Creativity?

My musical genius friend Garrett Hope sent me the link to this great Wall Street Journal article on the origin of creativity. There’s cool mention of research revealing the exterior part of the right brain is overactive when creative decisions are made. We are most creative when we are relaxed (no wonder art is being cut from schools…there is no time or need to relax in school). At the end of the article, there is a list of 10 “Creativity Hacks”. The last one is move to a metropolis.

This idea is not really earth shattering, and you may even be asking, “So what.” A few weeks ago I reviewed Beauty Will Save the Worlda book exploring the ways the Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and unconditional grace undermines the worldly powers of violence. One aspect of the book I failed to mention in my review is the journey mankind takes over the course of the Bible. In Genesis, Man is in a garden. In Revelations, Man is in a populated city.

Regular readers of this blog know how I enjoy drawing connections between God, faith, and creativity. I’ve asserted before that creating, in itself, is an act that makes us like God, an act that conjures Christ. This “move to metropolis” comment strikes me because creating is not entirely complete until the creation is perceived. A poem isn’t fully realized until it is read and discussed (and often revised). Art moves us towards each other, towards community, towards the metropolis. It’s no shock then that the metropolized (according to research) often show more creativity.

I’m not discounting the importance of nature and solitude and their role in creativity. I love being in the mountains, spending time alone in the cool breeze listening to the squawks and scuffles of the world. I love writing in these situations. But I also like to come back to civilization. The artist in me drives me to be a hermit, and drives me to be a neighbor. Such ambivalence. Such beauty!

The “Awkwardness” of William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

A colleague passed along Adam Kirsch’s recent review of books pertaining to William Carlos Williams, his work, and his struggle to be confident as a poet. It’s a fascinating read, and pretty informative. I like how Kirsch writes and I find his criticism (in general) engaging and challenging. In this critique, Kirsch writes, “In his lonely opposition to Pound, Eliot, and company, Williams had need of the courage he described in “El Hombre”:

It’s a strange courage
you give me ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you lend no part!

Constructions like “realizable actual” and “toward which you lend” are examples of the awkwardness to which Williams is prone, especially when he is dealing in abstractions or trying to sound elevated or fancy.”

Kirsch accuses Williams of trying to sound sophisticated,  resulting in sounding “awkward.”  While Kirsch’s overall assertion may hold true, is this the best poem to use as an example?

Walt Whitman

Titled “El Hombre”, the poem (quoted in it’s entirety above) pays homage to Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Whitman’s long poem ends with the lines “You furnish your parts toward eternity, / Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul” (ln. 131-32). Throughout the poem, Whitman emphasizes perseverance, continuation, and moving forward. Williams’ short little poem actually does a phenomenal job encompassing Whitman’s work while adding his own voice. This instance of apostrophe/allusion/reflection is by no means awkward.

Do any of Williams’ poems fulfill Kirsch’s charge that he’s awkwardly over-trying? Which ones? I’d enjoy reading your thoughts and comments!

Why Poetry, in a Simpson’s World?

I’m honored to be a guest blogger at Tweetspeak Poetry today. If you haven’t heard of TS Poetry, they host twitter poetry parties, host Every Day Poems, and have published some fantastic books. Check them out, buy their books, join the party! Oh, and read my post on why poetry matters!

In Stopping: A Poem

In Stopping

by Joel E. Jacobson

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.” Leviticus 15:25

“She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.” Luke 8:44

“While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’ Luke 8:49

In stopping to ask,
“Who touched me?”
a woman is healed,
a girl dies–
and both had faith.
I would easily
rush to the street
and beg for Jesus
to heal my dying child;
I would slice
through the crowd
just to brush up
against his cloak
and be okay
getting struck
by lightning
because either way
the bleeding stops.
But my prayers
would have ceased
years and years ago,
died with the hearts of men
who made sure to mention
all that was unclean,
all that was me.

In the face of laughter
Jesus heals the dead
and bleeding, though
I’ve only seen them
die. Determined
to win out
and be healed–
I’ve seen the faithful
bleed–embalmed
and buried with the rest.

Me of little faith,
stuck in the middle
of the story,
the middle of the crowd
pressing in
on a busy Jesus.

___

“In Stopping” is part 9 of the Storytellers project.

