Poetry as narcissistic obsession…

Michaela pointed this out to me the other day- Poetry tree.

Apparently someone has been carving meticulous incredibly complicated and laborious sculptures out of books, then leaving them anonymously in various locations in Edinburgh- the Scottish Poetry Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Filmhouse, the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

These creations are rather wonderful- the person (or people) who made them are creative, painstaking and have clearly moved people- check out this article in the Guardian.

I feel strangely unmoved however- and I am not sure why. These represent something that I would normally get excited over- creativity given generously- quirky and thought provoking.

I think it is because in these objects of art, I see something of my own creativity. They appear to be rather obsessive private works, packed full of detail and ambiguity, suddenly ‘out there’.

Poetry is a very selfish activity.

My own version of this selfishness starts with little fragments of ME- what is meaningful to me, what I have seen and felt and understood. The forms of words that emerge from this selfishness then allow me to ‘work it out’ somehow.

The thought process are a little like the operation of the scalpel on the paper sculptures above- a slice here, a word cut here. And it is me doing the slicing, of my words.

What happens next is interesting- because for (my) words to be fully alive, they need to be heard by others. My way of doing this is to wear them on my sleeve  which can be a rather vulnerable thing to do, but the rewards mostly outstrip the risk.

Is this a problem, this narcissistic core at the heart of artistic process? I suppose, to a certain extent, it is simply is what it is. Art has an origin, and the art is only possible because of who the originator is.

But I still find myself uncomfortable- perhaps this is because I still believe that the highest calling we have as human spirits is not to be noticed and lauded for our creativity. Rather the best of what we are is when we live for others.

I realise there is a terrible danger in art for purpose- it easily becomes propaganda. But the things that move me most have something to say. I read this recently and muttered a little ‘Amen.’

The poem that refuses to risk sentimentality, that refuses to risk making a statement, is probably a poem that is going to feel lukewarm. So I am in favour of work that if it fails, fails on the side of boldness, passion, intensity.

Mark Doty

Back to these paper sculptures. I do not mean to be ungracious- and Michaela for one finds them delightful. How about you?


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