Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

24 JULY, 2014

The Poetics of Reverie: Philosopher Gaston Bachelard on Dreams, Love, Solitude, and Happiness

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“There are still souls for whom love is the contact of two poetries, the fusion of two reveries.”

“Creative writing, like a day-dream,” Freud observed, “is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood.” But how, exactly, does the playful imagination weave dream and storytelling together to frame our creative experience?

Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) is one of the most wonderful — literally: full of wonder — philosophers of the twentieth century, yet one of the most underappreciated. His writings on poetics and the philosophy of science fall — rise, rather — somewhere between the erudite and the enchanting, but never more so than in his 1960 treatise The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos (public library), published in English seven years after Bachelard’s death — an exploration of “the remarkable psychic productivity of the imagination” and its relationship to memory, happiness, and our capacity for love, as well as of poetry’s singular ability to catalyze our sense of wonder.

Bachelard writes:

In poetry, wonder is coupled with the joy of speech… The poetic image is in no way comparable, as with the mode of the common metaphor, to a valve which would open up to release pent-up instincts. The poetic image sheds light on consciousness in such a way that it is pointless to look for subconscious antecedents of the image… Poetry is one of the destinies of speech. In trying to sharpen the awareness of language at the level of poems, we get the impression that we are touching the man whose speech is new in that it is not limited to expressing ideas or sensations, but tries to have a future. One would say that poetic image, in its newness, opens a future to language.

But the greatest power of the poetic image, Bachelard argues, is in its ability to grant us fuller access to the soul, to consciousness, through reverie — a concept that comes closest to, but isn’t entirely equated with, psychology’s notion of “positive constructive daydreaming,” a special flight of the imagination. And yet he makes a necessary distinction between reverie and dreaming:

In contrast to a dream a reverie cannot be recounted. To be communicated, it must be written, written with emotion and taste, being relived all the more strongly because it is being written down.

Illustration by Ohara Hale for 'Love Poem' by Denise Levertov. Click image for more.

In exploring how reverie evokes the realm of “written love,” Bachelard adds to history’s most beautiful definitions of love and reflects:

Written love … is going out of fashion, but the benefits remain. There are still souls for whom love is the contact of two poetries, the fusion of two reveries… To tell a love, one must write… Love is never finished expressing itself, and it expresses itself better the more poetically it is dreamed. The reveries of two solitary souls prepare the sweetness of loving… The reality of love is mutilated when it is detached from all its unrealness.

He returns to the question of dreams — a subject that, despite all the scientific advancements of understanding in the decades since Bachelard’s time, remains a mystery — and reflects:

One might wonder whether there really is a consciousness of dreams. A dream can be so strange that it seems that another subject has come to dream with us. “A dream visited me.” That is certainly the formula which indicates the passivity of great nocturnal dreams. To convince ourselves that they are really ours, we must reinhabit these dreams. Afterwards we make up accounts of them, stories from another time, adventures from another world… The teller of dreams sometimes enjoys his dream as an original work. In it he experiences a delegated originality; and hence he is very much surprised when a psychoanalyst tells him that another dreamer has known the same “originality.” The dream-dreamer’s conviction of having lived the dream he is recounting must not deceive us. It is a reported conviction which is reinforced each time he retells the dream. There is certainly no identity between the subject who is telling and the subject who dreamed.

[...]

Instead of looking for the dream in reverie, people should look for reverie in the dream.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger from 'The Wizard of Oz.' Click image for more.

Even more powerfully, dream and reverie conspire together to form a gateway to happiness. Bachelard writes:

Reverie illustrates repose for a being… it illustrates well-being. The dreamer and his reverie enter totally into the substance of happiness.

[...]

The whole universe comes to contribute to our happiness when reverie comes to accentuate our repose. You must tell the man who wants to dream well to begin by being happy. Then reverie plays out its veritable destiny; it becomes poetic reverie and by it, in it, everything becomes beautiful.

[...]

Poetic reverie gives us the world of worlds. Poetic reverie is a cosmic reverie. It is an opening to a beautiful world, to beautiful worlds. It gives the I a non-I which belongs to the I: my non-I. It is this “my non-I” which enchants the I of the dreamer and which poets can help us share.

[...]

Reverie helps us inhabit the world, inhabit the happiness of the world.

Illustration by from 'The River' by Alessandro Sanna. Click image for more.

At its highest potentiality, reverie touches on the cosmic, and in doing so, liberates our solitude — that essential capacity to be alone. Bachelard writes:

The cosmic reverie … is a phenomenon of solitude which has its roots in the soul of the dreamer.

[...]

Cosmic reveries separate us from project reveries. They situate us in a world and not in a society. The cosmic reverie possesses a sort of stability or tranquility. It helps us escape time. It is a state. Let us get to the bottom of its essence: it is a state of mind… Poetry supplies us with documents for a phenomenology of the soul. The entire soul is presented in the poetic universe of the poet.

[...]

The soul does not live on the edge of time. It finds its rest in the universe imagined by reverie… Cosmic images are possessions of the solitary soul which is the principle of all solitude.

Therein lies the greatest gift of poetic reverie:

Reverie gives us the world of a soul [and] a poetic image bears witness to a soul which is discovering its world, the world where it would like to live and where it deserves to live… Poetry forms the dreamer and his world at the same time.

[...]

Poets lead us into cosmoses which are being endlessly renewed.

The Poetics of Reverie is a superb read in its entirety. Complement it with Muriel Rukeyser on how poetry expands our lives, James Dickey on how to read a poem, and Mary Oliver on the secret of great poetry.

