adventures in dysthymia

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thoughts on Symbols and Images

As a poet, I am essentially a symbolist. Not a Symbolist, which is a 19th Century Romantic movement arising in France, but with some of the same ideals and goals. I am about words as much or more than I am about images.

The meanings, hidden or obvious, in words, the metaphors and symbols of our language -- these are my primary interest. I could not be an Imagist (in neither the loose sense nor that of the Modern movement), laying out pictures for the mind to do with as it will. That is not me and never will be.

Though I've tried. It seems to be the big goal of Modernist and Post-modernist and Whatever-modernist poetry (and art in general).

Perhaps I should say perceived goal. There is always more than one current flowing through any era, sometimes in opposing directions. It does bother me at times, though, to see so many editors and critics asking for the 'concrete' image at the expense of the word and all its inate power.

The image should serve the art, not be the art. Post-modernism -- or whatever we've had the last few years -- has taken the power of the image to extremes. It's become an art without any meaning other than what the viewer or reader might give to it.

This is not a new thing in the Modern age (in which we are still operating). It goes back at least to the Dada movement. It is part and parcel of conceptualism, the idea that the idea behind the art is what counts.

I do not buy into the conceptualist philosophy. The art itself counts -- the concept is only a part of it.

The image is important but a poem -- all writing -- is also made up of words. Every word is weighted with meaning, contains a world of metaphors within it. These are important as well and too often forgotten by the modern poet. The image, ideally, should connect with these meanings.

The best Imagists managed to pull that off. I'm not that much of a William Carlos Williams fan but I recognize that he could work from the concrete everyday image and create art. But my tastes will always tend more to a Jorge Luis Borges with his tigers and mirrors and all the other symbols he brought to life, made as real as the pom-poms on the slippers of Williams' wife.

I have said that I have an affinity for the Remodernist movement, for the Stuckist artists, as they constitute an attempt to move away from the dead-end conceptualism that has dominated academic art. I welcome the attempt to put more of both the human and the spiritual into the arts. The metaphor is a part of that. It is what connects the human and the spiritual. Our language, our vocabulary (which is not only words), is our identity.

So I might call myself a 'symbolist' (or maybe a neo-symbolist?) or I might call myself a 'remodernist' or I might make up some nifty name of my own. And the name would be a metaphor like any other and help define me and my work, wouldn't it?

I'm also seeking here to define what sort of slant the Arachis Review might have, if and when I start up a new magazine. That's down the road somewhere. Probably parked at a rest area, taking a nap.

But I do want eventually to put out a magazine that will reflect what I'm saying here. I'm dreadfully bored by much of what I'm reading, the wordy mundane poetry and stories that pass for cutting-edge these days. Sometimes, I think the best poems of the last fifty years have come to us in the form of songs, where it is necessary to say what one says in a limited length, where it is important to hit the audience with a few meaningful, metaphor-packed images. I'll take Leonard Cohen over Billy Collins any day.

Ha, perhaps that's the origin for these tastes of mine -- too much listening to Dylan.

Alas, even the song is suffering these days from the demand for more concrete and less symbolic imagery. It's obvious in contemporary country music, where the songs are becoming laden with details to make them more 'real.'

It's the old 'can't see the forest for the trees' thing. There are far too many trees in much of contemporary writing. My intention is to cut down a few and leave room for some ideas.

* * *

I'm continuing to get 'A Mouse Is In The House' ready for publication. I've laid out the book, added some of the scanned pictures. There is still some work to do on the illustrations, finishing touches, scanning and so on. I've done the front cover, need to get the rear worked up.

Then convert the whole thing from Open Office to a PDF and hope it comes out right! I've done this a few times before, in Word Perfect, but this is the first time I've tried to work with OO. If it looks good, then I need to upload the whole thing -- not so easy with my bad connection, I'm afraid.

It will be a fairly large file with the ten illustrations, although the book itself is quite short. Fortunately, the color cover will be sent as a sent as a separate file.

I am eschewing an ISBN number for this little book, as I did with the poetry chapbook (Pieces of the Moon). It seems pointless for what will be, most likely, a very small seller. I'll buy a few copies at cost for myself to distribute but I do not expect to place it in physical stores, just sell online from Lulu and my own site.

Now, if I had a novel it might be different. I could get an ISBN via Lulu if I pay for their 'distribution package' or I could buy one myself, directly. They do cost in the USA -- in some countries they are free of charge. The price for just one is a tad steep, especially compared to purchasing numbers in bulk, so it would be smart to buy a block of them. Assuming I would use them all, in time. I suppose the cost could be shared with someone else, though they would all have to be under the same publisher name.

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