The Art of Slow Art

I know the blog’s been quiet lately. It has been the busiest summer we’ve had in several years! I am currently at a writing workshop called the Collegeville Institute, and though I’ve only been here for about 36 hours now, it’s already shaping up to be an incredible week.

This morning I hiked a trail around a lake that led to a little chapel called Stella Maris, which means star of the sea. (Pictured in the header photo above.) This evening I got to participate in Evening prayers with the monks here. It’s been a lovely day, but the best part has been meeting the other writers and talking about poetry and writing!

We’ve already talked a lot about not overdoing a poem. Today the leader, poet Michael Dennis Browne, said, “The natural object is always the adequate symbol.” I can’t remember if he was quoting someone else or if that was his own quote, but we were talking about making a poem accessible by using images of natural, ordinary objects rather than trying to “be poetic” and using too much abstract language. I immediately wanted to go back and make some revisions on the poems I submitted for this workshop, but I didn’t. My poems get workshopped tomorrow, so I’ll wait until I get feedback before revising.

Another question Michael has been asking is “How many drafts is this? Are you done?” Most of us are not done, of course, but I’ll admit I went to a workshop at a Murray State MFA program alumni weekend last Saturday, and I took two poems that I thought were almost finished. Guess what? They weren’t. I got some great suggestions that will make those poems stronger. It’s amazing how much ego gets in the way of good writing.

Michael’s question about drafts led to some discussions about how long it takes to write a poem. Mary Oliver said a typical poem of hers takes 70 hours to complete. Michael suggested a great poem could take a year or more to complete. I’ve written about slow art on this blog before, but I still needed the reminder today. I am often in a rush to get something finished. I am a rush to get something published, to get my name in print, as if that will somehow magically make my writing worth more.

Ego again. I want approval – all writers do, I think – but I have to remember that I don’t write for approval. I write to create, I write to connect, I write to process the events of my own life. I don’t want to sacrifice good art just for the sake of having more pieces published. I want to write well, both for my readers, and for me. Madeleine L’Engle said that all art is incarnational, man being made god, god being made man, a process of conversion and rebirth, of being made, of being made again, of being made holy in some mysterious way.

Good art takes time. I say it, over and over, but do I truly believe it? Do I embody it? Is my rush to be published just a rush to be affirmed, to convince myself I am enough? Is my rush to “be somebody” just a side-effect of this very public culture we live in? It is a culture full of Likes and Tweets and Shares – false recognitions, manufactured values.

The art of slow art. The blessing of slow art. The breath of slow art. That is what I am after. 


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  1. Joanne Corey says:

    I appreciate your message about taking time. Sometimes, I find that a poem is sloshing around in the back of my mind for weeks or months before I write it down; other times I need years to come to a place where I have processed an event well enough to write about it at all.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum: I first found out about Silver Birch Press from your blog and started following them. I had my first poem published with them in their current “All About My Name” series. Because you have to write to their prompt, unless you happen to have an existing poem that fits – which, as a newer poet for me is highly unlikely – you don’t have time to be slow. It makes me a little nervous, although it’s not quite as daunting as writing from a prompt in our community poetry workshop session. A first draft in ten to fifteen minutes is the antithesis of slow.

  2. One of my favorite posts of yours in a while, Karissa. I can see the beauty of the setting at the workshop and I can feel the peace sinking into your soul… it comes through in your words here. And of course I hear you on the wisdom of slow art and yet how difficult that is for us because of our egos. I’m still working on what I hope will be the “final” big revision to my novel, which I plan to send back to the agent by the end of July. But I’m trying not to hurry, and I’m incorporating feedback from my local writer’s group and other early readers. Five years in the making, I think the making of this book is more about personal growth than it is about the writing.

  3. Jen says:

    Lurker popping out to say… Beautiful post. As a drawer/painter, I couldn’t agree more. I am always rushing. Have to get art done to get my portfolio together-! Have to get art done so I can finally make a ‘real’ website-! Have to get this done (in JUST the right way) so I can finally feel as good of an artist as so-and-so-! So I can look like a “real” artist on my blog, on Instagram, on whatever-! And then I ended up so frustrated and burdened by the rushing that I lose heart in the piece and throw it away. Or trash it to watch mindless (easy) TV instead because I’ll never be “good enough.”

    Also, thank you for writing about the spirituality of creativity. A lot of blogs tend to focus on the spirituality of being a mother or wife (of which I am neither, and find it so hard to relate)… so… thanks for posting this today. You made my Friday. 🙂

    • Jen, thanks for these comments. There are tons of mom blogs out there. Plus, my daughter is old enough to know I write about her on the Internet and she doesn’t like that! 🙂 I enjoy writing more about the artistic life. Thanks for reading!

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