Welcome to a new edition in the Critical Breakdown section of my blog. If you’ve read other pieces in my Breakdown pages, this installment will be familiar to you. If you’re new to these pages, then let me briefly explain. Here I will go into a detailed explanation of a phot0-poem recently posted to the LoveMore Studio blog. I’ll discuss the meaning behind a particular piece, both photograph and poem, and also my method to achieve the final result. In this case, I will write a critical breakdown of the photo-poem Fractured: Of this, we are. I felt this particular piece warranted an in depth explanation since the meaning behind it is likely not obvious to many, and the relation of the poem to the photo may not be clear at first.
As is often the case, I’d like to discuss the photograph first. Likely, because our internet world is such a visual place, most glances at my post were probably because of the photo. And in black and white, this particular photo is striking. I took this photo about a week ago while hiking in my favorite park, Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos, here in my hometown, Petropolis, in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. I don’t come to this particular spot often, as I have found other spots that are more off the trail than this, but whenever I do, I just can’t resist snapping a few shots of this beautiful, serene, majestic cascade.
The Photo: Technically speaking, I took the photo with my trusty Canon Powershot SD1400 IS–yes, it is a digital pocket camera. I use this camera for all my shots because it has a nice macro lens and it is easy to carry in my pocket wherever I go. It has many, many limitations, including adequate light metering capabilities and focus adjustment to name but two. But I just can’t see myself lugging around my DSLR in a place where some people can’t afford to buy shoes.
In this scene, since the light at this location is tricky with the sun above the shadowed cover, I heavily underexposed. This allowed for a handheld esposure and created the slight misting effect which is what I had aimed for. However, I did not want total misting as has become common in waterfall shots. I had wanted some simple blurring while retaining a natural feel to the scene. I adjusted the photo in PhotoShop CS4, shifting the image to black and white since the image as-shot was very monochromatic. Even though the shot was underexposed, I’m unsure how the darkness appeared at the top of the photo, since it was not there in the other photos of this series. Ultimately, it was this darkness at the top of the frame, where the mist appears to fall from nothingness, that made the photo appropriate for this poem.
As I worked the poem, I jotted down some observations in my poetry notebook regarding the image. The visual space is broken into three distinct sections: the upper secton, which is misty, still, and calm, like a distant memory. The middle, where the water hits the rock plateau is jarring and bold, crashing. And the lower portion is the drop, the descent into the darkness below. This photo has movement, from nothingness into light and back into nothingness. From still, to crash, to drop. From top to middle to bottom. From a beginning to an end. Seeing the waterfall in black and white helps to center our attention on the quality of the light mixed with the water. We achieve heightened emotion by removing color and asking our brains to percieve a common subject in a ‘different light’.
The Poem: Structurally, I took great pains to “fit” the poem into the blog space next to the photo which I placed on the left of the page. Normally, I post the photo first and allow the poem to run later. But in this case, it was very necessary to align the text of the poem with the photograph. The poem is written in 3 stanzas, each part coinciding with corresponding section of the photograph.
I write my poems in a poetry journal, which is separate from my journal journal where I write my thoughts of the day. In my poetry journal, at the start of each new poem, I jot down words or themes that have come to me over the past several days. In this particular case, I already had the photograph from which I was inspired in mind. That made it easier. I wanted this poem to be harsh or critical, maybe about war or an angry god, cancer or apostasy. In total, I filled 8 sides of notebook paper with ideas and ruminations, with the final 3 pages my final revisions. I revise repeatedly in the notebook pages to get the right balance, rhythm and rhyme, but I always end up doing my last revision in the blog post upload page on the computer right before I hit ‘publish’. In the end, it was an article which I read about how oil production from shale using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in my birth state Pennsylvania is causing untold sickness and disease in both humans and animals alike that gave me the final overrall theme of this poem: Our desctruction of the planet is our own demise.
So, the first stanza. Remember, as related to the photo, this section is to be light and misty, still and calm. It is where the water begins, from nothingness (at the top of the visual space) as it moves into the light (leading down into the center of the photo). The first stanza is nature, it is the creation of us, me and you, from nature.
