Saturday, November 25, 2006

Seeing -- just SEEING!


My thanks to Debra Ager who in turns thanks Diane K. Martin for pointing out this Linda Gregg essay. We all love what Gregg says here:

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.
My cat curled up on my desk is a breathing cinnimon roll. Woops! Looks like I have trouble seeing too!

(Click on the picture above, and you'll really SEE her. Her name is Misha. She is what is known as a torby -- a blend of tortoise shell and tabby.)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The other side of the coin is how students who are interpreting stories or poems feel compelled to see everything as a symbol or metaphor — even before they have carefully considered the physical scene being described. In working on essay writing, I long ago discovered that I had to find ways to trick them into paying attention to the actual words an author uses, as well as the actual scenes an author describes. Once they've done that work, then they can decide which of their symbolic, metaphorical, or allegorical readings actually could make sense.

I mostly teach essay writing through literature, but I also point out how the same literal approach is necessary in other fields, as well. A historian who only ever sees symbols, after all, is not a historian but a mythologist (or, at best, a certain kind of anthropologist, if one who needs to go do some field work).

32poems said...

You are very welcome!

Pris said...

Good post. One of the reasons I became involved in writing modern haiku and creating haiga is for the very reason that you write what your senses show you..no fancy metaphors or language..and so elegant in that simplicity. Free verse will always be my preferred poetry form, but writing haiku has shaped it more finely.

Brian Campbell said...

Some devil's advocate reflections on the foregoing: Symbols can become sym-bull, and on the golf green of poetry, sometimes you have to duck before the flying meta-fores. But is it not true that seeking metaphors also enhances perception? Perhaps, at certain times, to really travel, that tenor needs a vehicle to drive around in.

Anyway, thanks for your comments, you 3.

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