After receiving an invitation from Amazon to add an author’s note to the site’s product pages for my books, I accepted and found myself having quite a bit of fun looking back on the experiences of writing different books. The following reflections are on ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love (which btw is on sale right now):
Dimensions of Time and Creative Vision
If we accept the description of painting as a form of language, then it should be said that Luther E. Vann began composing ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love with the oldest images in the book, which date back to 1970 and 1972. My pen started the process of catching up with his brush strokes in 1991, when I attended an exhibit of his work at the Beach Institute in Savannah, Georgia, and almost immediately started scribbling descriptions of the images that seemed to glow, shout, and sing at me from the canvases.
A little later, a chance encounter with the artist himself led to discussions about the possibility of creating a book together, one in which my writings-poetry and essays-would strive to articulate the essence of the paintings. Visually, Luther’s work already spoke very powerfully for itself and I had doubts about being able to match in words what he so masterfully had already accomplished with painting and sculpture. How would I even begin such a formidable task?
The idea of such a book itself went all the way back to Bohemian Paris, if not further, when artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall joined in creative partnerships with poets like Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. Who was I to fail to live up to such a noble tradition without at least giving it all the best shots I could muster?
I started by first borrowing small prints of the artist’s work and studying them. It would be a mistake, I knew, to simply describe the images. So I meditated instead on the creative and spiritual energies that inspired the artist himself and led to the works’ composition. Then I took the pressure off myself by writing only when struck by an impulse to do so as opposed to sitting in front of a blank page and trying to force a flow of words that were not there. With that point settled, the poems then seemed to arrive of their own accord, dropping out of the night sky like message-bearing meteor showers or greeting me with entire stanzas as I woke up in the morning.
Creative work has a way of unfolding in one dimension of time while everyday life progresses in another. My fateful beginning on ELEMENTAL evolved into a journey that took all of some seventeen years. While ELEMENTAL continued to grow and mature at its own pace, my first three books were completed and published. Periodicals on a national level, like ESSENCE Magazine, as well as those on more regional levels, like the Savannah Literary Journal, began to publish poems from the work in progress. Likewise, Vann continued to produce award-winning paintings which eventually made their way into the book as well.
The most phenomenal part of the journey came when members of the community banded together to champion the publication of the book and in May 2008, almost seventeen years to the day from the first time I saw Vann’s exhibit, actually made it happen. What follows is an excerpt from a letter (first published in Connect Savannah, January 2, 2008) that I wrote to thank the people of Savannah for their support of the celebrated work:
…This is, after all, the same city that gave the world such stellar talents as poet Conrad Aiken, rapper and actor Big Boi, photographer Jack Leigh, author James Alan McPherson, lyricist Johnny Mercer, author Flannery O’Connor, actress Diana Scarwid, and many other gifted men and women.
At a time when war and various forms of violent discontent are so much a part of our daily consciousness, I believe it crucial to engage creative alternatives. This is not to say that ELEMENTAL is nothing more than an aesthetic indulgence to appease the sensibilities of two artists. It is in a fact a work that speaks very much to the heart and soul of our times: to the need for global political agendas that anchor humanity in peace rather than ensure its demise with war; and to the power of individuals to persist in exercising love in a world where people no longer seem certain of love’s meaning or value.
We are as grateful as we are honored for the support being provided. We hope that in time the book comes to represent more than just the achievement of one creative team, but a collective contribution towards the triumph of art and a spirit of community devoted to [celebrations of] life over the chaos and intolerance that so often ends in life’s tragic destruction.