This post is formatted to reflect an original journal entry.
I like that it’s a cozy, gray morning. Listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage, drinking coffee, and revisiting Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. An observation: the artists I admire most have all cultivated such powerful and unique personal styles. Poets, visual artists, musicians, too. Was saying just this about David Gilmour the other day: the second he picks up the guitar, I know it’s him playing, whether the recording’s from 1975 or 2015. He’s unmistakable. Makes the guitar speak. Has crafted a style so distinct it is like a personal language. But this a hallmark of great art. The infusion of great personality.
I love that Lin Yutang makes this distinction in The Importance of Living. (Such a joyful, down-to-earth book. I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone who is interested in creativity and the art of living). He says of writers:
When the foundation is properly laid and a genuine literary personality is cultivated, style follows as a natural consequence and the little points of technique will take care of themselves…Style [in this case] is not a method, a system or even a decoration for one’s writing; it is but the total impression that the reader gets of the writer’s mind, his depth or superficiality, his insight or lack of insight and other qualities like wit, humor, biting sarcasm, genial understanding, tenderness…— Lin Yutang
The cultivation of personality is, or can be, a prerequisite for the development of a distinct artistic style. Makes sense. Both a matter of maturity and of being comfortable enough for genuine and open self-expression. For abandoning oneself to the creative act. But I imagine these things can also happen concomitantly. That creativity can act as a vehicle for personal growth and development. For getting to know oneself, for revealing the sides of a personality that may remain hidden even to the artist except in moments of unbridled creative expression.
Art is the flourishing of personality. Indeed, I find this to be true of myself. When I first began writing poetry here on this blog, I was surprised by some of what came about in my work spontaneously. Experiments in voice and style, even the propensity for social criticism, revealed to me aspects of my own personality that I knew where there, but that had not found an outlet, or a place to flourish, in my daily life. Poetry then started to feel like the ultimate form of self-expression for me. My whole personality in action. To my delight, May says just this:
Creativity is the most basic manifestation of a man or woman fulfilling his or her own being in the world. – Rollo May
Question: do many artists begin with an enhanced ability to access the unconscious? May says yes. What I like to think of as the ability of the mind’s images to intervene in our perceptions. It is strange, but sometimes I think that’s all my creativity is: an aberration in perception. Seeing what isn’t there—or rather, seeing what’s there plus something new. I mentioned this experience in the poem, “Banshee,” included in my chapbook, Seven Road & Other Poems: “every poem is first / a misreading of something else.”
And it is. I know it when it happens. I see what’s in front of me—a sentence, a series of images—and before I can stop it, my mind has created of them something else. Finished the sentence for me with a word that isn’t there. Or an image that arrives in my mind. A word on my tongue from nowhere. Like a flash. Something new is born in the gaps between syllables. In the images that the mind interjects at its discretion, those that always seem to be lurking just beneath the surface of perceptible reality. And that prove to be sources of great delight, even ecstasy, when one is fully immersed in the creative act and playing freely.
Allen Ginsberg talks about just this experience in himself (and I imagine other creatives understand it very well, too), a “gap between two words which the mind would fill with the sensations of existence.” What’s interesting: he sees this phenomenon, or perceptual aberration, as the holistic participation of the mind in creative activity. The poet’s goal: to access all dimensions of the mind simultaneously. This is how new images are born. Those that resonate most deeply and that have roots in a collective unconscious. Surely, Jung would agree with this.
But all of this brings me back to a kind of holism. The importance of perception and sensual living. I don’t think it would be possible for any of us to, as May says, fulfill our own being in the world, if our experiences of both self and world were truncated. That is, if there exists too much of a buffer (technological or otherwise) between us and nature, our nature, the deeper dimensions of lived experience.
I am happy to say that my chapbook, Seven Road & Other Poems has received a new 5-star review on Etsy! I am also delighted to say that hand-binding my own books is among the most personally and artistically satisfying practices I’ve engaged in. I had some trepidations at first. But, I’m absolutely in love with the process, and I think that’s because I am wholly, sensorially involved in bringing my poetry to life. It’s changed my entire relationship with my work.