Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Paper, Pens, Poems, and Posts

Going into bookstores, I find that a popular item is the book of blank pages. Over the years this has been my favorite medium, and I started writing in such volumes many years ago when they were actually rare and somewhat difficult to find. Now these empty books are to be found everywhere, elaborately produced: simple to ornate covers, folios of gilded edges, ribbon bookmarks, and lined pages. In my opinion, the lined pages ruin the illusion of an emptiness waiting to be filled. The lines are reminiscent of spiral notebooks used in school, taking all the joy out of the creative fantasy. I always used the unlined pages and preferred a size that was easy to carry around at all times.

Sometimes I would attempt journaling on these empty sheaves of paper, but seldom completed the task. I have many such partial beginnings, many begun at the turn of the year. None of these journals were as sustained as this Blog, although the obstacle that blunted my efforts in this space at the new year was even then lethal to the imagination, which can at times be extremely fragile. Yet as I walk around Borders and Barnes and Noble, especially in their coffee sites, I see many young people logging in their journals, which possibly explains the market for such empty tomes. Apparently we must have new generations more obsessed with neatness and order, as the lined pages are no impediment to such embryonic inscribers.

My most successful feat with such empty media has been writing poems. A poem is such perfect content for this medium. For me the challenge is creating short works in which form and content are uncovered in the moment. There is a sense of discovery, of solving a challenge, unraveling the Gordian knot, which I do not cut like Alexander, but rather find some means to extricate the tangled cords. Language serves as a puzzle to be solved as the imagery evolves through an expanding awareness triggered by the words themselves.

The medium of choice to mark upon the page was the black ballpoint pen, preferably medium point...not blue, not green, not fine-tipped. The right pen on the right texture of paper was much like finding a grand piano of exquisite tone and touch on which to improvise. Each poem was a tacit and tactile discovery. The rules were simple. Since the poems are written in ink they are permanent etches in time. Once the lines are on the page they are fixed and permanent. Generally they are only one page in length. Here is a sample:

Shafts of light through stained glass
Collide in pools of color
On the cathedral floor;
Motes of dust stream through columns of light
Like tiny technicolor galaxies.
Silence, with its gaping jaw,
Exhales a smothering sigh
Obliterating everything unlike itself.
Eternity lurks in its own caricature
Evading Time in the womb-like cradle
Of the church,
Basking in the prismatic glances
Of stained-glass windows.

Posting on the Internet is quite a different medium, but for me it has similar elements of surprise and satisfaction as a work is uncovered. Not all posts are equally successful or revealing. The process is quite different than the mechanics of paper and pen, but one gains the advantages of fonts and color, substitutes for texture. The texture of the digital screen is extremely monotonous and dull, despite the dazzling color and animation. Even though many have predicted that books will disappear into the digital medium, we are creatures of texture. We need the tactile satisfaction produced by flipping through the pages of books, magazines, and newspapers. Digital domination by singular visual supremacy is not yet a fait accompli.

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