Collage & Poetry: Just to See What Would Happen

Black & White Collage No. 1 Black & White Collage No. 2Black & White Collage No. 3Black & White Collage No. 4Black & White Collage No. 5            I have continued to work on making collages over the last weeks, though not quite at the frantic rate at which I began. At the same time, I have returned to a pile of old drafts of poems I thought I was going to have to abandon. I filled the first signature of Carole's book with collage pieces in which I was most interested in texture & in which I took a magpie approach to color -- If it was bright & shiny, it went into the composition. I was trying not to be narrative or representational, using the materials as materials rather than as subject matter. In fact, I was trying to do "wrong" things that I would then have to correct. There's an interview with Richard Diebenkorn somewhere (not that I compare myself to him!) in which he talks about having to correct the imperfections of an initial performance in his paintings & I find that my collages often consist of endless corrections. After filling all the pages of the first signature, I took a break of a few days during which time, accidentally, I began reading David Batchelor's little book Chromophobia. Batchelor's text is a tract against purity & in favor of color. He also makes the point that white can be both an absence of color & a color in itself. Perhaps paradoxically, I decided then to make some strictly black & white collages. (The thumbnails are above: click through for full-sized scans.) I don't consider my self a visual artist, though I have paid attention to modern & contemporary painting since I was fifteen & took classes in college, then spent several years trying to make paintings. I don't have the technical skills to be anything but an amateur & of course there's nothing wrong with that status. But the interesting thing is the way that doing these collages has loosened me up in my writing, allowing me to go back into some of the old work & see it in a new way, as well as sparking new work. Even specific techniques -- juxtaposition, compositional balance (or imbalance) -- seem partly transferable to my poems. Mostly, though, doing the visual work & approaching it, not casually, but loosely & openly, has allowed me to bring a more playful feel to my poems. Contributing to this has been James Longenbach's book The Art of the Poetic Line, which has served to remind me of a set of techniques I had long ago absorbed & forgotten; it can be very useful to focus on technique rather than content, especially if content has been getting you down. After the black & white collages, I did some monochrome color pieces, red & blue. Just to see what would happen. Red Collage Blue Collage No. 1Blue Collage No. 2

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.