… I always define poetry for my students as a language adequate to our experience — to our full experience, taking into account the interior valleys, the peaks, the broad plains. It gives voice to tiny thoughts, to what the Scottish poet and scholar Alastair Reid, in a lovely poem, calls “Oddments Inklings Omens Moments.” One does not hope for poetry to change the world. Auden noted when he wrote in his elegy for Yeats that “poetry makes nothing happen.” That is, it doesn’t shift the stock market or persuade dictators to stand down. It doesn’t usually send masses into the streets to protest a war or petition for economic justice. It works in quieter ways, shaping the interior space of readers, adding a range of subtlety to their thoughts, complicating the world for them.
– from Why Poetry Matters by Jay Parini
I think the above statement also applies nicely to fine art photography. Especially the last bit, ” adding a range of subtlety to their thoughts, complicating the world for them.”
Two wonderfully written essays from The Sun magazine illustrate some of those complications. [ They’re not about photography but they are really good stories. I highly recommend them both. ]
First, here’s a taste of The Thousand Peso Suit by Poe Ballantine:
My wife, Cristina, is convinced I am not happy on this so-called summer vacation in her somnolent hometown in the mountains of Zacatecas, the Colorado of Mexico. We’ve been married for three years now and have a young son, Tom. She’s thirty; I’m forty-eight. (I know, I know.) We’re staying with her parents, and this is the first time she has seen her family since I plucked her from the instituto four blocks from here, where she was a student of English and I was her teacher, and hauled her up to the United States to make all her dreams come true. Whether or not I’ve fulfilled my role as the Magic Gringo Fairy has been rendered immaterial by the fact that we haven’t been getting along for a while.
… and later in the middle of the story:
My wife is acutely aware of what others think; she frets over appearances, has high expectations, puts a lot of pressure on herself, and controls her disappointment by predicting that nothing will work. She moves from doubt to distrust to complaint to worry in a predictable cycle that often erupts into a fight — and I’ve discovered that my sweet, mild-mannered wife likes to fight. Having no shortage of subjects we disagree on, we might do battle as many as three times a day. We have argued so much that the real source of our conflicts has grown too large and distorted to confront or even recognize, so we hiss and snarl at each other over trifles, each hoping to land that final, deciding blow of blame.
My second highly recommended essay is Stories for an Unborn Son by Bonnie J. Rough. (Her bio includes this: “She teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and walks around the neighborhood lake almost every day, no matter what the weather.” I like her already.):
It began with a hiccup as one cell tried to transfer its data to another. It began long before I, your mother, was born. A gene mutation, carried invisibly by women and passed to sons, snakes through our family tree. It is a fragment of history we can trace, a tiny bundle of stories floating in our blood.
In males the primary symptoms of this genetic condition — hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, or hed — are sparse hair, peg- or cone-shaped teeth, and the inability to sweat. At every moment, a normal human body engages in a struggle against death from overheating, releasing at least a quart of perspiration a day and up to several gallons in extreme conditions. But a body without sweat glands flies on faith.
The secondary traits of hed include certain distinctive facial features, such as dark circles around the eyes and a saddle-nose deformity: a deep depression in the bridge of the nose. Sufferers have trouble breathing, so they have trouble sleeping, and in turn they have trouble staying awake. Because of their hollow-eyed appearance and sallow skin, they look ill even when they feel fine. On the other hand, they often are ill. An immunodeficiency associated with the disorder may lead to a lifetime of respiratory infections. The older a man with this disorder gets, the less his body may respond to medication, and the worse he may feel. Despite the fact that hed is said not to limit life expectancy, I have learned that the pain a sufferer feels may make him wish to die.
As I tell you this, you are nothing but a phantom, a presence, a spirit. Though you have not yet taken up a place in my womb, one day you could.
Toward the end of the story:
The question is not about what is. It is about what might have been.
So often the case … The full essay is beautifully written. [ link to full story ]