Friday, July 10, 2009

Meanwhile, Up North

There is a city workers' strike in Toronto, so no garbage collection. Photograph from the enchanting and excellent image maker, Sam Javanrouh of Top Left Pixel.

As Written; part 2

Following on my previous post: there are methods of writing creatively which would seem to defy all attempts to preserve them... kind of! Gospel of John, chapter 8:
4 They say unto him, "Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 ...what sayest thou?"

6 This they said, tempting him... But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her..."

As Written; part 1

Though everyone's handwriting is unique to them, I just noticed recently how striking Emily Dickinson's handwriting was, which led me to think about handwriting in general, and what it might tell us about the mind and mood of a person in the act of composition, whether it is a poem to the world, or a letter to a friend.

The above image is of Dickinson's handwritten draft of her poem, September's Baccalaureate:
September's Baccalaureate
A combination is
Of Crickets--Crows--and Retrospects
And a dissembling Breeze

That hints without assuming--
An Innuendo sear
That makes the Heart put up its Fun
And turn Philosopher.
It has been years since I first sparked a discussion about the crucial differences between creating on paper with a pen or pencil, and on a computer screen with a keyboard.

If you write creatively with pen and paper, as would have been the case for hundreds of recent years, it is probable that the creative process will be recorded in the various drafts and redrafts on many sheets of paper. If the drafts are preserved, future generations may access unique insight into the creative process.

If you compose on a computer,
the final draft is probably the only draft that future generations will have to go on, except in the unlikely event that the ancient laptops of a poet or writer end up in an archive of their material, where one day, a new type of researcher, forensic literary computer scientist, will mine the hard drive for whatever is stored there... The distinctly different methods of composition are akin to the difference between brewing (you get to see and experience all that the artist put down on paper with pen or pencil, including the final product), and distilling (only the final Word document copy remains).

Kevin Stein, poet laureate of the state of Illinois, has thought about this far more deeply than me:
The widespread use of computer and digital media is transforming not only how poets compose their work but also how they preserve it, or fail to...

[The contemporary] decision to forgo the handwritten and typewriter stages sends ripples through the creative process. One result is that the poem coming into being has no actual physical reality. There's nothing penciled on paper, nothing inked blotched and held up to the sun. Nothing to read, write on, curse, crumple, and toss across the room. Now, the poem is merely digital code splayed across a glowing screen, and its reality is perilously momentary. Until the poet clicks "save," the poem does not possess a lasting (if purely digitalized) form.
More of Stein's essay here.

I suppose the wild card in all of this is whether or not a writer considers his or her stuff worthy of preserving for future generations. Even for writers who experienced critical acclaim and success within their lifetime, it still requires something of an additional flexing of the ego to think to oneself, 'my drafts and redrafts are worth hanging on to, for future scholars as yet unborn.'

One of my favorite poets, Philip Larkin, preserved his drafts from his mid-twenties, perhaps less as an act of faith that one day people would be interested enough to study them, than as a record for his own mind to ponder the creative process; for Larkin, composing poetry was often a slow and labor-intensive process:
From 1944 on, Larkin, setting up shop as a postgraduate writer, preserved and dated his handwritten drafts, as they moved toward typed, corrected, and final versions... the eight-line poem “Take One Home for the Kiddies,” [...] was begun in April of 1954 and completed in August of 1960... The Whitsun Weddings,” begun in May 1957 with its first stanza complete, was then dropped, resumed in July 1958, reworked for twenty-three pages until 6 September, picked up again on 19 September and completed after eight further pages of drafts on 18 October New Yorker, July 26, 2004
What else is revealed, if pages of drafts and redrafts are preserved? In the case of Larkin, there are scores of unfinished poems which never saw publication, as the poet, in his final decade, found it increasingly difficult and then impossible, to create poetry. Therein, one can perhaps even glimpse whatever it was that worked against the muse, or what stumblingblock in the mind prevented the poetry from flowing and forming as once it did...

New Museum on the Mile

At the north-east corner of Central Park, a new building is rising: the Museum for African Art. Above, a photo of current construction, looking south-west, from the museum's web site. And below, what the finished building should look like, looking south-ish down Fifth Avenue, in 2010. This will be the first museum to be built on Museum Mile since the Guggenheim was completed in 1959. Most if not all the museum's galleries, formerly in Long Island City, are closed, pending the reopening.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New to America...

...women immigrants.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hats off to William Blake

Hat Store, Third Avenue, Upper East Side, NYC

William Blake's poem, "The Sick Rose," forced itself into my mind last night as I passed by this hat store... I am not sure why. Here it is:

The Sick Rose

Oh rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Also, this morning, some of the things I saw in the Bronx, around 6 a.m... I had been sick by then -- but not in the bad sense.

By the Bronx River, these gorgeous, almost tangible, rays of sunlight.

Patriots all on Eastchester Avenue.

From not the Bronx, but Long Island City...

On Lurting Avenue, Bronx: does the early cat catch the bird?