Thoroughly Modern Muse by Richard Feldman: re-blog of one of my favorite older posts

This month, from time to time, I’ll be re-blogging some favorites from the past year. For a less positive view, check out Feldman’s “Dark Side of the Muse” as well under his Guest Blogger category.

Thoroughly Modern Muse, or the Care and Feeding of Your Domestic Writer

For many years, there was a cartoon attached to the front of our refrigerator under one of the dozens of resident magnets that showed a small, winged male figure addressing a rather startled looking person sitting at a desk. The caption was something along the line of, “I’m sorry, I’m not the Muse of poetry, I’m the Muse of do it yourself plumbing.”

This piece is addressed primarily to other partners and spouses of creative types. Whether or not your partner’s creativity was a major factor during your courtship and infatuation stages, in the long run it will play a part in your relationship, usually adding both rewards and challenges. What part can we or do we want to play in our partners’ creative lives?

The concept of the Muse is part of our cultural heritage from the ancient Greek view of the world. The complete cadre of Muses is generally considered to comprise nine female immortals, each in charge of providing inspiration in a different area of creativity, such as dance, history, or lyric poetry (do it yourself plumbing being notably absent). Somewhere along the line, Muse lost its initial capital letter and took on broader meanings, “a source of inspiration; especially : a guiding genius,” according to Merriam-Webster, or, more specifically, the source of an artist’s inspiration. (I am disappointed that there seems to be no more specific name than “artist” for the person in the relationship with and benefiting from the patronage of the muse. “Musee” seems possible, but lacks a certain oomph. Any other suggestions?)

Perhaps the best known recent commentator on how the concept of the muse fits into contemporary life is Francine Prose (great name!), author of The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired. Early in the book, she comments, “Certainly, feminism has made us rethink musedom as a career choice…Shouldn’t the muse be retired for good, abolished along with all the other retro, primitive, unevolved sexist myths?” This question eventually leads to the related questions, “Do women artists have muses, and are there male muses?” To this I answer, “Why not?”

Although muses have traditionally been linked most closely to the creative process itself, one can also aid the artistic endeavor more indirectly. What you should include in your service as muse depends largely on the needs of your artist. Among the activities that I’ve been told that I can take credit for in my service as would-be muse are helping brainstorm personal essay topics for my writer to bounce off of her editors; searching the Web periodically for developments in her areas of creative interest; organizing vacations to inspirational spots; and providing hot meals and a generally stable home environment.

Of course, you must balance your commitment to musedom with taking care of your personal needs. Certainly couples where both partners are trying to follow a creative path present special challenges. Francine Prose contemplates giving “men and women equal opportunity to be either artist or muse or both,” but finds “equitably dividing the labor of creation and inspiration” to be problematic. Despite the challenges, musedom is a calling from which you may look forward to potential reward not only from a prominent place in the acknowledgements of your partner’s new book, but from the sight or sound of every poem, painting, song, building, or dance that he or she produces.

Poetry Site

I’ve been thinking about the need for an object, that is, a site, in order to write a poem. Originally for me that starting point was experience, feeling, the body. But this changed dramatically when I started working more directly with land, starting with the national parks. This became a different way of writing, based off location (time/space) rather than on something purely personal that was usually record or memory.
This helped to stop feeling that I was commoditizing experience: widowhood=widow poems=widow poems performance=an unpleasant objectification of self.
There was nothing wrong with the earlier process–it is the poet’s process–but it was a tremendous relief when it changed.
To have an idea and not be a prisoner of the idea.
I hear Joan Sutherland-roshi say that kensho can only come from outside the self–the gutteral caw of a crow or Venus rising as the morning star. It doesn’t arise from anyone’s inner authenticity.
So sorry to say, the New Age, self-help, diet, exercise, even therapy–these may lead to a brushed up version of the self but they won’t lead to a poem.
The poem comes from outside–hence the muse. Hence what I am seeking.
Robert Smithson says there are 2 sites–the original one and the gallery or museum piece. In my case the second site is the poem.
At DIA Beacon I saw the enormous metal holding tanks of sculpture by Richard Serra. I’d never liked them before–too industrial–but in this space these were like mazes or kivas–as well as New Jersey industrial wasteland.
At DIA Beacon I saw Smithson’s heaps of earth from specific places piled up on the floor, holding up mirrors. To this world.

Dark Side of the Muse by Richard Feldman

The Dark Side of the Muse?

I became concerned after publishing my last piece that 1) other partners of creative types might read it and feel badly that they weren’t doing enough for their significant others, or, worse, 2) that their partners might read and wonder why they weren’t being better taken care of. I didn’t intend to make myself out as some kind of paragon of creative spousal collaboration. No, despite my loyalty to our household creative team, there are substantial areas where my support might be considered–shall we say, hit or miss.

Foremost among the issues is my somewhat less than heartfelt interest in both poetry in general and that written by my wife. Oh, I can respond with alacrity to a limerick contest and I’ve been known to compose a birthday haiku. When I had to choose a contemporary poet as subject for a substantial project in high school English class, I was able to find one I liked enough (an American poet named Rolfe Humphries) that I’m fairly sure that I was able to turn in a completed project (which was not always a given in those days).

