On Writing Early Riders Life is as real as dreams
By James Strecker
Poetry's golden wheat often dukes it out with the dreadfully popular chaff of cliche.
A long time ago in Manhattan, I was training under depth psychologist Ira Progoff who, one day, remarked, "Sometimes the lives we live are as real as our dreams."
We each smiled. Yes, the psyche was indeed a busy dude and commonly-assumed reality was often not much more than mere putty to one's imagination, certainly no match for one's inner world.
Now fast forward two dozen years and a request for command performance from writer Patricia L. Scott: "You have to write a poem to go with Andy's image." Andy Simmons, it turns out, is a Brit, Pat's friend, and an occasional and invariably worshiped contributor to a site called Renderosity.
There, alas, the golden wheat of his stunning art sometimes dukes it out with the dreadfully popular chaff of cliched monsters and a-sensual digital babes that could turn on only a microchip.
One click on Andy, however, and I am haunted. With unsettling ease, his painting Early Riders seduces me into a poetic dream that unfolds as real. So I begin to write or, rather, I begin to be. His visual world gradually becomes the moist cool touch of morning on my skin, the potent yet gentle sound of waves creeping cautious toward me, the nostril-mastering smells that belong to horses and to both land and sea, the taste in my mouth of a thirst for shelter, and, most of all, the search for a woman.
As a poet, I come to his painting with intention to write; once inside it I feel myself seemingly nowhere else and uneasy with a sense of destiny. Am I new here? Am I what I was? Will any answer give more truth? Sure, there are other concerns here, those of the writer.
For one, there is need to control self-deception. Where? For one, in words intended for effect beyond that created by the inner momentum of the poem, in words that are simply answering the writer's and not the poem's needs. Words must do both and that's hard.
As for my poem Easy Riders, I'm not totally comfortable with the slightly expansive, almost narrative, perhaps too chatty, quality of it. This could mean that, as a writer, I am messing up a poem that could be more compact and incisive or it could mean that my writing wants a broader method, a new voice.
And since my recent poems have considered cancer, cruelty to animals and people, depression, and AIDS, the comparatively comfortable fantasy here seems to let me too much off the hook.
Still, when I first gave in to Andy's painting, I felt a shiver in front of my computer, a loneliness that would never reach safety, a fate of some kind over which I had no control, and a longing. And I get all that for now from the poem.
In it, the sky has human qualities, time and direction contradict themselves, so there is a reality-bending tension here. "My own flesh and I" can mean kin or dimensions of myself. And who is dreaming here, the unreachable lady or we the riders? Reality won't identify itself as any one dimension, though I didn't plan it that way.
But that wash of ambiguity here satisfies me as a reflection of the inherent mystery and maybe mythic thrust in Andy's work. Perhaps the sense of solitude in the poem is really just my own outside the painting, but it does feel genuine and true to me within the poem.
Perhaps I will soon edit the lines, but I can't say how or if the poem will indeed need revision. In any case, right now I don't want to.
Life is cruel and many deaths of late have been too hard to take, but this dream, at least, is still real.
James Strecker is the author or editor of two dozen books and CD-ROMs. His collaborators as a poet include artist Harold Town, in the books Black on jazz and Pas De Vingt on ballet, photographer Bill Smith, and composers Barend Schipper and Wolfgang Bottenberg. He is also a journalist and a human development consultant trained in Focusing, the Intensive Journal, and Graphoanalysis. He is currently writing a book on creativity and is seeking a publisher for his book for writers. http://www.jamesstrecker.com/js.htm email: firstname.lastname@example.org