Listless, I was looking through the accumulated electronic drek on my computer, filed in folders lazily named over the course of the year: writing CRAP, other WRITING, new POEMS, FOR submission, I found a document called Up Against the Wall.
Once opened, I discovered it was one of my cut-and-paste jobbies, where I discover an interesting article, document, or factoid while in the midst of another project, cut and paste it into a Word document (usually with the source URL) and then save it into one of the above-named folders. I usually return to this electronic flotsam within the hour but sometimes they languish for weeks, or, in this case, most of a year.
This particular file was interesting, as it consisted of a short unattributed essay called Up Against the Wall, or, Learning to Live Without a Map that seemed to be on how to relax enough to write poetry and whose first few paragraphs included the following tantalizing quote from P.K. Page:
"You have to understand: no poet ever wrote a poem by working hard, but by being incredibly lazy. Poets sit around doing nothing for a long, long time. They are very irresponsible. Then a poem might come."
Intrigued - and also inherently lazy - I googled the essay title and found myself at Harold Rhenisch's website. Having greatly admired his Long Poem Prize-winning Abandon in the Summer 2005 issue of Malahat Review, I read on and came to the following snippet from Page:
"Anyone who can write a poem can also paint a picture. The two arts come from the same source."
Like Rhenisch, if I had heard that sentiment a few years ago, I would have scoffed. Though I enjoyed drawing through my teens and still retain a fondness for oil pastels, the making of art did not seem to come from the same place as the making of poems. I've never composed a drawing while walking home, for instance, nor have I ever gotten words all over my fingers, the table, and the floor while writing.
But, putting aside the physical manifestations of each art practice, and having taken to photography (albeit in a lazy way) over the last few years, I have to agree with Rhenisch, who ends the essay by remarking:
"For someone caught up with words to a rather extreme degree, to give words all up and intuitively follow the same designs through the world without their latitudes and longitudes is a delicious and healing luxury. It is like coming home. It is like sweeping the light clear of obstructions."
For me, making photos has become a art practice that is - to me - a surprising complement to my writing. I work my way in and out of heavy periods of writing and sometimes find myself in scheduled writing sessions - at retreats, for instance - when I've just finished a great bout of writing. Embarassed to have the great riches of time to write but no inclination to write, I usually read feverishly, 12-14 hours a day.
After several pale-faced days and nights of this, I cut my reading time to four or five hours and start tramping the woods and fields around my designated retreat, shooting hundreds of pictures.
Though it doesn't prompt me to start writing again - as it seems to for Rhenisch - it does makes me less restless and frustrated, and, finally, even satisfied with my time apart from the world.
So here's to all of you who write and paint, or write and make films, or write and photograph without feeling that the two art forms are competing, or that you should be satisfied with writing, in all its complexity.
Happy New Year!