Thursday, 25 August 2016

Of Angels and Hope


The Imaginarium is soon to be open for business - first session on 5th September - so I've been picking the minds of some of my favourite writers and thinkers for stimulation. So far I've found Jorie Graham on education: "Our educational philosophies at present are so desperately specialized, so goal-oriented, we have forgotten that when we teach children we are not teaching content, or even "methods for learning," but rather that we are helping a child's intuition and emotions learn to operate in tandem with his or her conceptual intellect--stoking curiosity, that miraculous power that brings desire to bear on the mind.

"The aim is to build the glorious thing. And if you look back at any period in the history of poetry in this language there are really so very few poets whose work endures--rarely more than two or three in a generation--and yet all that "poorer" work was always being written, all around them, perhaps in some crucial way actually permitting them to do their work. How often one finds the stated "major influence" on some magnificent poet to be some "minor" poet whose work simply doesn't make any real sense as an influence on the "great" one. Who knows what we all give each other--it's such a mysterious process. And yet, somehow, letting everyone add their share, century after century, it gets done."

And Margaret Atwood on imagination.

The Imaginarium, as I've written about previously, is not so much an writing course as a space to explore and play alongside other writers, to enable ourselves as a community of creative practitioners, and beyond, to touch and inform our wider communities. I want to explore and think and play as much as everyone else, I want to build "the glorious thing". I think it grew out of my reading of Wallace Stevens' The Necessary Angel (you can actually read the full text here, but I recommend getting a hard copy). Just what is this thing I have taken for granted for my entire life? This place where I process and translate my habitat? This energy that connects me internally and externally? Maybe it doesn't matter so much about definitions, more about feeling it, exercising it, knowing what it can do and how to use it differently, engaging with other people's, seeing the varieties of everyone's. Although I think having a sense of what our imaginations are, and how they operate is a useful starting point. It will be a practical six months: writing, reading, discussing and sharing work to stretch ourselves, flex ourselves and hopefully surprise ourselves.

I love that Atwood talks of hope in another video in the same series. That optimistic position seems a default position for us humans - why else would we want to stand as babies if we didn't think we could? For my own work, the realm of hope feels absolutely essential to counter the bleakness of the present. I have to imagine greater understanding of the changes about us, the compulsion to act on that understanding. I am not satisfied with documenting. I would find it simply too hard to face if that was my objective. I think that's why I have to read speculative fiction, poetry, fantastical fiction alongside memoir and environmental prose. Not just for my writing but for my reconciliation of being in this world. How can we exist and continue to exist without that wider understanding that brings compassion?

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