I am currently reading John Berger's Why Look at Animals?, and each of the essays in it are tremendously thought-provoking. The first one, called "A Mouse Story", talks about a man's encounter with various mice that sneak into his kitchen to nibble on his bread. After using a humane trap to catch them, he releases them in a field near his home. The style is simple and it is largely written in the present tense. It is a quiet and intimate encounter with the animal world.
This reminded me of the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, such as "The Lion Cage", "The Panther" and "The Gazelle", which focus intensely on the perceived inner and outer world of the animals named, suggesting volumes about the relationship between humans and animals.
It strikes me how many poems and essays about animals are written in the present tense, as curiously intimate encounters and descriptions. Yet Berger's book, according to the cover notes of the Penguin edition, explores "how the ancient relationship between man and nature has been severed in the modern consumer age, with the animals that used to be at the centre of our existence now marginalized and reduced to spectacle".
REFLECT: How do the lives of animals connect with your own? How can you be more conscious of this relationship in a way that either brings you balance, or promotes our relationship with animals in our envirionment?
MORE THOUGHT FUEL: Watch John Berger's influential Ways of Seeing series, as well as The Art of Looking. And read this Brain Pickings post that mentions John Berger and animals.
Today I looked to animated poetry for inspiration. Here are some of my favorites:
Whenever I feel a lack of inspiration, I turn to Ray Bradbury. His book, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, should be on every aspiring writer's bookshelf because of its energy, enthusiasm and wealth of creative ideas. I have read the essays in this book over and over.
One of my favorite essays in the collection is called "Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds". Near the beginning, Bradbury asks,
What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.
He goes on to explain that as he started writing, he found his own way to be creative:
I began to put down brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates. All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.
This evolved as time went on:
But along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.
The lists ran something like this:
THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. The TRAP-DOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.
I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds.
The essay goes on to explain how these lists gave birth to many of his stories and novels, Including "The Thing at the Top of the Stairs", which he finished that week in 1986.
CREATE: Time yourself for 20 minutes and list as many nouns as you can. Think of things you love and hate, and how they drive you. Keep this list and add to it.
REFLECT: What do the things you love and hate tell you about what drives you in life?
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
A Conversation with Ray Bradbury
Day at Night: Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer
I came across a couple of powerful pieces by Sergio Barrale on a recent post on Supersonic, part of an series entitled Our Private Religion. He has this to say about religion: “To me, religion is just feelings that guide us and inform our choices in the world…" I like that there is the idea of a private world, as well as a sense that it is shared with others.
Related to this, last summer I discovered Georgiana Houghton, a spiritual medium of the late 19th Century. I visited The Courtauld Institute Gallery to see her Spirit Drawings. Meticulous and ethereal, the automatic drawings were each said to be guided by a group of spirits, whose names were listed in spidery script on the back of the canvas.
Finally, on the same subject, Poetry Foundation's featured poem this week was "Faith" by David Baker.
REFLECT: What forces move you in your inner world? How do you want to make more space for these forces and express them in your life?
CREATE: Get out some markers, colour pencils or paints and create an automatic drawing. Close your eyes while drawing or colouring, or let your hand be guided by your favorite music or meditation.
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
The Longing In Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World
Abstract Art Painting: Expressions in Mixed Media
They Knew What They Wanted
They all kissed the bride.
They all laughed.
They came from beyond space.
They came by night.
They came to a city.
They came to blow up America.
They came to rob Las Vegas.
They dare not love.
They died with their boots on.
They shoot horses, don’t they?
They go boom.
They got me covered.
They flew alone.
They gave him a gun.
They just had to get married.
They live. They loved life.
They live by night.
They drive by night.
They knew Mr. Knight.
They were expendable.
They met in Argentina.
They met in Bombay.
They met in the dark.
They might be giants.
They made me a fugitive.
They made me a criminal.
They only kill their masters.
They shall have music.
They were sisters.
They still call me Bruce.
They won’t believe me.
They won’t forget.
by John Ashbery, from London Review of Books and Vanitas
This poem was created using found movie titles. Found poems can be a strong creative boost, since results are unexpected and thus take on a magic of their own.
I decided to create two found poems with movie titles containing "he" and "she" respectively. It gave me some things to reflect about regarding gender, and also what title I would choose if my life was represented by a movie!
REFLECT: Think about and describe how you would like your life story to be summed up, and why. How can you steer your life in that direction?
CREATE: Choose any page from a book/newspaper/magazine and create a found poem. Alternatively, try a pool of movie titles/book titles containing a word that you are interested in.
MORE THOUGHT FUEL: Read more found poems here at Poets.org. And here are some excellent anthologies:
Found and Lost: Found Poetry and Visual Poetry
The premise of Lucia Dill's chair paintings is simple. "Folding chairs function as unspecific characters to convey relationships, interactions, and body language." Above is a picture of one of her works with the attached tag/title: "You know?"
CREATIVITY PROMPT: Draw or use collage to portray inanimate objects in a way that represents a relationship you want to think about. How might these objects represent something interesting about the relationship?
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
I saw Lucia Dill's work in a fantastic blog I just discovered: The Jealous Curator.
Here are two books recommended on that site that I plan to buy:
Collage: Contemporary Artists Hunt and Gather, Cut and Paste, Mash Up and Transform
Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists
Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk: and Other Truths about Being Creative
Share your response to these prompts in a comment below if you like.