The question of whether poetry is art or art is poetry started me on a quest to find out the answers. Last night that manifested itself in physical form at a small contemporary art gallery in the Black Country and it was so much more than I had expected…
PoArtry started as a simple concept. Take a poet, take an artist and ask them to react to each other’s work and see what happens. These creative animals quite often work in isolation, taking inspiration from the world around them and merging it with the internal workings of their imagination. I wondered what it would be like to force a reaction across the two art forms, to break away from the more traditional commission aspect that is found in both art and poetry and to experience that collaboration first hand.
So in early April I set the ball rolling, inviting poets and artists to attend an initial session to talk about a collaborative exhibition of work inspired across the art forms. I wanted to explore the process of collaboration, to challenge like-minded individuals to react to set criteria and to enjoy the ride. Right from the start, it was clear that opening Pandora’s box was going to be interesting!
From my own perspective it was an uplifting experience. Working with an artist who specialises in traditional landscape and portraiture seemed like it was going to be a steep learning curve for someone whose poetry is all about the throw-away comic interpretation of life; the two appeared entirely at odds with each other, which turned out to be exactly the sort of barrier that forced a creative solution. We found common ground in a love of comedy, choosing Spike Milligan as a topic to work on from both sides of the artistic fence. Once we started down that route, we were able to then interpret different elements of each others work in the styles we both felt more comfortable with. We adapted and created from the inspiration of each other as artists and as people, from our personalities as much as our work. In the end it was as much about the connection with the person as it was about the connection with the art work.
Talking to the other artists and poets last night at the launch event showed similar patterns of engagement on a personal level, as well as almost the complete opposite, where pairings had produced purely from the work rather than the interaction as individuals. That demonstrated the true nature of collaboration in some ways to me. What works for some does not work for others, but in forcing the coming together there is a mutually agreeable output.
For others the process proved a wholly cathartic experience, unearthing emotions and feelings buried in their past. This might sound a tad trite and a bit “arty bollocks” as my daughter would say, but there was genuine emotional reaction to visual references and even physical work spaces for some of the poets and artists that took place. Memories are stored through visual and aural touch-points and when these are triggered through engagement, conversation and interaction, then this can lead to genuinely moving experiences.
Standing in the gallery last night, listening to the conversations, looking at the poems and the artwork displayed, soaking up the atmosphere, the laughter, the vibrancy of shared experience, the stories being re-told, the difficulties having been worked through, the answer was an obvious one. Everything is art and everything is poetry, because everything inspires both. Three months ago for this group of people, there was nothing; no artwork, no poems, no friendships, no memories, no shared experience. From the simple planting of a creative seed and a collective willingness to nurture, feed and tend to it’s growth, there is now art, poetry, friendship, memories and a shared experience. It cost us next to nothing to do, but through the collective will to make it happen, we created something from nothing.