Public moments, private images

Today I need to get some things done and I will soon see how well the Evernote glassware works for checking off items on a list. Here is probably the only car photo you’ll see from me unless I’m not driving.

2014-03-07 08.31.10

I wondered how I would take the different, absolutely first-person viewpoint Glass gives. It is not my natural viewpoint visually, although it does happen for poetry, and I usually hate having my picture taken. I feel like the shutter click transforms me somehow, like Chandler Byng on Friends in the engagement photos episode. When he was just himself, he was fine, but the concentrated focus of that lens did something to him, made him hyperconscious and his face did an awful scrunchy thing. Glass circumvents that moment for others since it lacks a negative focal point such as a visible rectangle. No one can stay in that  hyperaware state that leads to bad photos forever, and there is no beginning or ending point for this, no holding up the camera, although the point-of-shoot is clearly marked with a tone and the flash.

People don’t always put on their filters with Glass. I already have two photos that show so much emotion on the part of others that I can’t in good conscience use them without permission, even though all people involved knew I was taking photos. The photos jolt the gut. That is good for digital poetry and poets historically do not ask permission–they write and don’t think of what Aunt Susie will think until later, when the poem is out there. Even then, that does not stop them, although if the poem is about Aunt Susie, they may wait until after her death to write it. They may regret collateral results of that relentless, close-up view, but adjusting words to try and circumvent the precision that good poetry brings alters the poem and makes it fail.

At the same time, when dealing with a difficult subject, the initial and primary pain involved will be the poet’s, and if she/he can face up to whatever the project of the poem is, then the truth must follow. The poem will be written or the poet will suffer for it , leaving a crabbed-up area somewhere inside where a great poem lived before it crawled into a hole to die. I am purposely being vague here because the project of this poem will be a big one, and  I (1) don’t want to scare away the poem by writing about it too much and (2) don’t want to parade other people’s situations. Prose does that. A poem takes the specifics and allows them to transcend. It is public, yet private.

Poems do what they do and discomfort is a big part of the process the words take in order to construct truth. Good poetry is not always easy on the reader. I want those photos, but unlike textual poetry, the image can be recognizable in unhelpful ways. I will try to get permission to use the photos as they are. If not, like with words, I need to manipulate the photos so that they tell both a specific and a universal truth. How I manipulate, examine, and reexamine an image using words is much of the work in textual drafting for me. Adding a visual image layer will mean finding a way to “draft” there also.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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