Of this, dawn’s primal mist
where pristine waters run far
an effervescent essence lit
by kiss of the distant sun
we are –captured in an instant
born of silt and stone
(Out) of this….out of the mist, this primordial soup of a world before man–that is how the poem begins, and that is how we begin. I imply that we were created at the moment that the sun lit up the primordial mist, that we arose from the same materials as the water and the rocks and the silted earth. It is here that we were pure. This part of the poem is to be light and airy, just like the top portion of the image. It is this section of the poem that is most like my other poems about nature, and I did not want the ready to suspect that anything would be different from those other works.
The second stanza, however, as juxtaposed agains the photo, is where the misted water crashed onto the rocks across the center of the picure. It is meant to be jarring. I did not want the reader to be aware where this poem was headed, and so this stanza represents the ‘fracture’ –in the poem itself– as well as the ‘fracture’ in hydraulic fracturing, where tons of chemicals along with clean drinking water are injected into shale below the earth to extract petroleum. This is what ‘fracking’ is– it is destructive and offensive, and I had hoped this stanza to relay that, both by what I say and the overall tone and rhythm.
Built of blood and bone
we are fractured– and choked
as we drill and we spill
and suffocate on its distillate
in an endless frenzy of
of butylated mutilation
From the first stanza, I carried over the concept of ‘born of silt and stone’ into the ‘built of blood and bone’ in the second stanza to show that we ARE of this earth, and that we too, are fractured in this process. It is a transition, from pristine nature to damaged nature. I had wanted to include a list of the chemicals that are used in fracking that have found their way into people’s drinking water– and into our food supply, since most fracking takes place under farmlands all across the U.S.– chemicals like benzene, xylene, propane, toluene, arsenic, silenium, acetene, strontium, sulfates, chloride, methane– but they just didn’t seem to fit, and so I settled with simply naming ‘butane’ as in the line ‘butylated mutilation’.
The third and final stanza is the drop from the crash, corresponding to the movement from the middle to the lower portion in the photo (and into darkness at the bottom of the frame) as the water, now defiled, spills ‘until blackness takes hold’ into nothingness once more.
And with oil-slicked seas afire
about the knees of our
dire existence, we are
defiled by disease that rakes
our bodies and souls until
blackness takes hold–
Of this, we cease to be.
One of the neat consequences of all the chemicals used in fracking is that you can actually light water on fire! Since fracking uses hydraulic pressure to force the petroleum out of the rock below, often times, the chemicals are forced into peoples drinking wells and rivers and streams. Once you get this stuff in your drinking water you’ll never be able to drink from it again. These chemicals are flammable, so water from contaminated wells can be light on fire. In the poem, I mention oil-slicked seas of fire, the fire being what I just explained, and with the BP oil spill in the Caribbean still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but conjure up an image of oil-slicked seas.
The ‘seas about the knees’ is a quick reference to rising waters due to global climate change. There have already been some island countries that have had to abandon their homelands in search of higher land. They have become climate refugees. And the mention of disease here specifically to me refers to my aunt who is suffering through a second bout of cancer. The types of cancers that she faces are so extreme, I can’t help but wonder if it’s because she had lived very near to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania when there was massive radiation leakage in March, 1979. Related or not, our earth is diseased and now our bodies are diseased. To think that our spirit or soul is unaffected by the atrocities that we do to our home, our water, our food…well, I think otherwise.
I end the poem with ‘Of this, we cease to be’ — I repeat back from the first line of the poem, when all life was hopeful and new ‘Of this…we are…born of silt and stone …we are built of blood and bone’ and then continued in the body ‘…we are fractured…we are defiled’ and finally…’Of this we cease to be’ becaue, quite literally, we are all of this. We are the good, we are the bad. We are born of this and we will die of this. The title of the poem was originally to be just “Of this, we are” and then later I changed it to “Fractured” but each of these separately didn’t seem to tell the whole story. I combined the two into “Fractured: Of this, we are” which I feel really sums it all up. We ARE of all of this, and we ARE fractured.
Review: Well, how did I do? With both the original photo-poem and with my explanation? Did I leave anything out? Did I overexplain? Did I bore you to oily-tears? Personally, I know my poems can be a little heavy. Really, I’m working on it. And I know that as far as poetic skill goes, I’m just a beginner. But honestly, I think my more recent works have shown improvement. My next task it to work on making my poems less about general feelings or ideas and more about specific emotions that the audience can relate to more immediately.
Please, please feel free to offer me any feedback, advice, criticism– whatever! I am always looking to grow and learn so any words of wisdom would be major help. And as always, thanks for reading my blog. Peace~ Jason