[ in this post, dirk devries discusses his feelings about being pulled between two muses—poetry and photography. ]
I live with divided passion. I am in love with both word and image. I am both poet and photographer.
It isn’t always an easy relationship. I question my ability to do justice to either. Would I be an outstanding photographer if I channeled all my creative energy toward image? Would my poetry take off if the time spent in photo-making were reserved for writing? Both require constant practice as well as attentive soul-time.
The truth is, I will likely never advance as far as I might with either as long as I continue to devote time to both. But I am okay with this; it’s a compromise I accept, because I find, in the merging of the two, that I create something uniquely my own.
I’ve learned, over the two and half years of working on my photo/poetry blog, a few principles that facilitate the process:
- Let it flow. Follow the inner urge. Some weeks are photos weeks; some weeks are poetry weeks. If the one isn’t working, don’t force it. The pen or the camera? If I relax, I’ll reach for the right tool.
- Work ahead. My goal is always to merge image and word, that is, to discover the ways a poem and a photograph inform and open each other. On rare occasions, a poem is written in response to an image, or the photo is taken to complement the poem, but much more often, I choose a poem (or image), then review available images (or poems), alert to potential resonance. This is only possible when I have a stockpile of both. I feel most comfortable with a stash of anywhere between 15-20 of each. So, obviously, it’s critical that I work ahead.
- Let them speak. Bringing together a photo and a poem is frequently a contemplative process, a form of spiritual practice, a time of listening and watching. This is what I referred to as the “resonance,” and sometimes I need to step aside to let this happen. Links can range from literal to symbolic, from obvious to tangential. Sitting in openness helps this happen. And don’t be surprised if others articulate connections you never imagined; enjoy these!
- Lighten up. I don’t need to be Ansel Adams or Mary Oliver, I just need to be me. Could the poem be more finely tuned? Of course. Could the image spend more time in Photoshop? Without question. It’s more about authenticity: Have I said what I wanted? Have I captured what moves me?
- It’s for me. I don’t do this for my friends, for my critics, or to make a sale. It’s to share my voice and my vision. It’s to document my journey. If someone else finds meaning in it (and I hear from those who do), that’s satisfying. However, this is my laboratory, my field of possibilities, my continual uncovering of spirit, and, in a very real way, both my reaching for—and embodiment of—God.
Torn between two muses? They all travel side-by-side. If blending is your thing, embrace both the limitations and the possibilities. Make it yours. It need only speak for you…and you may be surprised how often if speaks to others.
I see your hand on the door,
We know it’s time.
We know your feast awaits.
We know that I, at least,
will ache with emptiness once you are gone.
We know destiny has laid the table,
that this you deserve–
have prepared for a lifetime.
Only my selfishness keeps you here.
So leave me.
It is your time;
the Universe wills it.
When the table set is mine,
you will sit beside me.
We will eat the berries,
juice dripping joyously down our chins.
After she died,
without anyone’s intending it–
evolved into a shrine,
a monument to our lost history.
Untouched, year upon year,
it dusted over,
much like, every week,
the oak table that anchored the kitchen
dusted over with flour on baking day–
only everywhere now–
thick on painted window sills,
on the maple dresser with her hairbrush and combs,
on the lace doilies protecting the backs and arms
of the living-room chairs,
on the 1960 Philco TV with its rabbit ears,
on the black rotary phone in the niche in the foyer…
And the only disruption
to this slow layering of time,
this particle-by-particle obscuring of memory,
were our occasional, sad footprints
across the hardwood floor,
and the thin crisscrossing tracks of the field mice
for whom this ancient house
was the Holy Land, Mecca, Nirvana
safety, security, a vast and silent playground,
from generation unto generation…
After a former life as a youth pastor and education director for a Christian Reformed Church in Denver, CO, Dirk moved on to become an editor for an Episcopal Christian education company called Living the Good News, a job that, over time, morphed into his current position as Director of Curriculum Development for Morehouse Education Resources. Although interested in both photography and poetry throughout his life, he’s become serious about both over the last decade and found a creative way to engage and merge these key interests through his blog, “The 60-Second Sabbath.”
Text and image © 2012 by Dirk deVries. All rights reserved.