10/17/2016 0 Comments
(The transparent eyeball symbolizes Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendentalist philosophy that man should take in the nature of all things in order to bring truth to observation. With this in mind, perhaps instead of projecting ourselves onto our surroundings, we should be mindful and holistic while writing, taking in the environment around us.)
During dinner, a friend recently asked me why I am pursuing degrees in English and Anthropology when only one has its use in poetry. After finishing my meal, I simply replied that anthropology and poetry aren’t different to me. My poetry is a ploy to express the human condition. Anthropology is the study of the human existence. To me, both anthropology and poetry convey our connection to the human experience differently, but the purpose is still the same; to shed light on our truth as a species. I would have never come to these realizations without attending a cultural anthropology course.
Years ago, I took a cultural anthropology class, and it changed my life. Cultural anthropology is the study of human culture and the branches that stretch and influence other aspects of life. Throughout the class we learned the various practices and methods anthropologists use to keep an unbiased, detached, and focused mind on humans and their relationship to each other. I learned what it meant to truly observe my surroundings while momentarily disregarding what I felt about it. How to keep a holistic mind on things that are drastically different than what I’m used to became an aim to which I aspired while reading.
We were once given a 'fieldwork assignment' in which we visited a location completely unfamiliar to us to simply observe it. While there are other aspects to fieldwork, this one was challenging to me since I tend to be self-centered, judgmental, and unable to look at things beyond my scope. I chose to go to a Greyhound station that I’ve been to a million times, but each time it’s a new feeling, a new experience. It was then I wrote my first poem, off-ice Cubicle.
After realizing the station was being renovated, I chose to focus on the worker walking into a semi-glass box office centered in the middle of the floor. There, isolated visually and mentally from what’s going on outside of the booth's walls, I saw this person and couldn't help but inject poetry into the image before me; it was a way to order, to make sense of what I don't know or could be. I took what I’ve observed and applied poetry to it. It was only after working on my first chapbook that I began realize anthropology’s potential use in poetry.
I had another assignment in which we were to choose a movie and argue its similarities and differences in how human culture is shown. I chose “Cloud Atlas,” an amazing movie worth watching if you have 7 hours to spare (3 to watch, 3 to re-watch closely). After writing a paper using a poetic sensibility and an anthropological lens to decipher the film’s plot, I not only completed my assignment but found the core of what I wanted my future research to be based: Finding ways to cross the bridge over social injustice and into other cultures using poetry as a foundation.
While the anthropological approach taught me to expand my worldly scope in order to accurately absorb and record, I find that when I add a dash of poetry to what I see and what I perceive, it gives me a unique perspective. I mean, after all, that’s what poetry is right? In using anthropological methods to broaden my poetic scope, I now gain better insight into human nature and other aspects of life as the “Transparent Eyeball.”
After taking in such lessons, whenever I’m going through a writer’s funk, I try to get out my comfort zone and put myself in a different physical environment. That's because sometimes I write something that may not be understood fully due to its highly specific context. However, I want readers to like Emerson in nature, take in all of the surrounding environment of a piece before judging it. Like a cook I want readers to see my dish as a whole, with descriptions and word choices that add complementing layers of taste and texture to what I conjure up through a particular piece.
When I write, it is like decorations on a cake. Cake with dry lemon frosting, in spite of its indulgent appearance, disgusts me until I sink my teeth into and devour the rich moist cake within. Sometimes, to have a full experience, one has to dig in, not just remain on the surface evidence. As a spoon and a fork, anthropology and English are two utensils I’d like to carry with me when dining on poetry. Ah poetry, it is dessert.
“Transparent eyeball” as illustrated by Christopher Pearse Cranch, ca. 1836-1838 |
I’d like to acknowledge my friend Rob Arnold for [assisting or contributing] to this piece.
My blog's focus is to make poetry accessible.
Julio Montalvo Valentin is co-founder of Cringe Worthy Poets Collective and Just Poets of Rochester. He writes Semi-confessional, socially awkward poetry as an attempt to become immortal.