Friday, 19 February 2010

Creativity or discovery

I have been reading Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts (Weisberg,2006). I am only part way through but his discussions of creativity vs discovery have caught my interest.

I (not unusually) have thought of the arts in terms of creativity and the sciences in terms of discovery; as Weisberg writes: "no Picasso, no Guernica" but great scientific discoveries are discoveries because they tend to be finding, or finding out about, things already in existence.

Weisberg shows though, that it isn't as simple as that - creativity/discovery are not two sides of a divide but two ends of a continuum and this made me think about the act of creation in poetry.

I have no doubt that writing poetry is a creative act and process though sometimes, with those rare 'gift poems', it can feel like discovery. However, writing (whether poetry or anything else) is the only art form that I can think of in which the raw material - language - is used by all of us, all the time, in our everyday existence. Unless we are writing nonsense verse or experimenting with typography and/or nonce words, we don't create the material a poem is made out of. We may find a different way of using a word or phrase, we may find something about the way words work in a certain combination, or play with the way words look on a page, but these things are surely further along the continuum line towards the 'discovery' end.

In a way, I find it reassuring that discovery is (or can be) part of creativity. I feel it validates some of the tools and tricks I use to access my process.

Maybe this interests no-one else but me but writing it out helps me think about it.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Translating as palimpsest

One of the modules on my MA was 'Translation and adaptation'. I don't have any other languages fluently enough for translating so I was pleased to find that working from literal translations was acceptable because there was a project I really wanted to do. I had heard, through someone who regularly attends 'Buzzwords', of the French trench newspapers of WWI and the poetry printed in them. It was WWI poetry from Sassoon and Owen that first got me into poetry from school so these intrigued me; we know so little of other nations' war poetry. When I started to look into it, I found the poems incredibly moving because they were ordinary soldiers, trying to make sense of the hell they were in through poetry. I was very aware of the emotional burden and responsibility of doing anything with the poems: many of the men who wrote them would not have survived the trenches and the appalling circumstances they were living in makes the existence of the trench newspapers a truly amazing testament of the human impulse to be heard.

I don't want to recap the whole project here but I loved doing it and found the experience deepened my understanding both of that history and of creative motivation. I am delighted that the project now has a new life beyond the university archive as it has been made into an internet radio programme. If you're interested, you can listen to it here: Trench Poetry from WWI