“Or that summer I was at Back to Nature Day Camp at Gage Park and there was a heat wave, and the confused teenaged counselors, in order to keep us from sunstroke, took us to see a one-dollar matinee at Gage 4 Theater five days in a row. I remember Planet of the Apes–all the younger campers wept with terror. I want to note only that each time the houselights dimmed–these were the first movies I’d ever seen in a theater without the emotional buffer of my family–I felt that other worlds were possible, felt all my senses had been reset and sharpened, that some of them were melding with those of the other kids with their giant Cokes in the dark beside me…each time the lights went down and the first preview lit up the screen, I felt overwhelmed by an abstract capacity I associate with Poetry. Not the artwork itself–even when the artwork is great–but the little clearing the theater makes.”
–from the essay The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner
Reading this essay by Ben Lerner was like crawling inside a giant footnote. For eighty-two densely packed pages, Lerner is a clever builder laying down his argument brick-by-brick. After that buildup of tension, the personal reflection at the end (quoted above) is a splash of cold water to the face.
I’ve read that periods of great creativity follow times of intense mental labor. Aren’t we all looking for that release in life as well as in art? A spasm, a moment of truth, a quiet after the tears? That feeling of a “little clearing”–Ah! Very Zen!
And then you return to life and its flood of impressions, somehow changed.