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10 JULY, 2014

30 Days of “Quantum Poetry” Celebrating the Glory of Science

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From black holes to DNA to butterfly metamorphosis, bewitching verses on the magic of nature.

“The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and works like a bookkeeper,” the influential biologist E.O. Wilson said in his spectacular recent conversation with the former Poet Laureate Robert Hass, exploring the shared creative wellspring of poetry and science. A beautiful embodiment of it comes from 30 Days, an unusual and bewitching series of “quantum poetry” by xYz — the pseudonym of British biologist and poet Joanna Tilsley, who began writing poetry at the age of eight and continued, for her own pleasure, until she graduated college with a degree in biology. In April of 2013, while undergoing an emotional breakdown, Tilsley took a friend up on a dare and decided to participate in NaPoWriMo — an annual creative writing project inviting participants to write a poem a day for a month. Immersed in cosmology and quantum physics at the time, she found herself enchanted by the scientific poetics of nature as she strolled around her home in North London. Translating that enchantment in lyrical form, she produced a series of thirty poems on everything from DNA to the exoplanet Keppler-62F, a “super-Earth-sized planet orbiting a star smaller and cooler than the sun,” to holometabolism, the process by which the caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly, to the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human being to see Earth from space.

Tilsley’s choice of pseudonym is itself remarkably poetic — besides the scientific sensibility, XYZ was the pen name of her grandfather, the late British novelist and war correspondent Frank Tilsley.

Tilsley wrote and illustrated her quantum poems simultaneously, using her vast collection of scanned vintage paper ephemera, old typewriter fonts, and 19th-century artwork (I recognize Benjamin Betts’s “geometrical psychology” illustrations), which she manipulated digitally into beautiful backdrops for her verses. Not unlike the work of William Blake, text and image work together to channel a cohesive atmosphere.

It’s also interesting that Tilsley chose to capitalize nouns and pronouns in the style of religious texts — a poignant juxtaposition with the scientific sensibility of the poems, hinting, consciously or not, at the spiritual element of science.

This beautiful self-published book is available on Etsy, along with prints of the individual poems, as well as on Amazon UK. Complement it with E.O Wilson and Robert Hass on why poetry and science belong together, then revisit Diane Ackerman’s breathtaking poems for the planets.

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04 JULY, 2014

A Breathtaking Animated Adaptation of Bukowski’s “The Man with the Beautiful Eyes”

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A visual interpretation at the intersection of the touching and the haunting.

Charles Bukowski was a creature of perplexity and paradox, oscillating between romantic pessimism and luminous wisdom on the meaning of life, propelled by an outrageous daily routine. His expressive poems explored everything from the myths of creativity to his “friendly advice” to young men.

In 1999, British animator Jonathan Hodgson and illustrator Jonny Hannah teamed up on a breathtaking animated adaptation of Bukowski’s 1992 poem “the man with the beautiful eyes” from his final and arguably best poetry collection, The Last Night of the Earth Poems (public library).

when we were kids
there was a strange house
all the shades were
always
drawn
and we never heard voices
in there
and the yard was full of
bamboo
and we liked to play in
the bamboo
pretend we were
Tarzan
(although there was no
Jane).
and there was a
fish pond
a large one
full of the
fattest goldfish
you ever saw
and they were
tame.
they came to the
surface of the water
and took pieces of
bread
from our hands.

our parents had
told us:
“never go near that
house.”
so, of course,
we went.
we wondered if anybody
lived there.
weeks went by and we
never saw
anybody.

then one day
we heard
a voice
from the house
“YOU GOD DAMNED
WHORE!”

it was a man’s
voice.

then the screen
door
of the house was
flung open
and the man
walked
out.

he was holding a
fifth of whiskey
in his right
hand.
he was about
30.
he had a cigar
in his
mouth,
needed a shave.
his hair was
wild and
and uncombed
and he was
barefoot
in undershirt
and pants.
but his eyes
were
bright.
they blazed
with
brightness
and he said,
“hey, little
gentlemen,
having a good
time, I
hope?”

then he gave a
little laugh
and walked
back into the
house.

we left,
went back to my
parents’ yard
and thought
about it.

our parents,
we decided,
had wanted us
to stay away
from there
because they
never wanted us
to see a man
like
that,
a strong natural
man
with
beautiful
eyes.

our parents
were ashamed
that they were
not
like that
man,
that’s why they
wanted us
to stay
away.

but
we went back
to that house
and the bamboo
and the tame
goldfish.
we went back
many times
for many weeks
but we never
saw
or heard
the man
again.

the shades were
down
as always
and it was
quiet.

then one day
as we came back from
school
we saw the
house.

it had burned
down,
there was nothing
left,
just a smoldering
twisted black
foundation
and we went to
the fish pond
and there was
no water
in it
and the fat
orange goldfish
were dead
there,
drying out.

we went back to
my parents’ yard
and talked about
it
and decided that
our parents had
burned their
house down,
had killed
them
had killed the
goldfish
because it was
all too
beautiful,
even the bamboo
forest had
burned.

they had been
afraid of
the man with the
beautiful
eyes.

and
we were afraid
then
that
all throughout our lives
things like that
would
happen,
that nobody
wanted
anybody
to be
strong and
beautiful
like that,
that
others would never
allow it,
and that
many people
would have to
die.

Complement with an equally beautiful animated adaptation of Bukowski’s “Bluebird” and his poetry illustrated by the great R. Crumb.

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