Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Art and (In)Sanity

Dear Artist/Student on the Brink,

You are an artist and you are working through pain and grief by making art and making it beautifully. You are supposed to be a poet [dancer, photographer, painter, actor, etc.]–never doubt that. Never doubt the healing power of art if one commits to transcend oneself for it and to heal because every artist must be in the art of healing as well as creating; oneself and others.

There is much to admire in your rule-breaking work, though if you didn’t miss class you would know why 1.5 spacing in your poetry helps me to edit your insightful work!.  Your poetry helps me, your reader, understand what (in)sanity really is–aren’t we all on the brink, following the rules but about to ‘lose it’ at any moment.  You are not alone.  The details of the frazzled #### #### in the ear while in meditation in contrast to the awakening, the possibility of healing, the high of the “bi”–the mountaintop, drums, prayer.

As you continue to commit to art–and by golly you must–consider revising line 2 “####”–while I like the alliteration of “f###/f####”, “#### ######” is a cliché to be avoided and replaced as you work the language here.  Insanity requires specificity–of that you have shown you are extremely capable! I admire Line 7-8 …### #### ###### …. but for a metaphor to really work, one must feeeeel it before one has to think about it. Here I have to think about it because #### can’t literally #### like headstones (not round) so while it’s clever and hits the right tone, you probably need to work on something that is round to spin or just rework this section. Lines 9-12 border on overly abstract or cliché sentiment–it’s the absolute right “volta” or “turn” –but I wonder if there’s another way to say or show “#### ## ######” in more grounded details to make it new. In revision you do not need to stick to any of the “rules” so you can break out of the first draft rules to enrich the poem. You can use less than 10 or more than 10 syllables, you can do anything that honors what the poem needs. Isn’t it incredible how formal containers (sonnets, villanelles, syllabic restrictions, etc.) also offer a container for the pain, a way to sculpt it into something beautiful?

I must also add that you must buy the Summer 2011 GA review issue IMMEDIATELY and read the essay in it by a woman named Laura McCullough who writes about taking a Stephen Dunn poetry workshop with the father of her child and her best friend, both of whom committed suicide during that semester. She writes about art and its role in surviving. She writes about pain and what is and is not the poetry teacher’s responsibility, especially in the privileged position to be let “in” to students’ raw experiences. I have loved many people with mental illness and I recognize both the art and pain in your poem.  Your art deepens my own understanding of love and illness, and I thank you. I am delighted to see a poem that helps me understand a bit more of where you may be coming from (unless you are truly meant to write fiction). I am also, of course, concerned. I can see that you will shine as a poet and artist but to do so, you must show up and you must commit to your own art making and thus to your own (and others) healing.   I miss your art and (in)sanity.  Please come back.

Blessings, Misha

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