Guest Post, Elizabyth Hiscox: Expressing the Abstract in Three Easy Steps, or Destination: Poetry

Destination and destiny: same root, same idea. You have got an idea of where you’ll be, and so does the universe. If this pitch doesn’t sit quite right or has overtones of religiosity, then a disclaimer that for the purposes of this post and this prompt I access the concepts in the mostly-secular, but highly spiritual concept of E.M. Forster’s “only connect” variety.

Several destinations may inhabit any travel itinerary, and they may all have a shared destiny: the poem. A bit of structure, a road map to poetry if-you-will, can be a good way to get to both. One can become easily distracted in this world. By purple, for example. Using an easy-as-1-2-3 approach to composition can keep a writer from losing all the minutiae of the moment. It can be a comfort to have a prompt in mind when falling into experiences or off of commuter trains in strange places.

One of the best recommendations I received while trying to write during travel was at the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was overwhelmed and finding it hard to wrench away from the pure experience of the place to a page. A fellow poet reminded me that we are never the first in our struggles with the art. She suggested that since haiku has been the catch-all of moment-oriented travelers for generations it might help me synthesize a portion of what the Hermitage and the Neva and the Cyrillic alphabet and the dazzling All of It had sent reeling. Haiku has helped generations in other languages, granted, but is no less available to us in the syllabic lost-in-translation-but-still-useful English-speaking world. 5.7.5. Yes? 1-2-3.

Thus, I give you a three-part travel prompt in honor of the three approachable lines of the haiku. It is not haiku. That works too. Write haiku. Do.

This is something different and is not, of course, the essence of haiku. The haiku has many constraints (season, unexpected revelation, quantity as well as quality of syllables) that this prompt completely ignores. Also, I use “approachable” advisedly: a prompt is meant to start the process, not guarantee an end product. So, this approach is only one strange articulation of a three-part way into a poem that I have used in the past to “get there” (poem) while being gone.

The set-up: Go somewhere. A well-placed park bench can work as well as another continent.

The scribble:

  1. The basics of the information/experience. What is the heart of the destination.
  2. Anything that is auxiliary, but floats to the surface. Can be in terms of image, sound, tone, concept, or just more information from the moment. What is crafty (as in craft).
  3. A connection with the anything that you knew before for which these two points ring a bell.

Destination: The poem or series of poems written from this vantage point. Like most good trips, once you get to your destination you can see roads to other places.

..

An example follows from which to discern, distill, and/or depart.

..

The set-up: Denver, Colorado. “Women of Abstract Expressionism” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum

The scribble:

  1. Heart of information/experience: Quote from Lee Krasner next to one of her stunning paintings on the exhibit wall: “I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock—that’s a matter of fact—[but] I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.”
  2. Auxiliary: Krasner went through a period where she was working in a studio denied daylight and suffering from severe insomnia. She chose to abandon chromatics and thus some of Krasner’s most famous pieces are simply umber and white paint. // In order to take a picture of Krasner’s work, I had to enter my passcode to get away from my phone’s lock screen. My phone’s lock screen is of a Jackson Pollock painting. I took that picture on the same phone at the MOCA in Los Angeles this past spring. I do not know what my lock screen was before it was Pollock.
  3. What Beast Must I AdoreConnective tissue: The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil were just beginning at the same time I found myself at this exhibition. They are just ending as this post finds its way into the world, so there will be a new set of issues for commentators and those who comment on the commentators. At this moment, however—when I was standing in front of a Krasner painting titled “What Beast Must I Adore?” (from a Rimbaud poem)—backlash against newscasters’ handling of the gender politics connected to reportage of women athletes was what was getting headlines. The Chicago Tribune had just reported the accomplishment of Corey Cogdell-Unrein (trap shooting) with the tag “Wife of Bears’ Lineman Wins a Bronze Medal Today in Rio Olympics.” They didn’t bother with her name. Elsewhere, NBC’s Dan Hicks expounded for quite a while after a world-record swim by Katinka Hosszu on her husband who, apparently, was “responsible” for the feat.