However, I’ve just never been all that drawn in by poetry relative to prose or music or painting or dance. Because poetry is kind of our home team, I’ll dutifully root for it-particularly the success of Miriam’s poetic efforts, but also those of our poet friends, and of poets in general around the world. My duties as poet’s consort don’t include going to all that many poetry readings, but every now and again Miriam asks me either to attend one of her events or to accompany her to a reading by one of her friends, and I’ll usually make the effort and even have an OK time. On the other hand, I have been known to wish that she were drawn to a creative endeavor that I think of as being more useful, like, oh, quilting. I also have been confused to learn that our team doesn’t always care that much about certain kinds of poetry or certain kinds of poets.

I also haven’t been able to be as supportive as I might of Miriam’s prose-writing career. We have some basic differences of artistic opinion. I believe in maintaining a certain level or type of privacy or decorum that turns out not to be a belief that Miriam shares. I also found the essays that she published over many years (and for which I sometimes suggested the topic) to tend towards a tone that I found–fluffy is the word that would come to mind (I find it ironic in thinking about my contributions to this blog that I see certain tendencies in the same direction).

Perhaps the most touchy moments in my efforts at being a writer’s devoted spouse have come when I’ve found myself responding more enthusiastically to the writing of someone else–perhaps a friend and someone whose writing Miriam also admires, but still, someone else. Is this a transgression against the code of spousal fidelity? Which is more important when relating to someone who cares passionately about art, aesthetic honesty or loyalty?

So it seems that at least some of us would-be practitioners of musedom, despite our best intentions, may at times stray from complete devotion to our calling.

Richard Feldman

Thoroughly Modern Muse by Richard Feldman

Thoroughly Modern Muse, or the Care and Feeding of Your Domestic Writer

For many years, there was a cartoon attached to the front of our refrigerator under one of the dozens of resident magnets that showed a small, winged male figure addressing a rather startled looking person sitting at a desk. The caption was something along the line of, “I’m sorry, I’m not the Muse of poetry, I’m the Muse of do it yourself plumbing.”

This piece is addressed primarily to other partners and spouses of creative types. Whether or not your partner’s creativity was a major factor during your courtship and infatuation stages, in the long run it will play a part in your relationship, usually adding both rewards and challenges. What part can we or do we want to play in our partners’ creative lives?

The concept of the Muse is part of our cultural heritage from the ancient Greek view of the world. The complete cadre of Muses is generally considered to comprise nine female immortals, each in charge of providing inspiration in a different area of creativity, such as dance, history, or lyric poetry (do it yourself plumbing being notably absent). Somewhere along the line, Muse lost its initial capital letter and took on broader meanings, “a source of inspiration; especially : a guiding genius,” according to Merriam-Webster, or, more specifically, the source of an artist’s inspiration. (I am disappointed that there seems to be no more specific name than “artist” for the person in the relationship with and benefiting from the patronage of the muse. “Musee” seems possible, but lacks a certain oomph. Any other suggestions?)

Perhaps the best known recent commentator on how the concept of the muse fits into contemporary life is Francine Prose (great name!), author of The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired. Early in the book, she comments, “Certainly, feminism has made us rethink musedom as a career choice…Shouldn’t the muse be retired for good, abolished along with all the other retro, primitive, unevolved sexist myths?” This question eventually leads to the related questions, “Do women artists have muses, and are there male muses?” To this I answer, “Why not?”

Although muses have traditionally been linked most closely to the creative process itself, one can also aid the artistic endeavor more indirectly. What you should include in your service as muse depends largely on the needs of your artist. Among the activities that I’ve been told that I can take credit for in my service as would-be muse are helping brainstorm personal essay topics for my writer to bounce off of her editors; searching the Web periodically for developments in her areas of creative interest; organizing vacations to inspirational spots; and providing hot meals and a generally stable home environment.

Of course, you must balance your commitment to musedom with taking care of your personal needs. Certainly couples where both partners are trying to follow a creative path present special challenges. Francine Prose contemplates giving “men and women equal opportunity to be either artist or muse or both,” but finds “equitably dividing the labor of creation and inspiration” to be problematic. Despite the challenges, musedom is a calling from which you may look forward to potential reward not only from a prominent place in the acknowledgements of your partner’s new book, but from the sight or sound of every poem, painting, song, building, or dance that he or she produces.

Aerial

My sister-in-law Suzi Winson (editor of FISH DRUM Magazine and a trapeze teacher/coach) wrote me saying :
” I have a student who is doing an aerial piece which brings to mind a poem you wrote years ago called The Invocation. The piece will be beautiful, I will send
you a link to the video when she performs it. It’s in the embryonic stages now, she’s got some goddess imagery and is hanging on chains instead of silks which is her usual performance instrument (like they do in ‘nouveau cirque’).”

Here is the poem from TRUE BODY:

The Invocation

Now I am going to frighten you
Oh Goddess of datura
Slit like lily
Pure quicksilver
Hailstone lady
Moisture-born
And moisture-bearing
Vine and gourd
The milk and water
Cloud, slug, spit, slime
Sliced by fire
Burnt to cinder
Slashed in ether
Persephone
In her returning
Bound in fetters
All arms flying
Kali hid
Inside the atom
Lightning hair in bolts of static
Dressed in undiminished form
Corn maiden waiting on the corn
Blue woman mountain
Now reclining
Hip of Rockies
Sierra Madre palm
Earth cracked
Fire frozen
Air smashed
Water gone
Lady, come
I’m going to frighten you.

So I have to say I am honored to be part of an aerial piece, as I find this the highest art–literally, figuratively–the first time I saw Cirque I was ready to give up poetry…alas I am middle-aged and have a bad leg…words my only way to soar.