Alicia Griswold

   poet & visual artist

Alicia Griswold: When Poets Paint

At first I wrote because I couldn't afford paint. Now I paint because I can't afford not to. As a result of painting and writing I've learned the following:

I paint and look away then I read the painting in the same way I read a story or a poem. I look for the elements that are similar: setting, character, mood, tone, voice pattern, composition. Design. Plot.

Somehow when I listen to my writing all I can focus on is what isn't working. That's why I began to draw. I wanted to see my imagination instead of listen to it. It is easier to look than to hear. Easier to see than to listen. At least, it was at first.

It was easier to look at the lines I'd drawn when listening to my mother on the phone. Easier to wake up and wander over to the drawing table and not try to draw, but just draw.

Whatever emerged, emerged. In doing this I saw that the oversized ear in a drawing was quirky but not necessarily a mistake. Whereas an oversized focus on a particular detail of a story would mislead the reader and secure failure.

Both stories and drawings can fail. Stories fail when the characters and plot, the setting and language do not all contribute to the theme. Success is the unification of elements.

Paintings fail when they are overworked.

Both fail when they are self conscious because self consciousness breeds a lie.

When you just draw or paint, you give yourself truth. Perhaps the same is true for some when they write, but not me. At least, not then.

But once I was able to see myself drawn on the page and like what I saw, or not even like it, but just see it without editorial judgement, I was able to turn back to writing. I came to understand that writing is listening. To hear what is there, I must listen.

Writing is listening. Just listening with your hand. Just following along and returning. Just. Only. Nothing else.

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