Monday, March 16, 2009

Poets and Painters

Oh yeah, and one more thing I wanted to say about that high-school poetry class I sat in on last week--the teacher said he tries to steer his students away from using what he called "emotion words" in their poetry. Rather, he encourages them to use images. Because, he said, images can bypass certain portions of the brain--like the analytical portion of your brain and "just pull on the heart strings." Now, the neuroscience of all this gets a little fuzzy once we get to the bit about pulling on the heart strings, but I think he's right.

Actually, it sounds a lot like T.S. Eliot's essay on the "objective correlative," except this teacher didn't trash Shakespeare's Hamlet. The teacher--his name is Alex Bleecker, by the way,--also said that he sees this happening in the visual arts. And in painting. Which I also think is true. I think the visual arts (and painting is a good example) are in general much better understood and appreciated for their esthetics and emotion than poetry is. For example, paintings sell for millions of dollars. Even in this economic downturn, painting still sell for millions of dollars. No one has EVER paid that much for a poem, and more and more it looks like no one ever will. 

The mechanics of this disparity were, however, prior to today, a complete mystery to me. It's still a bit of a mystery, but the power of the visual to bypass certain portions of cognition really does make some sense to me. I also think analyzing poetry is important--ideally you bring both your right and your left brain to the reading of poetry--but analyzing might not be the best first approach. 

Finally, Alex Bleecker said, and I quote, "A poem is more than a math problem, you're not always trying to solve it."  I don't actually think there is a qualitative difference between math and poetry, but I do think that poems ask us to balance the right and left sides of our brain in a way that is peculiar. 

Here is the lovely, the enigmatic, yet relentlessly physical, Frank O'Hara. The poem is called 

Why I am Not a Painter:

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

No comments:

Post a Comment