Monday, June 19, 2006

uninspired
- the legacy of the world's biggest apple -

k: hello dear,
how are you?

i just ate the words biggest apple. it took me a very long time. it was too big around for me to open my mouth around comfortably to get a big bite, so i took lots of little bites. i would never buy an apple that big for myself, but kerry and richard had left it behind, and i can't bare to see an apple go to waste (especially when it's a variety i am fond of).

in other news, ryan says that katamari has not made me stupid. this is good news. this means when i get home today i am going to play it some more, until either ryan or danielle arrives.

now for today's top story: inspiration! yay!!

it's not something we've talked about in depth before (not that we have to), but i was trying to think of a topic to discuss (something related to poetry). as a means of laughing off, i set out to read a bit of ron silliman's recent posts. however, after reading three or four posts i was still feeling "uninspired". that's the exact word that came to mind.

i dwelled on the word "uninspired" for a little while and then it hit me... aha! inspiration = topic

for most, for you, for me, for every poet and every writer, inspiration comes from life. for some though, inspiration comes in dreams too. and for me, inspiration comes from imagination. one might argue, though, that imagination comes from life. if you wanted to go that way, then, i'm sure a stand could be made that dreams come from life as well. so... what's life?

life = over sized apples
life = new cell phones, orange ones
life = the sound of a boy's heart beat when you press your ear to his chest
life = a 50" high definition rear projection mv (for megavision, instead of television)
life = made up words like megavision
life = memorizing your best friends email address
life = mint
life = your next pay check
life = all of the above

i could go on for days. the point? life is in the details, so is poetry.

but there's a middle man. the poet. right? one doesn't see an apple as a poem. the average person sees... an apple. that's it. whereas you or i might see an apple and think of eve, of the waxy finish, the taste or the smell. that's inspiration. we pick out parts and give them depth and symbolism. that's what poetry is, at the heart. salamander means ashraf, mountain means katy. we pick up on the details and they give us the jolt needed to transform an apple into a monument of love and affection or disappointment or whatever we may be feeling or we may associate with the apple.

now there's a word, associate. that's what inspiration is to me, a series of associations.

enough of the sort of ... intangible talk of inspiration. before i mentioned imagination. i get ideas from imaginary scenarios that i paint in my head. the poem "nice to meet you" was an idea i had as part of a longer story. i guess i think stories through (without beginnings or ends, most often, or with lots of different endings) like a novelist would.

i take pieces of these fantasies and turn them into poems, like excerpts of a non-existent novel or film. i have quite a few poems like that, actually. more than i care to admit ^_^

i also get a lot of inspiration from dreams. they are so easy for me to translate into poetry for some reason. "set up" is as literal a transcription of the dream i had as ever. part of the reason why i think dreams make great poems is because dreams don't happen in prose. they skip around, things don't make perfect sense. our brains work in verse, not prose. isn't that a wonderful idea? that we, poets, are more in tuned to our own conscious by virtue of understanding being able to produce verse. i think it's a wonderful gift.

i know you're writing process. i can't clearly define my own (because it's all sorts of hodge podge and over-developed thinking). this is more to do with that moment though. that instant which a phrase pops into your head.

have you been thinking about something? did you hear the words somewhere else? did you see something and translate it into words. i see, right now, a man in an old grey sweatshirt climbing down a short ladder. is that poetry?

i will go on and on about all this if you'd like, ashraf, but i'd also like to hear some of your reactions and ideas about "inspiration" or what it means, maybe, to be "uninspired"?


a: Katy, that is just a brilliant beginning to an e-mail! I thought it was so distinctive I read it out loud to Wojtek (and that's a bigger thing even that reading it out loud to Snuffy, say, who I think is a much better listener). But yes, on to inspiration, or what I thought was even more inspired (all puns intended) is the title: uninspired. I think it is such a good word, one that I very much identify with these days. Maybe inspiration in its antiquated classical/uber-romantic sense (think Batman) is off-putting to us with our jaded contemporary sensibilities (I am thinking of a comment by Danielle that I read yesterday on your blog, about how it's a poem about love without using the words love, or heart, or any similar taboos). It is interesting that modern poets have reacted so markedly to the image of the poet as the uber-romantic that now such notions are directive--negative ones--in their own accord. One of my favorite poems here on the Philadelphia poetry scene is one by this guy I really like (and can't remember his name, of course) that he wrote in reaction to an editor rejecting one of his poems because it contained "heart". So he wrote this entire poem called "Heart" in reaction to this silent taboo. It became in a way one of those writing exercise/experiments that you are fond of, of writing about something without calling it by name--except it is in permanent enforcement now if you are to be taken at all "seriously" by the "people that matter". And so we end up writing this other, equally extreme, genre of poetry that my mother can wrap her head around. And I am running into this now that I am thinking about writing in Arabic again, specifically writing a song for Majida. So, how is this related to inspiration? Well, I'll try to establish the tie eventually...

