Rothko and a Poem

I wrote this poem a few years ago.

Rothko Two

And yes, I put it on a Rothko. We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, the poem. I wrote it in my Poetry Writing class in undergrad. One perk of being a creative writing major is that you get cool classes where the teachers will help you say what you’re actually wanting to say. Constructive Criticism. I love it. No, honestly, I do.

The instructions were to write a free verse poem. Now, this made me a bit nervous. I hadn’t worked with free verse very much. But hey, it might be fun. I decided I wanted to write about being lonely in a crowd. So I wrote a first draft.

And it was terrible.

I knew it. My teacher knew it. But my teacher also saw what I was trying to say through it, and she wanted to help me convey that emotion artistically. So she gave me some helpful feedback—and I wrote a completely new poem. That one got an A.

Now, the Rothko. Fast-forward a few years from when I wrote the poem, and we’ve reached grad school, where I was studying theatre arts.

Our professor wandered around, putting pictures of Rothko paintings all over the room. He attached them to the cabinets, tossed them in the corners, put them on some boxes—they were everywhere. He told us to walk around the room and find a painting that spoke to us.

I’m sure that some of the people in my class actually found a painting that spoke to them. I just wound up with one no one else had claimed yet.

It was a red painting (obviously not the one I put my poem on). And I looked at it, wondering what on earth I was going to do with it. But my professor gave us more instructions that seemed to indicate that this project was going to be one of those abstract, self-discovery thingys. Write a monologue about yourself based on the painting. Okay. . . . So I sighed, packed up my notes, and wandered off.

When I began to work on the project, I set up the painting on my laptop and just looked at it. I just stared at it. I just . . . saw myself in the painting. I suddenly saw my fears, saw the terror I kept trying to push to the side. I saw myself trapped. So I wrote about that. I wrote a very short monologue—94 words. But it said everything I had to say. It was almost a confession, actually. I admitted my fear, admitted that I felt trapped, and admitted that I was trying to distract myself.

And then I shared that monologue with my class. That was slightly intimidating. But I’m grateful for how the professor tried to create a safe environment where we could explore and practice. Everything was fine.

A few months later, I was looking at Rothko pictures online, and this one seemed to fit my poem. I don’t know its name. (If you do, please comment!) So I put them together, and now I can hardly imagine them separated.

Art and words both convey emotions and thoughts. And each person will interpret the emotions and thoughts slightly differently. Our backgrounds, personalities, worldviews, and probably a host of other things influence our interpretations. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. As an artist, I’m not supposed to make sure that everyone feels the same thing I feel when I create a piece of art. I just need to be honest about the things I create. I don’t need to second-guess my every decision. I need to be willing to take risks and make mistakes. I need to prepare art about the things that matter to me. And I need to trust that truly good art will touch a variety of people in a variety of ways. And that’s a good thing.

So . . . yeah. That’s what I was thinking about as I remembered these two school projects. I learned about writing from both. I learned about myself from both. And I hope you enjoy them.

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