23 May 2014

Meditation on poetry, transliteration and recitation

My friend Suranga Fonseka said something about dimensions and the limitations of the mind about twenty years ago that I can never forget.  We were talking about multiple dimensions, those that would define spaces in ways we cannot imagine.  I was at a loss to imagine a universe that had more than 3 dimensions since these appear to take up all space.  Suranga asked me to think of someone on a piece of paper; such a creature would not be able to imagine a third dimension.  I believe all art has something to do with transcending these lines or having the ability to tweak elements, blur if necessary and dismantle frame and trespass.  It is about understanding that one can fly through water and swim among clouds, see moonbeam as rope and valley as the final resting place of mountain.   It is about un-dimensioning. 

Take humour.  I think humour is easy; at least in its less subtle forms. It is all about saying what’s least expected at the least expected moment in a least expected manner.  Of course a lot of crafting can be factored in, but in essence, it is when the expected is tweaked that we start noticing things and seeing them from a different perspective. 

I don’t know if artists are born or acquire some kind of special facility which allows them to play around with dimension and element, real and imagined, time-line and being, space and line, word and silence, tone and semi-tone and such. I like to think that we are all creators in our own way, reading things in ways that no one has ever done before and expressing themselves in unique ways, rendering the world in its articulation, interaction, intersections, presences and absences in colours not imagined before. 

I am convinced that all the poetry that is worth that tag already exists in various forms.  It may be hidden in metaphor, appear disguised because we are limited in vision and hearing, our fingers deficient in obtaining texture-nuance and hearts too impure to obtain the delicate from the coarse, but it is out there nevertheless, waiting to be recognized and to be transcribed in one form or another.  And when I say ‘poetry’, I am using the word as short-hand for all forms of literature and indeed all art forms.  What we call ‘art’ and ‘performance’ then is nothing more than the intersection of three things: a) the ‘poem’ in its existence in some ‘out there’ that is discernable, b) the eyes (read ‘sensitivities’) necessary to read or obtain from an otherwise nondescript canvass (read ‘the anything and everything that is social life, human dream and individual and collective terror’) and c) the language (read ‘art form’) to translate it into the vernacular (read ‘whatever form that renders it comprehensible to others’).

If someone has the eyes to trip dimensions, flip colour palette, twist demarcating line and confuse tense, he/or she has the potential to obtain insights that elude the vast majority of his/her contemporaries since very few are gifted with such ability or can train themselves to do all this.  That’s only one part of the deal though.  How does one trace the magic that one has chanced upon or drawn out from what would be a day-in-day-out ‘unseeable’ canvass made of either the blank sheet produced by familiarity or the cacophony of confusion that untreated/untreatable sign, metaphor and sound-byte produce?  And how does one ‘render’ all this in ways that are readable, compelling and new? 

If there was a ready formula, then we’d all be called poets and composers, artists and sculptors, playwrights and contortionists, jugglers and comedians.  Actors. Magicians. Narrators. Silencers.  The purpose is not to attempt the impossible.  Rather, I wish to throw out some ideas that might help the would-be artist to figure out if he/she is doing qualifies for ‘art’. No, I am not trying to set up standards here. I am convinced, as I said, that all ‘art’ is already out there and what we call ‘art’ is merely their poor and imperfect but still pleasing and illuminating reproduction. What the artist does is essentially to craft what could be called the reverse of an embroidery. 

That might sound crude and hardly worth the effort but this is because we have not yet un-learnt our gross under-appreciation of the ‘out-there’ poetry. Nature is beautiful, but we don’t have the eyes to see it.  So we wait for a brilliant photographer and, these days, someone who can play with colour, shade, tone and such.  We might think that we are adding something to the original, taking things beyond the territoriality of nature, but we are only fooling ourselves for the most part.  If we knew nature intimately, we would see its beauty in both grandeur and nuance, in colour mix and singularities of tone, orchestras and symphonies, and of course the sobering and revealing sculpting that takes place over centuries upon centuries.  We would be humbled at our poor reproductions.  First off, then: humility.  If we are not humbled, we inflict blindness of a kind, nurture arrogance and inflate ego. We could earn bucks yes, but not longevity for our ‘artwork’. 
Second. Learning the language of recipient.  First and foremost, in this particular aspect of readying oneself for mining and reproducing art, I humbly posit the language that one must first touch and acquire is that of the heart.  One’s own heart.  Very important, in my understanding, is the need to allow heart to speak and teach its language with minimal cluttering from the mind. More ‘feel’ than ‘think’, absorption rather than instruction/acquisition.  There are valves that need to be opened I believe and sure, there’s an element of agency here, of deliberation and consciousness, but that’s something that should be abandoned after initial precipitation. 

What then?  At some point in the post-mining of art, the would-be artist has to reproduce.  He/she could do it for his own joy and pleasure, test how close he/she can come to the original poet.  Indeed, if that is the objective I believe he/she would end up writing in a language that is understood by the many.  If on the other hand, one crafts with constant referencing of the eyes that might later alight on the product of crafting, I am convinced that the sculptor thus produced would be that much more removed from the poem being transcribed and consequently that much impoverished. 

There’s self-deception ready to intervene. I am referring to the use of worn out metaphor, colour patters so familiar that they can blind and render unreadable the transliterated ‘work’. No one says that you cannot use the word ‘rose’ when rendering visible to a given audience a natural rose, but we should not forget that roses have millions of names and some are so common that they are colourless and bland.  Unfragranced.

There are no rules about frames and containers, what to put in what, but there’s choice involved here and you have to pick wisely.  It is not as simply as putting a square peg in a round hole of course. A bending can add charm, so too a snap. Context. It is all about context. You have to be wise.  And wisdom is as heart-wrought as mind-mined.

How can one acquire wisdom?  I would say, by living.  I don’t know. I am not a transliterator or translator, poet or narrator, lyricist or composer.  My sense is that if one lives one’s life with a commitment to treating with equanimity the vicissitudes of life, by consistently referencing the sathara brahma viharana, then even insanities would make sense, blur would dissolve into disparate hues, complexities unravel and rearrange themselves in ways that reveals to self and all elements of the human condition that were previously elusive.     

There’s wonderful art out there. I am too poor to appreciate it fully, for I lack the eyes. Even if I did have the glasses to correct for vision-flaw, I lack language-skill; heart language and people language.  Out there, I am sure there are thousands wanting to be artists.  I am wondering how they would read all this.  I am hopeful they’ll teach me how to obtain in more tender ways, this wonderful earth I happen to find myself in right now.