Is this poetry?
This collection of writing and visual art created by the the last surviving hip boomer – artist and musician Yoko Ono – certainly looks like poetry on the page, and reads like poetry too, in its use of imagery, metaphor and direct address (a pretty popular trope in poetry created in the last 50 years).
But… Yoko Ono is not a poet, is not described as a poet in her bio at the end of this book, and generally isn’t known as one. But what is poetry, if not art made with words, with language?
I’ve seen recent online debate about how creative writing courses in universities (and in education more generally) should be affiliated with Art departments, rather than English literature ones, which – as a humanities graduate snob – I initially sneered at without even considering, then I remembered that my lover is an academic in an art faculty at a university and has an internationally exhibited art practice that incorporates language, i.e. words (essentially poetry), and her writing on the page – just like Yoko Ono’s writing in Acorn – looks like poetry.
It makes a lot of sense doesn’t it, when you think about it, for example the gulf between the ways in which History of Art is treated as a traditional, respectable, university subject in contrast to painting or whatever, right?
Why did – when higher education establishments began offering practical art courses – that start not in universities with established art history departments, but rather in institutions more known for practical education? Because this didn’t happen with Creative Writing and English Literature, and though Creative Writing may not necessarily (yet?) be an Oxbridge thing, it’s very much a discipline that has been embraced by red bricks, and is – and has been for several decades – a somewhat respectable course to study.
My bias that we must address is that I’m someone with a Master’s degree (from an English department – Goldsmiths, not a shit one!) in Creative Writing, though I don’t necessarily think that is a particularly useful thing to possess… I mean, I put it on my CV, but I don’t put it in my bio when I’m submitting poetry because even though most of the writing that I do now is poetry, I didn’t submit any poetry at all for my master’s assessment. Little interesting fact for you, there! Despite being known as – if I’m known at all – as an acclaimed and mentally ill poet and blogger, when I studied writing for a year (though I did do a tiny tiny bit of poetry writing), ultimately, that wasn’t the writing I produced or that seemed most suited to the institutional setting, at least not in the way that I did/do it.
Yeah, I’m not really going to say much in this post about Acorn, so if you’re reading this looking for some actual analysis of Yoko Ono’s writings as poetry, then you’re probably in the wrong place (I mean who are you, reader? Who is it that is reading this blog and are you enjoying the experience? It seems to get reasonable numbers of viewers according to the analytics, but very rarely do people comment or “like” the posts… Hmmm… (There are a few regulars, though – shout out to iago lópez, hiljoy, DirtySciFiBuddha, Elena, [like this post and I’ll add you name]))
So, is “art writing” considered a type of writing distinct from poetry and distinct from literature and distinct from creative writing?
Is literature not considered an art form?
Yes it is.
Is literature not considered one of the oldest forms of capital “A” Art that that we have extant examples of?
Yes it is, though tbf we don’t have recordings of music from ancient times due to ancient people’s failure to invent even analogue sound recording technology.
We have a culture that does seem to separate the very much overlapping practices of “art writing” and “creative writing”, even if this distinction is less defined than one would expect. It’s strange, right?
It’s difficult to – when looking at the words of “art writing” on the page or on the wall of an art gallery or hearing them in a performance or in a video piece – recognise them as fundamentally distinct from poetry.
The writing that is included in artworks can be far more accessible and engaging than some (lots!) of poetry; similarly, there is poetry of a complexity and of a dense allegorical complexity that is much more akin to what one would expect from layered pieces of complex art, rather than… well… bad art.
To have a distinction between literature as “an art” and art writing as “Art”, is absurd.
Maybe I should read more texts labelled as “art writing” rather than poetry and consider them as poetry… maybe I shouldn’t read any literature and not consider it as art.
Maybe the overlaps and the similarities between these things are far less complex than I’d like to pretend they are.
Maybe these rules are all implicit rather than prescriptive, or maybe they don’t really mean very much to anyone at all…
The writing in Acorn looks like poetry on the page.
It contains a list of prompts for thought, literary and physical activities to do in order to grow ones engagement with the world.
I was going to quote a few bits, but, tbh, it’s not especially beautiful, no, that isn’t even true. That’s a lie, there’s lots of beautiful language in here and imagery too.
Acorn looks and feels like poetry, and so my fear of being chastised for treating it as poetry, is that age-old kind of fear of the provincial bumpkin worried they’re going to get “high culture” wrong. I could perhaps call it “imposter syndrome” but I don’t like that term as it implies that some people understand the world profoundly better than others.
I’m not saying this is poetry, I’m saying it’s like poetry.
It’s not for me to say what poetry is. I can say what my poetry is, and I can say what my experience and my feelings of writing are, but I can’t offer a fundamental description of what poetry is and how it’s different from art writing.
Acorn reads like poetry. The visual artworks included here don’t necessarily add much to the writing, but it could also be argued that the writing doesn’t add much to the visual images; the images are pleasing enough, but there isn’t necessarily a conceptual link between the two. And maybe it is this juxtaposition between the visual elements and the text that prevents this from being poetry and makes this into an “art book”???
I don’t know.
I enjoyed it as a nice object.
It’s got some nice phrases, some nice ideas in it.
Did it change my life? No, of course it didn’t, art doesn’t have the power to do anything, whether that’s the most beautiful poetry in the world or the most beautiful visual thing you ever did see.
Is that a pessimistic thing for me to say, as someone who does nothing (at the moment at least) other than read and write about the things I’ve read?
Not really, because I don’t think it’s any less valuable than anything else.
It’s certainly better than slaving in a job that I hate for the same amount of time, and it’s easier on the emotions, too, because I don’t have to pretend to not hate people I’m engaging with every day of my life.
Maybe I should try to have a bigger life than the very little life I’m living at the moment, but it’s not the worst time of my life, and maybe it’s not the best, maybe it’s a long way from ideal, but I’ve been more busy and miserable. I’ve been more bored.
I don’t really know what I want, but I know that I don’t want to not read and write all the time, even if my writing is getting increasingly shit as I have fewer things happen to me that are worth writing about, y’know?
Acorn… it’s good.
If a poet can’t call what they think is poetry a poem, then who can, baby?
See you soon, TriumphOfTheNow.com…