To jump off sideways here, all those songs and names I mentioned to you in my e-mail yesterday. They naturally don't mean much to you at the moment, part of the difficulty of translation in its larger sense, as in the translation of life experiences, making them relatable, etc. I have been thinking of this old world of song that I cherish so much and that was really my entry way into the world of poetry. I have been thinking about it obviously because of the project I assigned myself. When I started translating my poems into Arabic I became aware of how heavy and awkward some of the images are in Arabic. Conversely, while translating song lyrics for you from French and Arabic, I realize how overly simple and borderline hokey they are. And yet these are songs that I consider great, and that many others equally revere. So, what is it here? One element I think is song vs. poetry: they are two slightly different animals, I think. Another is language: I think images that work in one language don't in another. I think the very ornate French and the very elaborate Arabic require a simplicity that in English is just dull. Conversely, English, in its almost dull simplicity almost demands the kind of twists and turns that in other languages might simply be uncalled for. So, what does this have to do with inspiration?

See, in my thoroughly uninspired state, and in revisiting old songs, I have been thinking of what made them so inspiring to me at the time. And I do realize that some of those very simple phrases that I loved to much I thought they were genius still hold true... Allow me here to translate impromptu Fairouz's "Ma 2dirt nseet (I Couldn't Forget)" (lyrics by Joseph Harb, audio to follow):
I wish you were here, my love
And the wine and the candles of the night endure
And I'd write to you on a paper so I wouldn't say
I wish you weren't leaving, I wish you'd stay

If I came back one night to my place and found
That you, my love, passed by while I was away
You'd see that they didn't pass, only your eyes, by this house
As if you, my love, and your eyes, have just left
Quite mainstream romantic stuff. I don't know what you think of it, but reading it in English... almost makes me squirm. And then I realize, some of the stuff at heart still is strong: that wistful wish for the night to lengthen, that fragility in prefering to write such a heartfelt desire rather than say it, the way eyes can linger in our memory and haunts us... Yes, it's pretty clich├ęd stuff by now: wine, and candles, and eyes, and I wish you'd stay... And maybe it's Fairuz that makes it work, the music, the associations that this song has for me and my mother (a big point to come back to, associations)... But is it really better to just spin around the point? Why is it more acceptable now to find the poetry in the more mundane things than in the obvious ones? Because it's more difficult (as is difficult better) or is it because we're jaded? I would hate myself if I wrote something like that now, especially in English; I don't think I could even allow myself to. Censorship before the page, one of those things that I'd abort in my head. And yet, I though Joseph Harb was god because of that (and "Li Bayrout"). Granted, love could be a turn off; especially in song. Heartbreak could be even more of a turn off; it's everywhere. So what do we write about? What do we read about? I haven't been reading. Or actually I read non-fiction and magazines mostly now. They don't even attempt to touch me. Is that the end of literature? Have we become so jaded that we're rarely touched?

So, let's write about the everyday. But what is there about the everyday to write about. Do you really want to read a poem about an apple or pancakes? As you said, is that old man poetry? Maybe he is, maybe he has a story or we can imagine one behind him that makes him that. But... Is it just me? Probably.

So, how is all this related to inspiration? I think it is in that I have lost it. Whatever it was, I am now uninspired, to read or write. Which is sad, very sad. But then, there are way sadder things in life, as I always try to remind Wojtek (and he hates it every time). This wasn't an argument; this was a ramble. Maybe I'm just hungry: I get low when I'm hungry, and I get very emotional then (either angry or depressed), and that usually makes me write. Is hunger inspiration? Oh, this is getting absurd. I'll just cut it short and send it...

No comments: