Tuesday, January 25

Howl: Identifying with a Poet

Allen Ginsberg (Image via Read the Spirit)
A teacher in college pushed Allen Ginsberg's Howl on me. I have got to admit I don't think I ever really understood it. Never took the time to understand it. But I devoured it, in a systematic fashion, and like the rest of the Beat stuff, I noted it's importance.

As it happens with poetry, art, or any sort of great cultural artifact of Howl's caliber, the actual work has become regarded as so important and canonized that it requires no additional judgment or effort on a new reader's behalf in order to remain so (another great example is Dylan who even among non-listeners exists as a "great" perhaps without ever really being investigated).

That sort of shallow relationship is how I identified with Ginsberg until seeing the Rob Epstein movie, Howl. I'm still undecided about the movie itself (James Franco does a well done Ginsberg). But what I enjoyed the most were reconstructed interviews from an apparently lost TIME Magazine interview and other extracts from his lifetime.
Sometimes I feel in command when I'm writing. When I'm in the heat of some truthful tears, yes. Other times, most of the time, not. Just diddling around, woodcarving, finding a pretty shape, like most of my poetry. There have only been a few times I have reached complete control.
It's in these scenes, which are meant to shine some narrative arc and interpretation to Ginsberg's life leading up to Howl that I learned to identify with Ginsberg. These snippets reveal an artist just around 30 struggling to figure out how to say something and why. I immediately understood his feeling not in control of what he was writing - or in my case painting. I often wonder how things add up and sometimes realize weeks worth of work just circles onto itself. Then later on his gripe with literature (which could easily apply to painting):
There are many writers [or painters] who have pre-conceived ideas about what literature is supposed to be. But their ideas seem to preclude everything that makes the most interesting in casual conversation. Their faggishness, their solitude, their neurosis, their goofiness, their campiness or even their masculinity at times. Because they think they're going to write something that sounds like something else that they've read before...instead of sounds like them or comes from their own life. So the question is what happens when you make a distinction between what you tell your friends and what you tell your muse. The trick is to break down that distinction. To approach your muse, frankly, as you would talk to yourself or your friends. It's the ability to commit to writing [painting, photography]...to write the same way you are.
If the movie does one thing right, it illuminates Ginsberg's trials as a completely normal, then repressed somebody who figured out how to be himself. He figured out how to make things the same way he was. Naturally. That's something that any young artist is trying to find. Sometimes the pieces are all there but they don't connect. And finally, later in the movie he reveals why an awful day in the studio (or out on the street shooting photographs of walls), feeling unaccomplished with nothing but false starts can be an important day:
The act of writing becomes like a meditation exercise. If you walk down the street, in New York, for a few blocks you get this gargantuan feeling of buildings and if you walk all day you'll be on the verge of tears. But you have to walk all day to get that sensation. What I mean is, if you write all day you'll get into it, into your body, into your feelings, into your consciousness.....
...And, completely humanizing himself and where I identify with him the most, he then admits:
....I don't write enough that way.

Monday, January 3

Victim of My Own Discipline

Nu couché et homme jouant de la guitare 1970 Picasso (via National Picasso Museum)
With the Holidays comes plenty of spare time. Everything seems to slow down yet become harried. There are too many lists.

I never make anything of that luxurious free time and end up dispirited. The studio feels far away. I built a few canvases and swept the floor. I criticize myself for not using the time wisely and then forget to enjoy myself all the while. I am a victim of my own discipline.

But each year I vow to embrace the Holidays. To be unaccomplished in style. Ultimately I find I've saved something up and when I return to the studio, it's better. Until then, here are some links that become strangely revealing of my current mood:

- Finally saw the Picasso Exhibit at SAM. There are a vast amount of prints and lesser known work that seem only to tell a chronological story. Despite realizing that there are many other more interesting lesser known works out there, I did fall in love with the last painting (above) and ultimately Picasso.

- MoMa leading (or standing alone) in the change of museums.And maybe more related than you think: Writing a pop hit.

 - Before the New Year, NY Times featured their 10th Annual Year in Ideas issue. And also from the same issue: In Pursuit of the Perfect Brainstorm.

- What C-Monster is currently reading.

- And a great piece about Northwest artist, Jay Cunningham. "A victim of his own perfectionism".