Trancendence of Form
I recently wrote “A Crown of Sonnetts” both as an expression of admiration and as a proof of mastery of form. When I was reading my art history texts, I noticed a phase common to all great artists where they either copied a masterwork or recreated a piece in their own idiom. Later, when they had developed their own styles completely, there was no doubt that underneath their expression was both the talent of a master and a progression of thought that was complementary to the history of art. In present time, this function is often accomplished by a degree or advanced degree in that field and from that certification the assumption of mastery is made, whether or not the individual has achieved excellence or merely competence. To proceed to transcendence of form without proof of mastery is both arrogant by the individual and damaging to the art form. In order to transcend, there must first be found something lacking in the form that can be addressed by the transcendence and in order for the form to be found deficient, there first must be comprehensive understanding.
When I first started to write, I proceeded to free-form both as to a nod to current convention and as it best suited my thought processes to be free of the forms I hadn’t mastered nor completely understood. I then hit a road-block: both content and expression began to fail me. I started to wonder if I was just done and had nothing left to express.
Fortunately, I truly love what I do and not just my work, but other’s work that is driven primarily by content at the occasional expense of form or artifice. I went back to the writers I used to love, T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound,and Conrad Aiken. I found, upon re-examination of their work, their natural antecedent, Charles Olson. I may, at this point, have beaten that name into your consciousness by repetition, but that became a singular moment for me. Reading his work, I saw the union of the work that proceeded him, which made me more curious about that work, and the progression of form that his study and love of poetry led him to, which led me to the realization that they could only flow from the same source. What struck me most profoundly was how effortlessly and subtly he wove his extensive knowledge into his work.
Which brings me to the next influence that shook me from my complacency, Bach. On a whim or perhaps a remembrance from my childhood love of classical music, I picked up a copy of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” performed by Murray Perahia on piano. The Variations are classically rendered on the harpsichord but I find the breadth of the work revealed more fully on the piano. When I first sat down to listen to it, I knew immediately this was what I was looking for: a brilliant, soaring, vast work of a genius in full possession of his art. What I was left with at the conclusion of that work was the realization that his mastery of form lead to the sublime transcendence of time.
Together, those two influences led me to study, again, with renewed diligence, the work I claimed to be about.
To make an analogy, in figure skating, there are two parts to any competition, the compulsory figures and the freestyle. The winners have the highest combined scores. The compulsory figures are rarely shown on television, their nature being each skater repeating the same basic routine with the focus on the execution of the skating of the figure, their mastery of their art. The application of that technique, the freestyle, is what draws the crowds. There is a very high correlation in the scores of the compulsory and the freestyle; in other words, the greater the mastery of the basics, the greater expression seems to flow from it.
When I’m not writing, I often look back at what I’ve done and, for the very great part, am pleased with what I find. It is, oddly, rarely as I remember it being. I made the decision not to work on contemporary themes, choosing to settle instead on timeless, universal topics and I find, looking back at them, they age well. It is, admittedly, a very short time window but our lives are short windows in the entirety of the ages. Is there a metaphor here for my life, attempting to come to mastery of it so that when it is over the current form is transcended?
My, I expect a lot from myself.