Recently I have found writings on poetry to be much more relevant for visual art, than specialized visual art writing, such as reviews, catalogue texts or research papers. Writings on poetry, and especially texts on poetry written by poets, seem to grasp art more directly, even if the poet’s language are poetic -and by definition – less specific than ordinary, everyday language. I have found texts on poetry to be much better at transmitting the sensation of art; what art feels like, what it’s like to be experiencing art.
Regarding art writing I have started to wonder: has the viewers’ point of view been overlooked? Has the professional art milieu, the trendsetting magazines and galleries – the art writing establishment – reduced the art audience to a handful of specialists? And if so: isn’t this in art’s disinterest? A disservice to art?
…, sometimes poems aren’t literal representations of anything. Sometimes a poem just exists as something else in the universe that you haven’t encountered before.
If you want a poem to say what it means, right away, clearly—and of course the poet who writes that kind of poem is usually talking about his or her own experiences—well, what happens when you read that kind of poem is that it puts you back in the world that you know. The poem makes that world seem a little more comfortable, because here is somebody else who has had an experience like yours.
But you see, these little anecdotes that we read in these poems and that we like to believe are true, are in fact fictions. They represent a reduction of the real world. There’s so much in our experience that we take for granted—we don’t need to read poems that help us to take those things even more for granted.
People like John Ashbery or Stevens do just the opposite—they try to explode those reductions. There’s a desire in Ashbery, for example, to create perfect non sequiturs, to continually take us off guard. He creates a world that is fractured. It doesn’t imitate reality. But, looking at it from another point of view, you could say that it’s simply a world that is as fractured and as unpredictable as the world in which we move every day.
Agnes Martin, Homage to Greece (1959). Oil, canvas collage and nails laid on panel
As I see it, one can easily swap from poem/poetry to art, and Mark Strand’s ideas will still make perfect sense!
… there’s an element of delight in these people who rearrange reality. We usually hang on to the predictability of our experiences to such an extent … and there’s nowhere else where one can escape that as thoroughly as one can in certain poets’ work. When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive—not as routinely there.