VVP: Art 434 & Engl. 410

Website for Vision Voice and Practice: An Interdisciplinary Course in Art and Creative Writing

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"The body is a formal constraint."

This poem, by Elizabeth Willis, from the February issue of Poetry, is dedicated to the actress Rose Hobart and the artist Joseph Cornell, who had something of an obsession with her. (From Wikipedia: "[Cornell] bought a print of the movie to screen at home, became smitten with the actress, and cut out nearly all the parts that did not include her.")

It's a really good poem that should be read patiently and out loud. I'm linking to it here, as it connects to this class, not just in our study of Joseph Cornell, but because we ask our students to conceive for themselves a number of formal constraints against which they make their weekly written or visual work. We contextualize this requirement by looking at Cornell's space-constrained boxes alongside Marianne Moore's syllabically constrained poems. Cornell & Moore help set the tone of the class, to help students see, as W.H. Auden says about meter, that "rules...forbid automatic responses, force us to have second thoughts, free from the fetters of Self." Of course, as Willis puts it, "The body is a formal constraint." One is never completely unfettered. Moore in "What Are Years?" suggests that submitting to this fact is the way to move beyond it:
sees deep and is glad, who
   accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
   in its surrendering
   finds its continuing.

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