Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Meditation on the Relationship of Love and Art by Guest Blogger Michael T. Young

This week, I’m especially happy to post an essay by Michael T. Young—a poet whose work I greatly respect and admire. Michael has published three poetry collections: Transcriptions of Daylight (Rattapallax Press), Because the Wind Has Questions (Somers Rocks Press), and Living in the Counterpoint (Finishing Line Press). His fourth collection, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, will be published in 2014 by Poets Wear Prada Press. He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He was runner-up for a William Stafford Award and recipient of the Chaffin Poetry Award. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Fogged Clarity, Louisville Review, Off the Coast, The Potomac Review, and The Raintown Review. His work is also in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost, In the Black/In the Red and forthcoming in Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. Michael lives with his wife and children in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Michael’s website:
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Margins: A Meditation on the Relationship of Love and Art 

By Michael T. Young

 I have always believed that love is, by definition, creative and that true creativity, likewise, is loving. This belief is conveniently circular, but then again, so are some symbols of love and eternal life like the wedding ring and the Ouroboros. Like the circle, love is what repeats itself because love is what we wouldn't want any other way. But what binds us into these circular love affairs are not seamless, hence the constant misunderstandings of love and art.

Generally, our relationship with art is as clumsy as our relationship with other people:  we trap ourselves in what we mean to each other. But love is not only defined by what someone means to us but by the freedom we grant them to be and become themselves.

To love is to pay attention to the highest degree. Such attention is what the lover gives to his beloved and what the artist gives to his creation. He willingly gives his time and energy, the substance of his life, to bring something into existence. Lack of attention is what renders a manufactured product meaningless. Invented for profit, pieced together by machines, our commodities posses function but not meaning.  Meaning is not a mechanism an artist puts into a work of art but arises through the love he invests in it.  The artist creates a vehicle through which something comes into a meaningful existence. Thus his attention is a kind of obedience to an inspiration, which he allows to define itself. Of course, the meaning of an artwork has limitations. No single work of art can mean everything at once. But then again, every single artwork tends to resist reduction to a singular meaning. If a poem or painting would impart its meaning to us it demands in return no less than that we live with it. It demands that we give it attention, the freedom to continually redefine or clarify itself.

So even for the reader of a poem or observer of a painting, it is the sustained attention he gives to it that will reveal its meaning. But it isn't something that once seen is fully had, like understanding the function of something, such as how a hammer works. For the one who experiences a work of art, meaning is the perspective he gains on himself and the world through transcendence in the work of art. It is what Shelley called, "morals" in his Defense of Poetry when he said:

The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own.

The moment one assumes full understanding of a work of art or a person, one has effectively locked them in the past. When you look at them, you will see them as they were but not as they are or as they are becoming. To pay attention to someone or something, to love someone or something is to continually extend to them the freedom to renew themselves in your eyes without jeopardizing what they have always meant to you. In this way one's perspective grows. It is what makes friendship and love profound. It is the depth perception of the mind's eye.

But the horizon sets limits even on perfect vision and nothing shrinks the world's horizons faster than pain. When Dante Gabriel Rossetti saw his wife in her coffin, he placed a collection of his poems into it with her. It was the only perfect copy of his poems and only existed because she had asked him to write them down. Silence followed him out of the room and through the next seven years. Through that time his friends, people like Swinburne, William Morris, and George Meredith became famous poets and novelists. Finally, Rossetti had his wife's coffin exhumed and the poems retrieved. They were published eight years after her death.  One could argue that Rossetti retrieved the poems to achieve fame. But that would require ignoring what inspired those poems: the love not just for his wife, Elizabeth, but for the life in her. What calls forth song is not just love but a love for life, whether it's the life one loves in another or in one's own day to day. When the life he loved died in Elizabeth, he felt it founder in himself. He felt a pain for the loss, a tear in the fabric of what he was. With that he threw the poems into the coffin with the spent life that inspired them. But he continued to feel pain and only the living feel pain. When life had stretched that pain thin over the years and Dante stared into it, what he saw was the blank page he was returning to life instead of the love he truly felt. He had to retrieve from the dead what belonged to the living.

Blake said, "Life delights in life." As many poems that have been written for the beloved, whether man or woman, there have also been many inspired by other art works: symphonies inspired by poems, poems inspired by paintings, paintings inspired by paintings, paintings inspired by poems or philosophy. It is life delighting in life, the motion of love, a circling of life back to itself creating a place for us to mean something to each other. It is also the frame around a painting, the margins around the poem. 

(Copyright © 2013 by Michael T. Young. 
All rights reserved.)

Note: When I asked Michael if he had a poem that expressed something of his essay’s spirit, his response was, It occurred to me that my poem “The Word ‘Anyway’” would make a perfect accompanying piece to the essay. This poem embodies and enacts the idea that the essay states as love and attention being a constant extension of the freedom of renewal without jeopardizing existing meaningfulness.

The Word “Anyway”

Every time I write it’s there at the end of my paragraphs,
so much so, my friends see it as a kind of signature word,
and I realize that whatever it means, it is, in any case,
like a ramp off the highway leading me somewhere else.
And where it takes me, regardless, turns and carries the letter,
the conversation, the e-mail, in another direction, though not,
necessarily, in a better one—the detour this time taken
to wrench the heart from its daily obsessions,
which is to say, I wasn’t trying to take us to our destination faster,
on the contrary, I was trying to spare you,
trying to take us both somewhere neither of us had been,
a place where the view over the valley
gives way to a lake reflecting late summer light
and the crisp air in our lungs expands
like a space we allow each other to become whatever we wish.

(From Living in the Counterpoint, copyright © 2012 by Michael T. Young. 
All rights reserved.)

Poems by Michael:

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Thanks so much, Michael!


