Third Mind: Creative Writing through Visual Art

Third MindEdited by Tonya Foster and Kristin Prevallet
Teachers & Writers Collaborative ($19.95)

by Thomas Bell

When I wanted another mind I chose a visual one. Then I moved out into spatial, gestural, and visceral minds. Once started I found out these directions were rooted in experimental approaches to poetry that began roughly 100 years ago, and beyond that back to Plato and Horace and, ultimately, to the impulse to poetry itself.

Our Cartesian world has been slow to realize again that poetry can be more than the intellectual, more than the verbal. It took the Burroughs phenomenon to bring visual, verbal, and visual-verbal (the "third mind") to general cultural awareness. Even this was resisted in some quarters: although Grove Press, which had gained a reputation for radical innovation, planned to issue Burroughs's and Gysin's Third Mind in 1970, it was not published until 1978 (by Viking).

It soon became apparent that working in the gestural mode ignited the inward prodigy of the visceral. This ignition could then express "the guts" through many modes, depending on one's inclinations and talents. What is to be said can reach expression experientially as well as experimentally, with and through the verbal, in contributor Marjorie Welish's sense of through: "A poem through abstract painting can be both expressive of the concrete register of painting and true to the medium of words, if some verbal analogue to the visual can establish itself on its own terms."

This is in contrast to the usual conception of the interaction of the verbal and visual in art and poetry—that one serves as a touchstone for the other. Many of the pieces in Third Mind: Creative Writing through Visual Art do take this view, and examine this interaction's relevance for a number of student populations in a variety of settings—making it a useful anthology for writing teachers. However this conception falls short of addressing the 'through' which is important for practitioners and for viewers/readers who seek some of the wealth contemporary art and poetry can offer.

If we look at this closely, it becomes apparent that this gesture toward realization is more a human and artistic characteristic than a property of only one single mode of mind. As Holly Masturzo writes while considering "Gestural Abstraction and the Art of Cy Twombly," "The movement of the artist's hand over and against the canvas mimics the way the body moves through the world." It seems to me that the verbal mode need not be excluded from such abstraction, as can be seen in the work of certain visual and concrete poets, such as Michael Basinski, Philadelpho Menezes, and mIEKAL aND.

When it comes to realization, poet Lee Upton makes some intriguing comments in her discussion of the time her "resistant" students may have invested in developing their handwriting. She comments: "by using handwriting as a prompt, that is, by using the visual that has grown 'unseen' in its very familiarity, students are urged to look at visual presentations dynamically and in unaccustomed ways." This is a way of using experience, of resisting the resistance or the contour of absence. And one can presumably resist one's own resistance and move forward to realization.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2002/2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2002/2003