Destination: In 2016, The Guardian has an opinion piece called “How to Talk About Female Olympians Without Being a Regressive Creep—A Handy Guide.” Lee Krasner’s monochromatic masterpiece, “What Beast…” is from 1961. All the color drained from the dreams Lee Krasner could have had in those years is in brightly colored interlocking rings that serve to delight, but still deny female accomplishment at the cutting edge. One can discern chaotic unconnected rings in the painting if one is inclined. All the color drains.

So, there is the ringing bell. One connection. One coherence of thought that might make its way into the poem or poems that arise from this day. But, more direction of synapses than would have been available otherwise. 1 then 2 then 3. After all, Joan Mitchell’s paintings were in the next gallery and her purple, well, it can distract…

And, then you may be noticing all the other poems lurking. Where’s the epigraph from Rimbaud? What about the culpability of the speaker/author with the iPhone set to husband-of-Krasner? What about all the implicit possibilities in the jargon of trap shooting?

And, you are right to wonder. Usually my three-step plan (heart/craft/connection) actually has sub points that I flesh out for a while on the return home.

And, you may be writing a different poem with any material on offer. I hope you are. Because Krasner said later of the infamous title that she realized as she finished the painting that “[t]he beast [was] peering at me.” As creators, the next stare-down is always within. As we move through the world our travels are often routes to our own terrain. 3-2-1.

Featured Art for Issue 9: Jonathan Faber

Jonathan Faber

We had the opportunity of featuring six of Jonathan Faber’s paintings in our newly-released Issue 9. Jonathan’s award-winning work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout New York and Texas including the Austin Museum of Art, the David Shelton Gallery, and the Galveston Arts Center.

His work fuses the beauty of both abstract and realistic environments. Jonathan describes his new collection as “being involved within the paradox of memory and observation – seeking out subjects that co-exist between the expansive and the intimate, the recognizable and the ambiguous.” He explains that “they manifest from memories of places or things observed, lived with, or passed through.”

Jonathan draws inspiration from the houses and backyards from where he grew up: “Many things inspire me but my most recent subjects are connected to domestic objects and landscape settings. Other sources of mine examine conversations, things I’ve read, and things I’ve listened to. These associations tend to lean more into the abstract spectrum.”

He has received awards from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 2011, the Joan Mitchell Foundation in 2003, and has been nominated three times for the Arthouse Texas Prize. Faber finds creating art is about the journey and the discovery: “To me the transformative process of making paintings doesn’t necessarily lend itself to an ultimate goal. I find it’s much more exciting, productive and ambitious to try to solve problems and take risks. So goals for me tend to suggest an ending where I am more interested and concerned with discovery and where that may lead.”

This new collection takes on a slightly different tone than some of his previous work: “I think about past work as being in two camps — graduate school and post graduate school. Graduate school was about trying on a lot of different hats and mimicking for better/for worse some of my past heroes, such as Gerhardt Richter for example. Post graduate I found myself introducing a broader range of invented vocabularies and moving more or less in a linear direction from one painting to another, responding to the discoveries made in each painting. Now I look at what I make as a hybrid of many interests with a better handle on orchestrating and decoding the rules of representation.”

For those looking to hone their talents, Jonathan suggests new artists “work hard at their practice. Stay engaged with your art community so people know who you are and what you’re up to. Very few artists can live off their own work. Most artists need a second job to support themselves. It’s very important to be honest and admit to yourself what kind of artist you are.”

Being an active part of the art community is essential: “Go to every art event you can and get to know the right people in that art community. If you are the type of artist who doesn’t enjoy the social aspects of asserting oneself in this way then you will need another job like teaching a painting class or working in a design field. Just relying on the quality of your work and the purity of your spirit/conscience rarely puts enough food on the table to maintain a robust artistic practice.”

Jonathan Faber currently works part-time as an Assistant Professor at Southwestern University Georgetown in Texas and is a Lecturer at the University of Texas in his hometown of Austin. You can see Jonathan Faber’s work in Issue 9 and on his website.