Beetle Trees and Creativity

Scientists are predicting that by 2012, most lodgepole pines in the Colorado Rocky Mountains will killed by beetles. I saw this sad reality in Grand Lake this past week, as my family took a quick vacation. We rented a paddle boat and chugged out into the lake. A truly gorgeous morning to be out in the mountains. And on every side of the lake, I saw more beetle-dead tress than living trees. And it made me sad. I hunted up here once with my dad when I was in high school. I camped up here one summer as a kid. My wife and I honeymooned here. And it’s all dying. You can see in the picture that the hill in the distance is covered with dead or dying trees. Forest experts say that the only way to truly kill the beetles is to burn them. I doubt that the forest service will ignite entire regions of forest land in the Rocky Mountains. Sadly, scenic drives may result in a gray and brown rocky landscape, much like McCarthy’s The Road.

As I sat in my paddle boat in the middle of Grand Lake, my family bobbing happily along, I thought momentarily about cultivation. In Genesis, God commands man to take care of the land. Even now, the land still needs our help to be healthy. Nature is equally destructive towards itself as we are, something Emerson failed to acknowledge in his Transcendentalism utopia. Our earth has the ability to restore itself, and we see it as destruction. But forest are healthier when we remove the dead wood. Various animal herds are healthier when they aren’t over-populated. There’s something to be said for intentionally nurturing, cultivating, and caring for our home. The beetle tree problem is just another example of how our world needs us as much as we need it.

And the same goes for creativity. Our natural inclination is to move towards contentment, be okay with where we are. There’s a time for that, but if we, as artists or as people, ever buy into the lie that we have arrived, that we are the ultimate in our field, the moment the beetle begins to eat away at our creative spirit. The same applies if our audience becomes more important than our actual writing, or if success and the American Dream supersedes our art. I don’t say this to suggest that we should ignore our audience. Readers are part of the process, and alienating them doesn’t really help anything. Keeping an audience in mind is different than making the audience more important than the art.

What are some things that you do to stay fresh? To nurture your creativity? To refocus on the art instead status?

Mosaic: A Poem

Mosaic

by Joel E. Jacobson

I am a wine glass,
melted down
gently blown
and etched
into a limited
edition of one.
Fill me
with the most
expensive wine
and throw me
against the wall.
Break me into
expensive dust
because I can’t
see God anyways.

I am a wall,
framed in
insulated
dry-walled
textured
to look new,
pleasing
to the eye
complementary
to the art
hanging from
drilled holes
and plastic
anchors.
Plant
a sledge
hammer
in the middle
of my chest.
Rip down
my facade
bare my bones.
The builder
must have been
mistaken
in putting me here.

When God is dead
to me, your cupped hands
bear me, a mosaic
of dust and shards
and nails soaked
in red wine, they
hold me
until I can stand,
until your hands
are full of holes.

___

“Mosaic” is part 8 of the Story tellers project.

What Comes of It: A Poem

What Comes of It–

by Joel E. Jacobson

“I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat, and snicker
And in short, I was afraid.”

from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

1.

Because 90 percent of me is drowning.
Because the remaining  ten percent bobs and gasps.
Because all of me worries–
like coarse sandpaper on a wood block
like zebra mussels anchored on a wood dock
like sour salt on a raw tongue–
when all I have to do is float in the current
like a lobster in warming water
or simply stand up and get out.
I am still what I–.

2.

Over a hundred years, an oak tree
develops roots like a subway system
intertwined beneath city foundations.
Watered with change and pre-paid passes
civilization sprouts, scrapes intto the sky,
etches away the blue hues
and peels up fields like a worker
preparing an orange for lunch.

No oak can withstand the steel
stampede, the urban sprawl,
so it gets chopped from the top
down—an umbrella stripped to spire.
Chain the base. With the fire-power
of a big rig, rip it out. Don’t worry
about the treehouses or tire swings—
children need to grow up anyways.

Cut it down.
Is it, then,
still a tree?

3.

Model Airplanes: caged in plastic molds
even a young child can hold
and crack apart, just to paste the halves
back together, differently.  The gobbed glue
and wrinkled decals beg for empathy
or pride and the entire thing is either a good
first try or a failure.  Whether it falls apart
or not (it happens over time: the paint chips,
the missiles fall off and sometimes a wing),
what comes of it—a dream or a man?

4.

These pieces fit like painted
manikins and man-he-cants
filling wombs and elastic tombs
and entire tubes of sand-seconds
in between the bulbs of earth’s
hourglass. Maybe I can still muster fistfuls
of splintered hope, thread each one
into each sun, waiting for every
worry to become shallow and undone.

___

This is the seventh installment of the Storyteller project. Here are the other five: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Those familiar with my work will notice that this is not a new poem, but a major revision of an old one that needed (need?) work. Comments are always welcome!