A recent visit from a poet friend has me thinking I need to change my perspective again–always an important thing for an writer to do. If we don’t shuffle things up once in awhile, we get mired in swamps of the too-familiar and keep resuscitating what we have done before.
Sometimes, that is what needs to be done. But sometimes we need to move on.
Years ago. when I took visual art classes, my instructors taught me about how to see negative space as a method of considering the subject not as my brain wanted to see it but as it existed in relation to other objects in the visual plane. Those gaps between what we see as objects we automatically assume are “empty” spaces; but once we learn to perceive them, we recognize how vital they are to the composition. I learned that an arrangement–say, a still life–might contain more interesting negative spaces than positive ones. One moment of noticing, and the idea of what I could “see” would be transformed.
Most people learn about negative space through the Gestalt concept of figure-ground organization principle. I found out about it through teachers who had me draw the spaces between subjects.
What does this have to do with writing or poetry? Here’s a spot I could easily allude to Keats’ famous coinage of the phrase negative capability. But that’s not what I mean.
Change the viewpoint: new images arise; the shadows differ; the light’s at a different angle. What was ground becomes, perhaps, foregrounded.
Writers need to make these shifts, too. I have spent considerable time learning forms and meters, experimenting with styles and stanzas, working with phrasing and syntax, pushing at fears and feelings, playing with images. That has been all to the good, but maybe I ought to approach the task and process of poetry-writing with an eye to what’s been in the background. Some of it hidden in plain sight, like those negative spaces, some of it skirting behind the plane of the subject, genuinely hidden until the perspective shift occurs.
Maybe what I need is, simply, space.