I’m thinking about improv’ today. At a simple level I’m thinking of it as a first draft mechanism. At a deeper level I think I want to talk about it as an aesthetic, or at least as part of a creative humility. I’m thinking about Oscar Wilde’s aphorism: “simplicity is the last refuge of the complex person.” And I’m thinking of the bravery of letting yourself be totally open and work on instinct as an artist, and take what you get, and work with it. All of this is on my mind as well, because we were talking about ‘conscious incompetence’ in the workshop yesterday morning. The term for that stage when you are smart enough and versed enough in the good work done in your form to know yours isn’t great. And how that can paralyse.
Dorothea Brande, accidental grandmama of the Morning pages, had the way around this for young writers. Daydreaming with the pen in your hand, I think she called it. Simpler than Julia Cameron’s idea. Get used to using ink to work out what you are thinking. Get used to seeing all the kinds of odd tangles your words may emerge in. Live with and improve that, was, I think, her thinking.
I wonder is it worth also asking ourselves who we want to be perfectly neat and crafty FOR in our work anyway? Are we aiming to make the work we will love or that the world will give us top marks for? Are we making the work we dare make? Reading an interesting book of essays on New poetry from the States at the moment, “Close encounters with nonsense.” Maybe those are things of which we have to learn to be less afraid. Aren’t the most exciting moments in amy page you’ll write or read the ones where an unexpected leap into insight or beauty is made?
I’m thinking of Roethke’s poem, The Waking. “I learn by going where I have to go.” Of Dermot Bolger talking in one of the papers recently about how he never plans his work. John Banville “making little monsters walk”…
I’ll put a link to the Roethke poem on the facebook.
And here’s the ace improviser, the fearless one, Keith Jarrett, who made the stunning Radiance album up live in Tokyo one night.
How we get ready to be that good I guess is that we nourish our creative lives every way we can. We get more and more ‘unconsciously competent’ that way. And we practice letting go and growing confident that each time we try our art, something we do may move somebody. Here’s to that.
I’ll post the Jarrett clip on the facebook, and also an interview with him in a recent IOS. I really can’t recommend enough the inspiration and the holiday from your own artform that you get from looking sideways into other forms for tips and company!