Personally I’m not one for “writing exercises,” those little ideas that are supposed to enhance style or make creative juices flow. However, recently a fellow writer approached me and asked me to set him a task; he was bored and wanted to write. He just had no idea what to write about or how to start.
I had recently come into possession of a small book authored by two poets. Rather than separate sections or groupings, each poem was written in response to one of the other’s existing poems. That way, if each had sent the other ten poems the book would end up with forty, twenty originals and twenty responses. There was no specified manner to respond; it could be to the subject, to an image, an emotional or rational response, no restriction.
I have always liked the concept of linking things, works of art especially, together to form something separate and perhaps greater. For a number of years now I have taken part in a local art celebration where poets are asked to respond to a piece of visual art in poetry. The poem and the art it responds to are then displayed together in storefront windows for a week.
I have written in response to paintings, drawings, and such but also to pieces of sculpture. Some of the most challenging work was in response to crafts: glass boxes, a jar, pieces of jewelry, fabric. I find the visceral response to such things more perplexing to explain even in non-poetic concepts. The intriguing thing here is to be able to establish a link, sometimes obvious, sometimes a little obscureThe Japanese have a tradition of renga, linked verse. Over the centuries the format (subject of certain verses, segmentation of the whole, and other “rules”) became strictly observed. I understand that the modern practice, in the last half-century or so, has moved away from that meticulousness and is more open and flowing without losing spirit and purpose. It reminds me of a piece of linked or collaborative art I was involved with in the late 1970s that was called “Peace Renga.” Writers, musicians, and other artists were invited to submit work on the theme of world peace. Many, if not all, were linked together and performed several times in different venues – music was played, prose and poetry read, paintings and photographs projected on a screen for a very moving presentation. I was proud to provide a small part of the whole, to be part of a community declaration in art.
I find that most of my writing is in response to something external rather than having something burning inside demanding expression. My response is a way to better understand, to make sense of the world around me to myself and share that understanding and viewpoint with others. In this way responding to another’s response creates for me a deeper level of seeing, of knowing.But back to my friend with the demand for a writing exercise. I sent him two lines of poetry with no hint as to title or subject matter. I asked him to respond with the same, no more than three lines if he must, linking it to my original as he saw fit with no explanation needed. That was a couple of days ago; he hasn’t replied yet. If it doesn’t get him in a writing mood, at least it has served as subject for my little meditation.