6.21.2009

Poetic Combinations

John Gardner: "Particles of the action, 'event ideas' such as kidnapping, pursuit of the elusive loved one…; or particles that go to make up character, such as obesity… In isolation, each element has relatively limited meaning; in juxtaposition to one another, the elements become more significant, forming abstractions of a kind- higher units of poetic thought."

Poetic moments then, are moments abstracted, crafted by a creator maybe from specific meanings, but with an atmosphere around those meanings for the audience to imagine further. Not random moments, but considered and thoughtful combination of images, language, ideas and a conscious understanding of the spaces between them.

Some people have called this the difference between "illustration" and "art." Illustration being an exact rendering of the (dramatic, political, etc.) point the creator is trying to make, with art being an inexact rendering of that point, filtered through or combined with some other product of the human imagination.

David Mamet, in his terrific "On Directing Film" discusses the need to make the story happen in "the cuts", that is, in the transition from image to image. He is adamant about knowing the point you're trying to communicate so you can do it via the transitions. Mamet is smart- he implores film makers to know what it is they want to say, but to say it indirectly, not with narration or "illustration" as I say above, but artfully, with transitions and space in between, so the viewer can become involved.

But strangely, Mamet's book seems anti-poetry. His advice on the set is to "stay awake" and "follow your plans." His only use for movie making is for drama, for "telling a story" and he reserves one of his only negative comparisons in the book for my favorite, Werner Herzog. Herzog for whom "poetic moment" is not even enough, says his goal as a film maker is "ecstatic truth." I fall on Herzog's side here. This book called How to Say Everything, is much more about that ecstatic truth than the precision of saying what you already know. Mamet's ecstasy comes when he is writing, and not filming, not working with actors, not making his story come alive. It's alive for him when it's a script- full of dynamic dialogue, explosive ideas and events. (When I'm on my way to the grave, you can bet it's going to be sequences from a Herzog film I'm going to want to see before I die, more than Mamet's great plays and movies.)

Can you create a space in the reader for something else to appear? In comix, this is where we see the transitions between the panels at work. What can those transitions mean? Over what personal chasms will your readers leap when moving through the sequences of ideas and images you've laid out for them? How much do you give the trusting reader to create a dialogue between her/him and the work?

More about this later or elsewhere or somewhere...

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