March 10, 2022

I’ll Take My Poetry Medium and Rare

Sara M. Robinson

Recently I read an article in Poetry magazine about the use of “medium” in art and in language. The author of the essay was a longtime favorite poet and essayist of mine, James Longenbach. He also writes books about the craft of writing which I also study.

Visual artists define medium as the materials and the template, such as oils and canvas. Or the medium can be watercolors on gypsum board, or inks or pillows. The artist uses various mediums to connect with his/her world. But what about the sheet of paper as the medium? How does the reader embrace the writer with pen and paper? And what if the poet uses another medium, such as a canvas, or tree bark, or chalkboard?

Most writers stick to the usual, everyday paper. But every so often we encounter a novel poet, who experiments with other mediums. Why do we care? Well, first the writer cum artist is offering a transaction for us to consider. We are given a challenge to step out of our comfort space and engage in something different, if not new.

Longenbach asks, “how can art be something made of words, the same words used for newspapers and parking tickets?” Well, for starters, written art always depends on language. That is what all this comes down to: Language. For most of us, English language. The subject of the evolution of English language is interesting and much too long and complicated to write here, but with our language we do have some interesting developments in its evolution. Again, Longenbach gives us this great example: “Even today, we raise pigs and cows (from German, via Old English), but eat pork and beef (from Latin, via French). And there are many others!

But as perplexing as language and words derived from other languages, poetry goes right back to the creativity of the line with its novel use of simile and metaphors. Here is a line of Keats: “sudden from heaven, a weeping cloud…”. And one of mine: “It’s like sunburn & blisters. Underneath / skin abrasions/invasions/insults there is / the beauty of a person.” We elevate inanimate objects to a higher status.

Until next time…

Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).

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