{Mon 19 March 2007}   Poetry and creativity in the press and in the Bible

Oh happy days! Not one, but two poetry-relevant articles amongst all the bad news in the past few days.

First, I was interested to see this ancient debate revived: John Walsh asks “Is there a link between madness and creativity?” in The Independent. See http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article2361028.ece for the full article. The sentence “The idea of creativity as divine afflatus, the breath of God, turns easily into the divine fire, that ignites the imagination but consumes the thinker” particularly caught my eye, because it refers to the mad wonder of creativity and creation that I tried to express in my poem Primeval Watercolour, which is about my surprised discovery in my first watercolour painting lesson of how unpredictable and how intense the colours could be (I had previously thought that watercolour painting was all about delicate, faded, impressionistic landscapes!).

As my poem reflects, the experience made me think of the Judaeo-Christian myth of creation out of formlessness, in particular Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

By the way, while thinking about this again today, I found this beautifully written exegesis, “Making sense of Genesis 1” by Rikki E. Watts ( http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Bible-Science/6-02Watts.html), which urges the reader to be conscious not only of the worldview brought to the text by its original, Hebrew-speaking, hearers and readers, but also of the writer-reader “contract” that requires the reader to recognise the conventions of genre in determining what kind of truth is being conveyed. The writer asserts that Genesis 1 is poetic and refers to Blake’s burning tiger to suggest a possible approach for interpretation. There is also a good brief overview of other creation myths to support the general argument. One to bookmark, I’d say.

Secondly, I was excited to read “The lost joy of ‘difficult’ poetry” by Roy Hattersley in the Mail&Guardian here:
http://www.chico.mweb.co.za/art/2007/2007mar/070316-poetry.html which contains thoughts related to those expressed in my post Poetry’s Potential and my Comment on my poem On deciding not to marry a priest. Unfortunately, I don’t have time today to summarise any more, but I’m noting the link here for future reference.

Thanks Tia. An interesting article on an even more interesting subject. Are creativity and mental illness inevitably linked? I like what psychiatrist Anthony Storr says in The Lancet: “…creativity, imagination, and inventiveness arise from a key human evolutionary adaptation to respond flexibly to a changing environment, and that this process inevitably leaves the individual out of step with reality at times.” Here’s the link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673602111470/fulltext. Free registration is required. Also try this article: Still Crazy After All These Years (http://www.nyfa.org/level4.asp?id=177&fid=1&sid=51&tid=169). Note the reference to poets. As Jimmy Buffet says, We need more fruitcakes in the world! ~TAB

Tia says:

Thanks for these links. As a result of following them, I eventually ended up with this excellent chapter on Creativity and Mental Disorder by Anthony Storr in a publication called Every Family in the Land: http://www.stigma.org/everyfamily/astorr.html
The abstract is as follows:

“The arts originate in the imagination. If human beings were perfectly adjusted to the environment by means of built-in programmes, there would be no need for imagination. But humans are not so programmed, because their form of adaptation requires them to be inventive and creative. Since creativity is a product of not being precisely in tune with external reality, it is not surprising that some of the most creative human beings are also those who are most at odds with themselves and the world. Psychotic human beings are mostly unable to create anything, but those who are particularly liable to psychoses are often strongly motivated to be creative.”

The article goes on to explain these thoughts in more detail and mentions many famous creative thinkers who displayed impaired social skills and might well have been consigned to the scrapheap of the mentally unwell were it not for their world-changing productions. It’s well worth the read!

Nic Paton says:

I’ve just read the Rikki E. Watts article on Genesis 1. Its a very good resource for many reasons.
1. It tackles the hermeutic question – how do we read and transmit information. How do we hear what the orignal writer intended or presupposed.
2. It demonstrates the bankrupcy of using Genesis to oppose Darwin, suggesting that you will end up in more of a mess with the implications of that apporach.
3. It asserts the primacy of the Poetic.
4. It asserts the primacy of YHWH as Creator, not only a nurturer or a warrior king.

I think the take-home line is

“And Genesis 1’s answer, it seems to me, is not so much concerned with the “how” in the technical or mechanical sense as it is with the “who,” namely, Yahweh.”

Good recommendation.

Tia says:

Well, I’m glad you found it useful, Nic. What about the other thoughts on creativity and mental aberration? I found myself thinking of the church’s attitude to scientists, witches and artists over the years and of the various “exorcisms” I witnessed in the early, heady years of my charismatic experience. What a different world we might live in now if the church, instead of trying to expel, control or suppress aberration, had created structures to receive, observe and learn from its effects; had provided these creatives with a temenos, a sacred alchemical space, to explore their adaptive instincts all the way through to transformation.

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