Wednesday, November 08, 2006

About Seeing

Okay, this post could be called About Gloating -- one feels like gloating -- or About Celebrating, because one feels like celebrating too (and I'm happy to say I did my small part to help in the defeat of the Republicans) but, after all, this is a poetry blog, and this post is about poetry and about seeing.

i was just looking at Linda Gregg's essay on Can't remember why I went to the site. I kind of left her essay up until I had time to read it. As usual, there were things I agreed with, things I didn't, but I was struck by this paragraph:

I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically "see" things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become "old men with snow on their shoulders," or the lake looks like a "giant eye." The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck. But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, "the mirror with nothing reflected in it." This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.

I can remember many years ago when John and I lived in Manhattan -- no, even longer ago -- I lived in the Bronx and he lived in Manhattan, and I would take the subway down to visit him. I was going through a depressed period, and I couldn't write anything. John, who is and was a photographer would ask me, as one asks a child what she learned in school that day, what I saw on the subway on my way downtown. And I started looking, so I could see and tell him, and then I started seeing. And it saved me then, in a way.


Robert said...

That's really interesting: the consolation of just seeing. Occasionally I get into a state like that. Walking down Battery Street on the way to work, suddenly I'll feel aware of my surroundings almost as if I'm a character in a novel (or a poem, or a movie), aware of the shops and the weather and the colors of the cars. I think it's also seeing things with the awareness that I'll die one day and so everything is suddenly very vivid. Well, seeing things with the awareness of death in the background is probably the same thing as seeing things as if in a novel or poem. What else is art about?

Diane K. Martin said...

What else is art about? Well, I'm sure that deserves a post all its own.

But today's a good day for the consolation of just seeing, as you say--the blue clean and scrubbed by a night of rain and a day of fierce wind, the ocean calm and reflective. You can see out to Pt. Reyes today from my living room.

Driving, the other day, and listening to Ry Cooder's "Mambo Sinuendo" on CD, I had that feeling of being a character in a movie. I'm sure that's part of the popularity of the iPod--the soundtrack for one's travels. But I'm moving away from poetry here.

Beverly said...

Your post reminds me of how I learned to see again by having a child. We'd go on walks, first with Annie in her snuggli, then the stroller, then she was on her own wobbly feet. I'd be acutely aware of what she was seeing for the fist time: first dog fight, first spring blossoms, first dragonflies on a hot day. Sometimes this was because she WAS seeing them, sometimes just because I was able to see them again, almost as if for the first time, because I had her in mind and was borrowing her eyes. It's sort of like awarenees of death in the background, but the reverse side of it.

Diane K. Martin said...

Well, what was interesting to me was that in order to say the seeing I had to really see. The act of putting it in words made whatever it was real and vivid.