Friday, March 02, 2007

Origami and Poetry

Origami Goliath Beetle designed and made
by Robert Lang from a 7" square of paper
(as pictured on his web site)

Two articles from The New Yorker's Anniversary Issue (February 19 and 26, 2007) interested me. Susan Orlean, one of my favorite nonfiction writers, contributed "The Origami Lab," a profile of Robert Lang, an accomplished physicist who now devotes his energies to origami. He applies mathematical modeling to new origami designs. He and various other practitioners have revolutionized the art (and science) of paper folding in the past 20 years. Some of the paper insects shown on his web site would seem to be a challenge to construct by any means, much less using the process of folding a small (6- or 7-inch) square of paper without making any cuts. I discovered amazing origami web sites by other artists (such as Joseph Wu).

In the same issue, Dana Goodyear's "The Moneyed Muse" tells what has happened at The Poetry Foundation in Chicago since Indianapolis heiress Ruth Lilly (at left) donated $200 million to it (and the magazine it publishes) in 2002. John Barr, the Wall Street executive and poet who was hired as president of the foundation, is overseeing plans to buy land and build a 25,000 square foot building to house the foundation, the magazine, a lecture hall, and a library. He wants it to be a "national home for poetry." Goodyear writes, "Money is a shocking thing in poetry, and Ruth Lilly's gift was greeted with a measure of ambivalence." That's putting it mildly. While some poets and critics cheered, others sneered and have continued sneering in the wake of some of the foundation's initiatives. I'd like to see at least some of the money dissiminated more widely among various excellent and established but financially struggling magazines. Perhaps the foundation will find a way to do that in the future.

Meanwhile, I'm pondering this juxtaposition of origami and poetry business (po-biz) in The New Yorker. Both arts involve giving a sort of dimension, literal or figurative, to a simple piece of paper. Both require only the simple work of hands to bring about a complex result. Robert Lang's origami pieces convert a 7-inch square of paper to shapes of almost unbelievable complexity. The Lilly bequest endows the ancient process of writing poetry with enormous consequentiality. Few, if any, poets will be enriched by the money. But if the foundation uses the money wisely, poetry itself could be enriched.


Poetry Foundation's response to Goodyear's New Yorker article, along with a series of related links

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