When I became that book all those years ago, the effects of art in my life were not definable. I only knew that I enjoyed storytelling and later I would appreciate that my relationship to story has everything to do with language, music and imagery. Later would come rhetorical invention. In the Caribbean, we’ve had to make it up as we go. Perhaps, the human spirit is always defiant under pressure of immense extremes.
energy, ideas, the writer, the mind,
These conversations with writers during my tenure at Open Book has done remarkably to illuminate the modes in which a writer can inhabit the work, especially in its nascence, in spite of uncertainties and absences—absences which themselves are made of words, of energy.
I offer two attitudes or general ways of thinking about the energy of language. They refer specifically to what happens to words in the rift between realities of order and disorder in the natural world and in how we perceive these realities.
- The first law of Philodynamics: linguistic energy is neither created nor destroyed; it is harnessed from the world and exists as consciousness.
Observe this continuum:
Space1 -----àEnergy2 ----- àLife 3----- àLanguage 4------àStorytelling 5 = experience of order and disorder (time)
Resulting in infinite possibilities for plot, exposition, situation, reverse, arrival, character, thought, poetry etc., the many vicissitudes of the written word take shape and inform what the writer brings to the novel, the poet to the poem, the playwright to the play, the painter to the painting, the singer to the song—every creative enterprise. What the artist brings to their chosen art for that matter, already exists in the world as energy, it is merely reborn, if you will—it is given a new name, a new appearance, a new shape and form and being. It is transformed so that we may perceive it freshly.
My conversation with Vladimir Lucien called up, in complex terms, the “living force” of energy: this took me closer to what happens with the writer’s pen-in-hand against the blank sheet. Still, for my purpose here, what happens when a reader picks up a book comprises something slightly altered: we experience a duality of energies—the reader and the writer in conscious and unconscious exchange.
This latter insight extends from my conversation with Alicia Elliot. The writer trusts the reader to successfully enter the crafted world of the book and achieve their understanding of its workings. Readers take a leap of faith, are taken into the movements (the energy) of the written word—the written world as it has been offered, or—according to Michael Helm in “Writing and the World Replaced”—as it has been replaced.
The accomplished reader brings their full range of abilities to the reading practice and will thus be “moved” by way of thier cognitive and experiential investment in the world of the book. She either becomes the book or abandons the calling.
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Perhaps what I mean by the “energy” of words is what Zadie Smith, in Fail Better, calls the “soul” of the work. And this takes me to the second way of thinking about linguistic energy.
Bring to mind, if you will humour me again, the second law of thermodynamics: entropy always increases.
2. The Second Law of Philodynamics: Linguistic energy is transmitted through the entropy of either order or disorder.
If a writer’s style is the modality of their agency, the poetic style could reveal a writer who is concerned with the disorder of reality. The sense that the universe moves from order to disorder. The fate of everything. Consciousness can bring to bear this “entropy”—this tendency towards a dispersement of concentrated sensibility. This is why the hallmark of poetic force is compression. This compression is most readily the work of personal thought, of one mind at a time, rendering the abundant unfolding of the mortality of events, of life. At its best, poetry captures (for me) energy through description and music—minimal and overt—and the beautiful, disarming, unsettling work of the poetic line. I thank Kei Kellough for his musings on discordance as I consider this further.
Elizabeth Bishop in “One Art” tells us the art of losing isn’t hard to master. Indeed, entropy, is what the natural world tells us is the art of losing. And if entropy is so natural to us, it must find manifestation in all human endeavours. Poet was particularly poignant in taking us to this place:
The ode, for instance, is still involved in the work
of disorder. For example, through the analytic work of metaphor
the poet engages with a complexity of meaning which, based on
creates new orders from disorder.
Poetry is a most subtle form of encoding meaning and information. Forms of poetic language and their concentrated elements of music and play are the energies of music and incantation themselves, built into the beauty of language.
The disorder that poetic language finds great comfort in lets poets invent new forms of meaning, such as Brand accomplished in works like Ossuaries and Inventory.
I'm indebted to the writers who've been in conversation with me this past month. Thank you all coming along with us into this labyrinth. I hope you have found your way through.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Canisia Lubrin was born in St. Lucia. She has had work published in literary journals including Room, The Puritan, This Magazine, Arc, CV2and The City Series #3: Toronto Anthology. She has been an arts administrator and community advocate for close to two decades. Lubrin has contributed to the podcast On The Line, hosted by Kate Sutherland for The Rusty Toque. She studied at York University where she won the President's Prize in poetry and the Sylvia Ellen Hirsch Memorial Award in creative writing. Lubrin holds an MFA from the University of Guelph and teaches at Humber College. She lives in Whitby, Ontario.