How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically
Free E-Course Lesson 7
Chapter 2, Why We Need Poetry
Part 4: ‘Acting Creatively through the Arts Is an Exercise of Genuine Power’
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People worry. It’s unfortunate, but there you are.
The world is full of magic. I don’t mean phenomena that violate natural law. I mean that, in the vast body of natural law, we know maybe a toenail. Maybe a bacterium on a toenail. And by “we,” I mean “everybody in the world, including Stephen Hawking.”
We think that A plus B equal C, and often they do, assuming that we can wrap our minds around A and B, as in 2 plus 3 equal 5.
But then it gets a little more complicated. Two plus three of what? Apples?
Two apples plus three apples, plus some cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, butter, an hour or so in the oven at 325F, and a little love and artistry, equal warm apple crisp upon which you must spoon an avalanche of real whipped cream. Then you serve it to your friends in pretty blue bowls, set upon doilies, set upon pretty blue saucers.
KEY CONCEPT: Metaphorical truth
In these tables, adapted from the assignments for Lesson 6…
…all the expressions are metaphorically, or figuratively, or spiritually true. They make sense in the language of poetry and emotion. It is one’s spirit that is in pieces when one is “torn up,” not (usually) one’s physical body. When your friend says, “Hey, Man, get it together,” he’s not telling you to go retrieve your hand or your cerebral cortex. If he’s a true friend, and your brain has gone missing, he’ll go look for it himself.
We create in order to grow spiritually
I said earlier that “once we have achieved order, there remains a nagging discontent.” I explained that living things are programmed to grow. Without the energy of growth, there is entropy and there is decay.
The conscious incentive for growth is the lack of perfect contentment with the status quo.
However satisfying things are, they can be better. If that weren’t true, the concepts of wanting, improving, and evolving would be meaningless, and there would be no reason to get out of bed.
We might want nothing more at the moment than to open the blind and let a little more light in, or to warm our coffee. This little unit of life, perhaps this quarter of an hour in the early morning, would be better with a little more sunshine, a little more steam rising from the coffee cup.
We could probably agree about hundreds of qualitative comparisons. For example:
(1) Love and harmony in the home are better than bloodshed.
(2) It is better to be healthy than to have double pneumonia.
(3) Playing baseball is a better activity for children than using crack cocaine.
(4) It is better to live in a tidy neighborhood with flowers and trees than in a rusted station wagon under a bridge.
The values that underlie these comparisons are widely, almost universally shared. If you are an adult, the Gallup people might call and ask whether you think a particular Republican would make a better president than a particular Democrat, but they will never mail you a survey like the following:
Because some things, such as health and harmony, are self-evidently better than others, then there must be, at least theoretically, a best. When we move from point A (bad) to point B (neutral) to point C (better) to point D (better still), our progress is usually represented as being upward toward the ideal or the perfect.
If a theoretical Ideal and theoretical Perfection exist, then so, in theory, does God. (The English word theory arrived in our language in the sixteenth century through Latin from the Greek thea “a view” plus horan “to see.” Thea was also the feminine form of the Greek word theos “god,” which gave us theology in the fourteenth century. Some etymologists insist that the linguistic resemblance between theory and theology is only coincidental. These are the types of things etymologists like to argue about.)
A perfect box of eggs
The words perfect and perfection are often misused. (See “The Perfect Game” in the appendix.) If there are a hundred questions on a test and you answer them all correctly, you are said to have a “perfect score.” But that’s like claiming that if you buy an item labeled “one dozen eggs” at the grocery store, and you take the item home and open it and, yes, there are twelve eggs in it, you have a perfect box of eggs.
Accuracy is not perfection.
Whether or not you use the vocabulary of religion, art is fundamentally spiritual. Any creation begins with an idea (inspiration) and gives it form and function—“the Word made flesh,” in a sense.
If you don’t yet understand this, it may become clear the first time you create something that is more than the sum of a series of mechanical processes… something that seems to have a life of its own. It’s like seeing your child, almost grown and blooming, and realizing that he is more than a genetic combination of his mother and father.
Except that you can’t go on creating children indefinitely, whereas your unique artistic capacity is infinite, once you find the source.
* Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theory (accessed: September 02, 2007).
Lesson 7.1 Assignment
What are the meanings of metaphor?
Please send assignments via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Submissions will not be graded but will be returned with comments.