Monday, November 26, 2007

Simic, Collage, Dada

Little Theatre, 11/25/07

For today's class, I had my English 360 (Literary Nonfiction) class read poet laureate Charles Simic's "The Necessity of Poetry" from his 1995 book The Unemployed Fortune Teller. It's a series of anecdotes, apparently disconnected--an example of what is often called "segmented writing." Common motifs in the 35 or so segments are war, parents, clothing, food/drink, reading/writing, male/female relationships. Most of them convey a little mystery or unknown element. It's a verbal collage. Here he's writing about how his violin teacher would sometimes feed him: "'Poor child,' she'd say, and I thought it had to do with my not practicing enough, my being dim-witted when she tried to explain something to me, but today I'm not sure that's what she meant. In fact, I suspect she had something else entirely in mind. That's why I'm writing this, to find out what it was." It's as though Simic writes poetry to make sense of these enigmatic scenes, to explore and elucidate them.
In the August 10, 2006 New York Review of Books, Simic reviewed an exhibition on Dada at the Museum of Modern Art. Simic reviews the origins of Dada in 1916 Zurich--the art/music/poetry/dance exhibitions of Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings. He writes, "All forms of imitation, the Italian Futurists had already announced, must be despised; all forms of originality glorified. The idea was to make something no one had ever seen or experienced before."
As Simic notes, Kurt Schwitters figures prominently in the Dada movement, which lasted into the early 1920s. Schwitters' openness to all artistic materials, which he called "Merz," is an attitude I find attractive, and his experimentation with various media and endeavors (painting, collage, poetry, architecture, sculpture, music) is reminiscent of William Morris, another artist and writer I admire who also developed a life philosophy that motivated his art.
Recently, I've gotten back into collage and often find myself turning to Schwitters as well as painter/collagist Estaban Vicente though they work in entirely different ways, Schwitters with orginary, often drab, cramped bits of detritus from everyday life, Vicente with bold swatches of color arranged in dynamic ways.

No comments: