ABCs of Poetry: S is for the Poet as a Sculptor

Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Poetry: S is for the Poet as a Sculptor

Some poets speak of the blank page as a tabula rasa, view the act of writing as one of pure creation. Something from nothing. But I don’t believe that any artist begins with nothing. Although a writer may start a poem with no preconceived idea of topic or form, her preferences in diction, gradations of experience, and frames of reference will color each draft, no matter how rough or free. I prefer to see the poet as a sculptor, someone who shapes raw material step by step into a unique and beautiful artifact.

When a poet is drafting, it is a corporeal, visceral act. Sculptor Anish Kapoor believed that “Sculpture occupies the same space as your body.” When writing, the hand actively dances, pausing, retracing, looping and whirling. The brain fires, neurons building bridges with each leap in image or syntax. The gut churns, reacts. The heart rends or mends or palpitates at each discovery. A poet gets her hands dirty, feels the tension in her neck and her back, gets an endorphin rush when the words come smoothly. The poem occupies the same space as the body as it comes through the body. In this way, the poet sculpts a reality that is grounded, weighty, one that has substance, birthed through blood and flesh as well as language.

So, a draft creates a physical object, but a first draft does not a poem make. Auguste Rodin is quoted as saying, “Sculpture is the art of the hole and the lump.” Ah, the holes in those initial drafts! The places where connections are missed, where the music falters, where the story is too linear, the leaps too far. The places that are incomplete. These holes beg to be filled, whether in a single poem or in ordering a collection. We want to move toward a feeling of wholeness when writing a poem. But, of course, there are also the lumps. The clumsy places. The overwrought and overwritten, the clichéd, the too-familiar. These places must be smoothed out for the poem to succeed.

And this is where the intellect comes in. According to Picasso, “Sculpture is the art of the intelligence.” The poet brain now takes over, uses its ability to view the raw material with eyes that see the future, for this is what the art of revision is. To let go of the constructs of the original draft and see the poem for what it might be. This ability to envision a form in the amorphous shape and whittle away at the unnecessary pieces, to hone and carve the block of text into new life, makes the poet the finest of sculptors. Even poets who meticulously plan lines before committing them to paper are doing the work of the sculptor – waiting to understand what shape wants to emerge before putting chisel to stone.

Once a poem is shaped and polished, it needs a reader. So a poet seeks a pedestal on which to place the finished object, a public place where it can inspire reaction. This is the submission and publication aspect of writing, the part that seems the most dry and business-like, but one that is important, too. Sculptor Anthony Caro once said,  So, in other words, how you respond to a sculpture, how a viewer sees the sculpture, is vital.” The poem is similarly not complete without readers, readers who bring their own sensibilities about language and syntax, who bring their own experiences and references to the poem. The reader may see holes where the poet saw lumps or find faults where the poet imagined none. The reader’s body may react in different ways than the poet’s did as the words travel down the page. No matter. Without a reader, all of that sculpting may as well still be a square block of marble or a pile of unformed clay. One of my favorite sculptors, Alberto Giacometti, said, “I paint and sculpt to get a grip on reality… to protect myself.” And isn’t this what a poet does–seek shelter in language, write to observe, to understand, to explicate her world?

Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press, 2018).