Robert Frost understood the all-too brief pay-off when a poem
or a painting feels finished. Why doesn't happiness last? And
why is this true for both poetry and art making? That's what
this month's journal will explore.
THE POEM AS A SOURCE OF HAPPINESS
The poem feels resolved, and I am happy. It's a distinct and
recognizable feeling. Maybe that same day, or a week later,
the feeling doesn't return when I realize that there is a word
that sits like a lump in a line, grabbing all the attention.
Or the entire poem doesn't make sense anymore. Happiness (a.k.a.
satisfaction) may have been warranted, but premature. I keep
seeing the lump. Solution: get back to the poem.
Poems need time to settle. That soaring feeling I get when
I have a successful draft will soon begin its descent, like
a hot air balloon ride approaching its end. I accept this reality,
but don't deny myself the pleasure (or delusion) that I have
a decent poem. I need those endorphins.
Happiness could be rooted in the fact that I have found a subject
I care about and a way into putting it on the page. That is
cause for elation, because any writer knows the feeling of having
spent hours on a poem that lays flat and doesn't even squirm.
I jump for joy whenever I get a live one.
If that happiness returns when I read the poem at a poetry
reading, or if I decide that it could withstand an editor's
or judge's scrutiny, the poem will join that group of audience-worthy
THE PAINTING AS A SOURCE OF HAPPINESS
Having knocked myself out to the point of exhaustion or a case
of hives, I sit and examine the piece. That feeling. What is
it? Happiness? I sit a while longer. My husband gives me some
feedback. Later that evening, I jump back into the studio to
sneak a look, as if by surprising it, I will see its inner life.
Next, I move the painting into the bedroom so it will be the
first thing I see when I wake up. Happiness may return in the
morning, but I might also notice an area that needs work. The
cup is less full than it was the night before. It's time to
get the painting back into the studio. It may take months of
waking up to a painting to have the courage to revise it because
it has made me so happy and I can't forget or dismiss that.
Happiness comes when I realize that the painting will remain
as it is. I like it enough not to drag it into the studio and
paint over the entire thing. Even if I say good-bye to it, there
is a kind of happiness in making the decision to destroy it:
I am free from it. Its textures will supply an inner (or under)
life to the painting that replaces it. I can begin again.
I keep a slide and photo record of every painting. Happiness
comes next when I view the painting through the lens of my camera.
The distance a camera places between me and my work makes me
see the color, line and composition in a different way. The
painting becomes all image. If what I see still makes me happy,
then I can think about letting it be seen either on this website
or in an exhibition or gallery. There's something about happiness
that wants to be shared.
Next month, I will continue to explore the similarities and
differences between making art and poetry. Please contact me
if you would like to get in on the discussion: email@example.com.