a poem - I still found poetry in many of her posts. It is something in the way her language flows, the way she picks her words pebble smooth, brightly luminescent, and so wholly adequate for their places. The joins of her sentences are so often master crafted invisible lines, yet supporting the weight of her ideas in their design. And the meanings, perhaps, resonate at some level, an alternate me, a me that could have been or could be or is. Not always, not even, on re-reading, again. But that is what poetry is to me - a rush of adrenaline because of a clutch of words phrased just so. A single line will sometimes stick in mind as poetry when reams of well acclaimed minstrelsy will flow uninterrupted, out. The words 'again, again, again', for example, anchor this para for me, in addition to the emotional content of the whole post.

But of course, that very subjective feeling is not sufficient to define poetry. What is poetry after all? Is this -

"Because the enraged Iraqi civilian was harassing him as the soldier
Walked off behind some bush to shit in private, the soldier killed him."

(Stephen Gibson in Ghazal at the Hotel Ai Mori d'Oriente in the collection Masaccio's expulsion)
- poetry? Is poetry of the content, or of the language?

Eliot, when he said, "Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves," was defining but an attribute of poetry, not the whole, yet I suppose this is an essential...

Then what? Vague recollections from 'Mister God, this is Anna' come to surface, and I search, and find this, in 'Aristotle's theory of poetry and fine art', by Samuel Henry Butcher -

'The process by which the poetic imagination works is illustrated by Coleridge by the following lines of Sir John Davies :-

'Thus doth she, when from individual states,
She doth abstract the universal kinds,
Which then reclothed in divers names and fates
Steal access thro' our senses to our minds'

The meaning is not that a general idea is embodied in a particular example - that is the method of allegory rather than poetry - but that the particular case is generalised by artistic treatment. 'The young poet,' says Goethe, 'must do some sort of violence to himself in order to get out of the mere general idea. No doubt that it is difficult but it is the very life of art.' 'A special case requires nothing but the poet's treatment to become universal and poetical.'

And on that note, I bring to an end your sufferings from the random disjointed unfinished thoughts for today. Think, dream, and go, be a poem!

P.P.S. Maybe six or seven years ago, while surfing I came across one paragraph entitled 'The Kiss', perhaps in the New Yorker archives. Just one paragraph, or maybe two, but I think not. That was all it was. I wish I had copied it down, at least noted the author, or where it was, because all that remains of it in my memory is the phrase 'triangulating heaven'. Yet, that para was one of the most poetic works I have read. It described a couple kissing, the space between them triangulating heaven as they leaned towards each other, and the beach front road, the boats in the background... As it happens, the author had discussed the evolution of that little piece of work, showing the various drafts over time, so perhaps it was that which was so fascinating rather than the finished piece itself. But I can't now say, till I read it again, for who knows where the emotional centre of my gravity is right now compared to back then. If anyone can point me to it again, I will be most grateful.

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