Words Make Poems

And sometimes poems make words.

I’m working on some images of Maya hieroglyphics, and they’re pretty amazing. I have a shallow knowledge of this, so please don’t quote me on any of it, but they had this really flexible method of writing in which several different symbols could stand for the same thing. They had some symbols that were pictographic (the symbol itself relates to the meaning visually), and some symbols that stood for syllables, and they could use any combination of these to form a phrase or even a word. One that sticks out, but that I unfortunately don’t have an image for, is the glyph for “west,” which depicts a hand grasping for the sun and, I believe, is phonetic. How gorgeous is that? (Yes, you can answer even though you can’t see it.)

I love where language and art coincide. One of the most incredibly inspiring classes I took was one called Poetry and Art. We looked at Wallace Stevens and Mina Loy and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Frank O’Hara, and my thinking was rapid, weightless, and effortless that term. I hardly remember anything.

I hardly remember anything at all, except tangentially, haphazardly, vaguely. A friend in her first year of medical school suggests learning in her new environment is like trying to drink from a fire hose on full-blast with your eyes open. I don’t think I quite feel that way. Sometimes I wish information came neatly packaged (like a case of Evian), ready to swallow as needed, or cap off and save until you were thirsty again, consumed fully, drop by drop. Instead, for me at this point in my life, anyway, it’s more like standing in light-to-moderate rain, surrounded by it, but really only by choice. I could shelter myself from it, or feel it on my skin. I could collect it in vessels (not unlike William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow). But so much of it will evaporate.

I pulled out my coursepack from the Poetry and Art class. I wrote in pink and black pen, and I read (and wrote on) everything at least twice, it would seem. I don’t even know what my underlining stood for, my notes are mostly cryptic, their own kind of poetry in the margins.

I think poetry is something impossible to fully understand. And I think the writer’s intent is just a small part of it. I’m (selfishly) more interested in my interaction with a poem. These cryptic notes in the margins are a sort of journal. Who was I at 20? What has changed? Is my interaction with this now any different? Here’s an excerpt of just one poem of many that we read, Magic Musee (for Joseph Cornell) by Martine Bellen:

She, who’s overconscious of her cage
Formed from heat, moisture, frost, concealment,

How it drips, freezes, fogs
How it forms columnar cracks gashed with glass

Toward the blue peninsula, gravity flight
The visible half of reflection

Attempting to obtain the solidity of an object

Or to remove the clothing of sound, genealogical anxiety,
Disrobing at the hotel Eden

Inventing a way in
To that which is built over concept

And for good measure, here’s Cornell’s Toward the Blue Peninsula:

Blue Peninsula

And Cornell’s Untitled (Hotel Eden):

Hotel Eden

I’m almost overwhelmingly moved by these (poem, artworks).

Sometimes I wonder if I should do something constructive with these feelings. I don’t think I have the discipline to really be a poet (not to mention the talent). I don’t think I would even want to be. I am basically a junky for other people’s creativity. I don’t want to buy it or sell it or curate it or edit it or compile it or organize it or criticize it. I just want it around me, and I want to share it, not in any economically productive sort of way, but in a soulful, enriching way.

This is my draw to art and music and words, and probably even people and insects and trees, and maybe just the world in general.

This is a gushy, sappy post, isn’t it? I’m not even drinking…



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4 responses to “Words Make Poems

  1. Hmmm…

    This is interesting. Shane’s birthday gift to me was a book of poetry ‘The Wellspring’ and a Poet’s and Writer’s magazine with publication possibilities tagged. I’ve been thinking of publishing my poetry this year but I haven’t quite figured out what format. I think I’m going to be somewhat private about it and do a booklet to give to just a few friends or family.

    When I was in art school, my writing teacher thought I should incorporate writing into my art. I never really followed up on it but I remained open to the idea since. I’ve always found poetry to be more accessible than other forms of writing. I was never any good at syntax, grammar, story lines or the like. I’m too impatient to be too perfectionist (of course I say that and I’ve found myself looking at poems from a bunch of angles). Maybe it’s just personal preference, I dunno.



  2. Oh…duh.

    I forgot the most crucial part of my comment which is what made me think of commenting in the first place.

    I was going to create artwork based loosely on some of the poems I want to publish, and include it in the book.


  3. Jenny

    I was about to comment on how much I liked that post…until I got to the very last line and realized that I must be feeling as sappy as your post. I’m not even drinking!

    Really though, I like it.

    It’s funny, cause I was going through notes on some of my old readings last night too. Even funnier that I was doing it because I feel like I’m being soaked by the fire hose (better than burning I suppose) .

  4. Jenny


    Don’t you think it might be more productive sometimes to just stand in the rain and soak up all you can. I think you might retain more of what you learn. Sometimes knowledge (and our ability to absorb it) gets taken for granted.

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