  1. Bravo, Michael Young! What a beautifully written meditation. Thanks for sharing it with us here on Adele's blog.

    Adele, thanks for this interesting mix of voices during the holiday season – a great idea!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jamie! I'm, glad you're enjoying the change of "program" for the holiday season.

    2. Thank you, Jamie. This is very kind of you to say.

  2. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)November 30, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Well done, Michael Young. Quite an impressive essay. I was particularly interested in your comments on Rossetti. His relationship with wife Lizzie was quite tragic (her death by most accounts a suicide). To consider the whole bizarre incident of the poems in her casket and subsequent exhumation has generated substantial criticism for Rossetti. Your 'take' on it is generous and, I suspect, closer to the truth than Rossetti simply looking to achieve fame with his poems.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

    1. Thanks Maire, for your comment. I found the Pre-Raphaelite reference (Rossetti) interesting too. I'll be sure to send your thoughts along to Michael (with all the others as well).

    2. Thank you, Maire. I’m glad you like my take on the Rossetti. It was a take generated more by the meditation of the essay as a whole than solely as a comment on the event. However, to comment directly on it, I think it’s difficult to know what is in anyone’s heart. While I would agree with the critics that there was certainly an element of ambition in Rossetti’s action, to say it was only that would surely be inaccurate. Most of us, I would conjecture, are driven by a mixture of motives. And doesn’t that make us all the more interesting?

    3. Well-stated, Michael, so true! Here's the link to an interesting and thoughtfully written article on the subject. It includes this quote from Rossetti himself: "“The truth is that no one so much as herself would have approved of my doing this. Art was the only thing for which she felt very seriously. Had it been possible to her, I should have found the book on my pillow the night she was buried; and could she have opened the grave, no other hand would have been needed.”

  3. Very insightful and meaningful meditation. Of special interest to me: "The artist creates a vehicle through which something comes into a meaningful existence. Thus his attention is a kind of obedience to an inspiration, which he allows to define itself." Thank you Michael and Adele.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Rich! I'm glad you found the meditation meaningful. Michael is a great writer—both poetry and prose.

    2. Thank you, Rich. That is most kind of you to say.

  4. I've heard Michael Young read his poems, and he's amazing. It's great to read this prose meditation.

    1. Thank you. I'm so glad you like it and my poetry. Such a generous superlative to use.

  5. That's right! You were there the night Michael and I read together in Bob Rosenbloom's series. He really is an amazing young poet. I predict a great future in poetry for him.

    1. Thank you, Adele, for all the kind remarks you've been posting and the opportunity to share my work. It is such a joy and honor.

  6. I just found a copy of Transcriptions of Daylight on eBay and bought it immediately on a "Buy It Now." Can't wait for it to arrive. Thanks for introducing your readers to this extraordinary writer (and so lovely of you to post a meditation on love and art during the Advent season).

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Carole. Congrats to you on your eBay find—I've gotten some great poetry books on eBay at some wonderful discount prices. I know you'll really enjoy Michael's poems!

    2. Thank you, Carole, for such generous comments and for purchasing my book. I hope you enjoy Transcriptions.

  7. The essay made me reflect again on Shakeshpeare's SONNET 116:

    … Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds…


    1. Wow, Basil—what a great connection! Thanks for noting it here.

      Blog readers, here's the whole sonnet if you're not familiar with it:

      SONNET 116

      Let me not to the marriage of true minds
      Admit impediments. Love is not love
      Which alters when it alteration finds,
      Or bends with the remover to remove:
      O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
      That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
      It is the star to every wandering bark,
      Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
      Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
      Within his bending sickle's compass come:
      Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
      But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
      If this be error and upon me proved,
      I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

    2. A great connection, as Adele noted. Isn't it amazing (and wonderful) how poetry stirs the mind and senses? There's always inspiration in works of poetry and works about poetry. This is a fantastic meditation. Wasn't it Robert Frost who wrote to the effect that the figure [of a poem] is the same as for love.

      May I add that art IS love?

    3. Thank you, Basil. That is a wonderful connection and one of my favorite Shakespeare sonnets. If I were to lengthen the essay, it would be something possibly to bring into it.

    4. I would agree with that, Gillian. If the artist invests his work with the attention that is love, then what the art conveys to others would be that love. I believe it's why in good work you can find a sense of the person or perhaps that person at their best. It's one reason (not the only) we can distinguish one artist from another with very little information.

      I wasn't aware of the Frost quote. I will have to look that up. Thank you. It's a great quote.

    5. How gracious and generous of you, Michael Young, to reply to all of our comments!

  8. I love this. Thank you both, Adele and Michael. My friend and I were on the subject and I wrote a poem in response to your post and this conversation with my friend.

    Love tied
    to domination
    carried silently on the back
    No free love
    Love in a box
    in a tomb
    in a prison
    Throw off the shackles
    Exist, if only momentarily
    on a different plane
    Dissolved and lost in union
    Let's share some tea
    and unravel the gossamer
    reveling in dew dropped mystery

    1. Risa, I so admire the way you find inspiration in so many places and ways. As always, true to your style. Love the idea and nuance of "dew dropped mystery."

    2. Risa, thank you for sharing your poem. This is wonderful. You demonstrate in your writing a poem how life delights in life, how art and poetry, conversation and reflection nourish each other and provide us a space to come together, perhaps the way Steven suggested in the end of Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour in which "We make a dwelling in the evening air,/In which being there, together, is enough."

  9. I love that you found inspiration in Michael's meditation! Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Risa! (Hope you showed the poem to your friend.)

  10. Thanks, Jamie and Adele. I haven't showed her yet.

  11. What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you. yoga in daily life

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jerald. I'm so glad to hear that you're enjoying the blog. I post every week, usually on Saturday mornings.