Note: Some of you may have seen this post before. I wrote it and tried to post it several weeks ago. For some reason, Word Press had fits with it. No matter how many times I tried to edit the post, it would not format correctly, resulting in a jumble of words and images. I had no choice but to delete the post. Now, I’m trying again.
There are a lot of connections, I think, between art and poetry. The Roman poet and satirist Quintus Horatius Flaccus — better-known simply as Horace — said that “A picture is a poem without words.” While I can see and feel connections, sometimes I don’t fully understand how to make those connections for myself. As someone who is much more comfortable with words than with images, I atruggle at times to express my thoughts through art.
I can, of course, look at a work of art and wax poetically about it. I can easily use words to describe what I see, what I feel, what thoughts and emotions a scene evokes for me. But the reverse — turning words into art — doesn’t come easily for me. I know. I’ve tried. And each time I’ve tried, I’ve fallen short in my estimation. While I love poetry, I’m not able to transpose it from literature to visual art.
One of my first experiences in connecting art and poetry was with the art journal process known as “blackout poetry”. It was simple enough, and it was fun. I didn’t come away from it with any great sense of accomplishment, though, no genuine feeling of pride in what I’d created, or even any real curiosity about how and why I created the “poem” I did.
Blackout poetry begins with a text. My project — done last October — was part of an art journaling box from Let’s Make Art. Included in the box was a print-out of two pages from Frankenstein. The idea is to black-out words, keeping only those you want for your poetry. It sounded interesting. It sounded fun. Yet for me, it was actually a bit of a challenge.
I wrote about this experience before. Here are a few of my thoughts:
Although I love poetry and have written and published poetry in the past, doing this “black-out” version was an interesting experience. I think it’s partly because I have a problem thinking of any words as unnecessary, unwanted, or for the purposes of black-out poetry, useless.
Of course, it’s not so much about making a statement, creating a poetic masterpiece, or sharing deeply personal thoughts. It’s more about finding something hidden in plain sight, cutting through the noise to focus on single thoughts. It’s about minimalism, about finding meaning in small things.
To me, black-out poetry is still far-removed from visual art. Here, I was still working with words, not trying to depict thoughts through images.
So how does one go about illustrating a poem? After browsing around a bit, I came across I site that provides instruction on turning a poem into art. It’s a very simple process, really.
- Read the poem.
- Draw the picture.
- Color the picture.
All right, yes, I’m being a bit silly here, but that’s more or less what the site suggests.
For me, one of the difficulties in transposing from poetry to visual art is that poetry speaks in a language all its own. There is rhythm, stress, patterns, word play, and so many different poetic elements that don’t truly have correspondences in drawing or painting. We can suggest rhythm or mood in our art. We can use colors and symbolism to convey thoughts. But can we ever truly capture the “essence” of a poem? I don’t think so.
Poet John Ciardi once asked, “How Does a Poem Mean?”, sharing his thoughts in a book on poetry which was first published in 1959. The message of the book is that a poem is more than words, that there is always something communicated by a poem that can’t be explained in prose or translated into another art form, at least not without losing a large part of the poem’s true meaning.
All the same, I wasn’t about to let any of this stop me today. I wanted to play with art and poetry, so I turned again to what I’ve created in the black-out poetry project, and I used that as a starting point. After reading the poem several times, I focused on what I considered the most visual words and considered possible design elements. I thought about the colors I would use.
I began by making a lot of disjointed pencil marks on a sheet of watercolor paper. Next I brushed water onto the page and then poured on several colors of acrylic paint. I grabbed an old sponge and used it to create texture, then with a watercolor marker, I created a “natural” design, a bit like a leafy plant. And then, voila! The last stroke. I turned the painting upside down to see lightning streaking down.
In ignorance, early philosophers
Witnessed a storm behind the mountains.
Thunder burst with frightful loudness.
The heavens remained,
Watching with curiosity and delight.
A stream of fire
But entirely destroyed.
This last stroke…completed.
Are there any real connections between the art and the poetry? I don’t know. For that matter, is there any real meaning in the words? I don’t know that, either. All I know is that I love poetry, and I love art, as well. I want to find connections between them.