I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately about what poetry “is,” although I’m hesitant to assign it any sort of restrictive definition that would limit what I felt I could do and still safely consider myself a poet. Because I’ve been writing poetry for so long (not in a pretentious way, but just in an actual way), I feel very comfortable almost dismissing questions about what I write with like yeah, whatever, poetry. I think it’s really easy to say that the problem is with the noun poetry. But as an “artist” (which feels like a false title, but more on that later), it’s really important to talk about verbs and how they’re working against creativity.
The verbs we use to describe the creation of art create imaginary restrictions on what we, as artists, can do. If you say, “I’m writing poetry,” then there are already all of these associations that come to mind from the word write: I’m sitting on a chair at a desk writing words with pen on lined paper or, because we’re in 2016, I’m sitting on my bed with the lights off typing words on a mostly empty Word document. Writing is a very particular action that involves some sort of static word production; it refers to a contained medium– words–that doesn’t leave a lot of room for innovation. There are, of course, so many cool things you can do with words, but, ultimately, if I was going to write poetry, using the traditional verb used to describe the act of creating poetry and the dictionary definition of the word write, then there is a limit on what I can do and still call myself a poet.
This gets complicated when you realize how expansive the genre of poetry is, especially with all the really neat things going on with digital poetry (which I conveniently wrote about in my last blog post). The limits of writing poetry in the way we typically think about poetry are so much easier to ignore if we talk about creating poetry; it becomes less about specific action and more about producing something, regardless of medium. When I write poetry, I’m a writer, and, to me at least, calling myself an artist doesn’t really make sense because artist implies something visual. It feels like we engage with words in a different way than we engage with “art,” but I think that has something to do with these unnecessary medium boundaries we place on artists. If we strip ourselves of verbs that aren’t needed to define what we make, then there is room for so much more innovation.
I’m struggling with verbs and, as I said earlier, nouns, and just words in general. As hard as I try to do particular things with them or make them work a specific way, working with pure straight-up words is just not cutting it for me lately. Last semester, I tried to developed a way of writing in which words were so far dissociated from their meanings that their sounds just became feelings, but much of it just felt a little too empty to me, probably because the reader doesn’t end up connecting with the words, but feeling something apart from the words. I tried to fill this gap with some visual elements, and I think it definitely feels fuller, but, if nothing else, it was really fun to make:
Because this is a remediated piece, it was more of just a practice run to see what I could do with Keynote (yes, this is basically a really elaborate PowerPoint). Keynote (or PowerPoint, or whatever software you have) is actually an amazing visual tool, even if a little tricky to get started with and weirdly unnecessarily time-consuming to use if you want everything to move at the right time. My point is, though, that this isn’t any less a poem because it’s a video. In fact, I think the words are more full of life when they’re in movement than when they’re tied down to a piece of paper, and I especially love that they’re able to interact with each other in a way that usually just isn’t possible. Art doesn’t need to be created or experienced in any particular way, and if we step outside of our medium comfort zones and start experimenting, then we can produce art in whatever form it wants to be in.