Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Creative Responses to Life

Chatting with AH recently, we talked about the value of creative responses--poem, art, video, reading etc--to someone's work, responses that go beyond leaving a blog or Facebook comment. Don't get me wrong. Such comments are always welcomed; they are human impulses amidst the electronic pulses. To respond creatively, however, requires a different level of reflection and commitment. 

It requires a giving of the self, so that not only does the relationship between person and work change from I-it to I-You (in Buber's terms raised by AH), but a creative response changes the initial term from it to I too. We humanize ourselves by giving creatively of ourselves. 

And that's what AH has been doing by responding creatively (and critically) to my work for so long. His new poem, written in the form of my sequence "I Am My Names," is a further instance of his humanity. 

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Last night VM invited me to see whether her home, not so far from mine in Woodside, would be a good place for a book party. Stepping into her apartment, I was immediately struck by the simultaneous display and non-display of things. Sure, her many paintings hanged on the walls, but hanged so casually, even carelessly, that they were not really hangings; they just happened to be there. A beautiful cabinet stood in a corner but was so eminently useful for holding a rich confusion of objects that it became less a showcase and more a family trunk. 

In the kitchen hanged photographs of luscious fruits--mangoes, oranges, papayas--taken by a photographer-friend in Brazil. On a side wall were comic drawings done by VM's son who is about to graduate from the School of Visual Arts. Over the kitchen counter was a small delicate painting by JF, VM's husband. VM taught him to draw that.

In the living room, paintings of gardens and woods bring the mysterious, fairy-tale, outdoors inside. VM has been working on a series of still lifes centering on a cognac bottle. One bottle standing in front of a thick pattern of branches and leaves also presents that pattern through its glass at the same time. 

I had my first gin martini ever, with olives. Conversation flowed freely, from drinks to dinner: their families, my family; styles of cooking black rice; expatriation (JF is French American); our ambiguous relationships with English; etymology; the French film "The Class" which we all praised; the Bonnard exhibition at the Met; the exercise of power in the classroom and the workplace; the wines; Obama; how VM and JF met. 

It was creative talk, talk that took up a great variety of topics, meditated and expanded on them, before passing them to the next person for further elaboration or transformation. Assertions remained assertions but wrapped with thought. Hesitations were given their honored place. Contradictions sounded like counterpoint. The talk moved between public and private realms, without a sense of boundaries or hierarchies. I felt I was in the company of genuine artists, who love life so much, love it with so little ego. 

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