Ze Frank recently released a video entitled, “Mediuming,” in which he erratically aliterates through Ms and Hs to convey a simple and, simply, profound idea – find, or construct, walls around what you are creating in order to break them down and find what you couldn’t find before…
Or, at least, this is what I took from it.
Consider a mor modern day death of the author where we may ascribe meaning to those speaking to us from YouTube or Twitter et al. and we can take our ascribed meaning in any means we wish…
I would insert a smiley face emoticon here however I feel it is too tacky to do so. So instead I will leave you with a hyperlink to one.
Ze, for those who don’t know him, is a fairly incredible mind that we, this generation, have to play with.
I do not mean that in an allusive way at all – Ze is fan oriented to the degree that often in his videos he addresses the audience directly by saying that, “we,” are going to make/sing/do/play with something, and Ze actually accomplishes these somethings.
To list a few, he harmonized voices from thousands of recordings sent in from hundreds of countries. He makes coloring books of fans drawings. He had his fans place bread on the ground where they lived in order to make an Earth Sandwich. Currently I am in the middle of the largest game of Duck Duck Goose I’ve ever played in – Hot Duck Goose.
I wrote to him a few months ago explaining my part in Deaf culture and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I captioned his videos for him so that my deaf friends could have the same exposure to his work that I have.
It isn’t something, overall, special to anyone besides me but I was given access to the captioning tool at Ashow.Zefrank.com so that I could do just that – caption his odd, quick, inspirational, musings.
While I’ve captioned videos before; this captioning tool isn’t one that I am familiar with. I have to make blocks of texts for blocks of time on the videos. These blocks, of 10-30 seconds, then loop play back at me while I type their content.
Ze’s voice turns into the meaningless noise of a repeated word until it is devoid of its history and is just sound soup.
Watching the loops of, “Mediuming,” I drifted back to an old poetry professor named Ben Lerner. Ben once compared poetry to cross legged dribbling in basketball and poetry’s subsequent rules and formats to the rules of basketball, specifically the rule that states that you must dribble the ball while traversing the court.
“The rule of dribbling the ball down court, when you think about it, is pretty arbitrary. What’s the point of it? One of the things that it does is leaves the ball nearly wide open for the opposing team to steal. Isn’t this something a basketball player would want to avoid? The arbitrary restriction of having to dribble the ball while traversing the court has left the ball wide open. So what happens? A player realizes that his ball is exposed and so realizes the necessity for a barrier between it and the opposition; thus creating the cross legged dribble where the player passes the ball between his legs while he is running. The needed barrier is created thanks to the arbitrary restriction of having to dribble the ball. It’s a new idea and it works.”
The point of all of this was to have us, his students, create arbitrary restrictions for ourselves to follow in order to come up with “poetic cross legged dribbling” equivalents.
I thought of how this advice was in direct opposition, like a vying basketball rival, to the advice I had been given about creativity until this point: think outside of the box not inside of it.
The idea behind thinking outside of the box is fantastic considering that outside of the metaphorical box rests the allusive meaning behind what is not inside the box – an infinite number of possibilities from which to draw your inspiration from.
That is simply too much possibility for me to chose from.
I find myself outside of the box staring at my blank page with pen in hand, the blank blog screen with fingers fixed fit and facile, the juggling balls in hand with an open sky, and feel overwhelmed and confounded by the awesome weight of infinite possibilities resting on my shoulder. I stare at the page and feel fear, embarrassment, creative guilt, shame; “why cannot I not create something?”
Ze Frank says just what Ben Lerner said all these years ago; “if you don’t know where the rails are then how are you going to jump them?”
I’ve found greater comfort and prosperity inside of thinking inside of a box than I ever have thinking outside of one.
There are some poetic forms that are more commonly known than others…
Take for example the various forms of the sonnet or the rules for writing a haiku in contrast to the rules for writing in the form of a cywdd llosgyrnog or the Zulu praise poetry known as an Izibongo (a more modern example by David Rowe can be found here).
Writing within these frameworks, these forms, is a creative way of thinking outside of that box.
When I’ve expounded upon writing within formats I am met often with an attitude of rebellion; why would I want to confine myself to some artistic prison that the eduction system has locked me inside of?
Why indeed. How can you think outside of the box unless you know where the walls are?
Write a new kind of sonnet, a new haiku. Right down all of your favorite words and label the list, “DO NOT USE” and pin it to the wall above your computer screen, notebook or typewriter. Create arbitrary rules to follow for a poem – only 5 words per line, only 20 syllables for line, the syllabic count must be in the Fibonacci sequence, must be divisible by 8 only, must be, must be, must be. Restrict yourself with walls and barriers that will confine your poetry to a cell that it can neither stand up nor sit down in and you will, quite literally, be forcing yourself to create something new. Do this while utilizing your Lateral Thinking skills and you will acquire a taste for something unique and beautiful.
(And remember, “no thought is original and all ideas have already be thought and executed” is just something uncreative, mediocre and banal people say to make themselves feel better.)
David Rowe took a seemingly obsolete form of poetry and modernized it – he took Zulu praise poetry and wrote about Whitman and Kerouac. His poem, “Salamander, Or: Splitting The Word Asunder,” was drastically astounding in its originality and creative efficacy that when I’d read the written transcript I was no longer convinced that a poem loses its worth when the poet explains it. Quite the opposite in fact his explanation of and dedication to this poem dripped with an encompassing field of sheer awe for me and these poems were done within the confines of specific rules that David decided to follow
A friend, and poet, I greatly respect has recently finished his series of what he’s called, “The Hell Sonnets.” Each of the sonnets I’ve read, or heard, is greatly unique and is not within the form and rules of the typical sonnet. Then, yes, of course, it is no longer a sonnet – it’s new.
Cross legged dribble your poetry to whatever hoop you want to throw it at.
Regarding venn diagraming…
Venn diagrams are simple, easily understood forms of visually represented categorical syllogisms, similarities and differences, etc. Consider the work of Ian Finch and his venn diagrams; a simple form of visually represented logic – now a vast network of artistic atoms smashing together to create new particles of art matter.
Regarding, regarding, regarding… You.
By thinking inside of a box you neglect the overwhelming vastness of infinite possibilities in order to create a more tangible realm of possibilities. Establishing arbitrary restrictions for your art, therapeutic development, studying, expression, creativity, provides a telescopic realm of choices that is more accessible than what is outside of the proverbial box.
Suggestions for restrictions include, while not being limited to, the following –
- A list of Do Not Use words.
- Writing within poetry forms and tweaking them like a cosmetologist thinning out a layer of hair. Remember – the Higgs-Boson wouldn’t have been discovered had it not been for the restrictions of the LHC. Find your Higgs-Boson by smashing words together at nearly light speed in a sonnet shaped underground 16 mile tube!
- Convey the information of something visual through a painting while allowing yourself only specific colors.
- Collapse the distances between fields of study. Mathematic poetry. Scientific painting. Poetic historical preservation. Musical sculpting.
- Study Matthew Barney who has been known to hang weights from his arms while painting.
- Experiment with enjambmed and end-stopped writing.
- Really try to write a good Villanelle.
The above is a quick list of random off the top of the brain suggestions. If you’ve come up with or come across other techniques that allow for creative in the box thinking – please share them.