Art for the Sake of Humanity
My Last blog post was about how I use The NY Times articles to create erasure poems. Another term for these type of poems is blackout poems. In that post, I shared a preliminary poem but I would like to share from start to finish what this type of exercise can look like. And give a little more purpose to this exercise. These types of poems aren't just about mining a poem out of a news article (though that is what we are doing here). It is actually part of something deeper.
If you missed the last blog post, I will summarize how I go about creating these poems. First, I read the article from start to finish. Then, I go through the article again finding the words that stick out to me as either important, or interesting. The next thing I do is take a sharpie and black out the words around those words I liked. Some people block all of the text, but I like to create amoeba like blob designs on the paper. It is all the artist's preference. Do whatever you like! The final step for me is to write out the words into the rough draft of a poem. Then I let it sit. I let it sit for a long time. For days, I let it sit and I forget about it. When I come back to the words they are like lost treasure and I am able to create a whole new poem from them.
Here is the example of the rough draft I gave in my last blog post:
wounds still resume
The inspiration for this poem came from an article in the Sunday, July 17, 2022 issue of the NY Times. The article was titled Did Nature Heal During the Pandemic ‘Anthropause’? This article first caught my eye because of the word "anthropause". The word is a mashup of the words anthropocene and pause. Anthropocene refers to the current geological period of time in which we are living where humans and their activities have created the dominant influence on the environment and climate. And the pause refers to the time we spent at the beginning of the pandemic locked in our homes away from public parks and wildlife sanctuaries pausing our influence on the natural world.
Here is the final version of the poem from the article:
on being needed past the anthropause
i use to believe
i wasn’t needed
by birds or spiders
and buzzing flies and
swarm body bees
in huddled rosemary,
their fuzz pollinating
flowers dainty blue
i was sure
i didn’t need
to fill the seven
i keep filling but i
i love to watch
the fauna swell
in my quarter acre
seabirds will flock
heap of yolk
in my heart
i didn’t know
Notice I added quite a few of my own words; however, the sentiment is still the same. Isn't that the poet's job? To speak the in-between spaces and say what the heart is speaking? That was my motive here. To speak what I was relating to in the article. This is a great practice for any artist.
Recently I read another article about what the role of art was in the time of war. I cannot think of a time when war was not happening somewhere on the planet. And where were the artists when these wars were going on? I can tell you. They were recording it. They were soothing it, they were fighting it, they were feeding the hungry and bandaging the wounded.
In a graduation speech to the Bennington Writing Seminars Commencement Address on June 11, 2022, Mary Ruefle said "no one can choose between art and politics, neither of these things can never nor will ever be eradicated from our species on this earth." Ruefle is on to something here. The two most enduring behaviors in our species must coexist. This is precisely the draw of erasure poetry. The idea of taking an article from the headlines or even from another work of art and creating from that something new is incredibly human in nature.
In an opinion piece from the July 29, 2022 Friday addition of the NY Times, David Brooks writes "artists often begin by copying some predecessor who's work they admire... We are mimetic creatures. We learn by imitating what is excellent others have done before us." He was writing about how to find out who you are. The article goes on to explain how every great artist has an artist before them who influenced their art. The act of erasure poetry is in fact very much allowing other's art to influence your own art. Brooks is advocating for this practice in stating that making something like this a part of your routine you will find who you are as an artist– as a human.
Another form of letting art inspire art on the topic of poetry is practice of writing ekphrastic poems. Ekphrastic
poetry has come to be described as any type of poem describing a work of art– any type of art. However, the term ekphrastic didn't always mean that. To the ancient Greeks the term ekphrasis was used to describe anything in great detail. In fact, the first time the word ekphrastic can be found is in Homer's Iliad in which the speaker describes in detail the shield of Achilles in around 150 poetic lines:
And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield,
blazoning well–wrought emblems all across its surface,
And he forged on the shield two nobel cities filled
with mortal men. With weddings and wedding feasts in one
And he forged the Ocean River's mighty power girdling
round the outmost rim of the welded indestructible shield.
(The Iliad, book 18, lines 558-707)*
Art, in all of its forms, is moving in one way or another. And it is quite common for anyone to feel transformed by their encounters with it. This transformation leads the artist to create more art in the spirit of the art that inspired that transformation in the first place.
Art cannot and should not happen in a vacuum. As Brooks stated, we cannot find ourselves by looking inward. All of us must look to each other... for the sake of art. And dare I say it, the sake of human existence.
Academy of American Poets. “Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art.”
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Group, 1990.