Sestina: The Creative Habit
"Write a sestina, for heaven's sake!"
-- Twyla Tharp, 3/18/2015
|Twyla Tharp touted her book, 'The Creative Habit'|
[N.B.: The choreographer's advice went to a large audience in Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, DeHaan Fine Arts Center, not just to me, in recommending that people might resort to such an exercise to get them unstuck and jump-start the creative process. The end-words in the following poem had significant roles to play in Tharp's University of Indianapolis lecture, a more authoritative meditation on creativity than what follows. I've included one violation of the sestina form in honor of the master weaver's traditional "flaw in the carpet," which acknowledges that nothing human can be perfect. Ms. Tharp came out against fetishizing perfection, too.]
It starts in a bare room with accommodation to solitude,
Where something may finally come of all the scratching
And clawing through the underbrush of memory.
How grubby it feels to be the paladin of original
Quests, having to make strenuous love to a past
Indifferent to your intentions, staying or moving!
Your friends may find the difficult outcome moving,
And their responses could warm your solitude.
But, taking the long view, you discover that memory
Of triumphs can't hide the hint of failures scratching
At your door. You open it. Your cat dashes past
And up the stairs, like a cliche chasing an original
Mouse, the avatar of classicism (nothing original)
Toward romanticism, hiding in a corner, not moving
Until the coast is clear, and the sharp memory
Of safety restores it. Behind the baseboard, scratching,
It senses a new route, outside the box of the past,
Something worthy of its flickering trials of solitude.
You can meet at least halfway the ache of others' solitude
With the certainty that the utterly unique isn't original
After all, but fades into health like a dappled bruise past
The hurt you had so much trouble burying deep in memory.
So much time gone, so much effort wasted in scratching
The surface of what once convulsed you into moving!
Time to recalibrate, check the function of all those moving
Parts of your creative engine, throw over idolatry of those "original"
Notions, the neglect of skills you husbanded so well in the past.
On the blank wall, canvas, or page before you that has you scratching
Your head like a cartoon character lies the gift of your solitude
Begging for release from the vital prison of generative memory.
"Stretch, bounce to get going — it generates optimism." The memory
Of her words and how she said them, to stress the primacy of moving,
Should hang as on a stitched sampler in the white rooms of our solitude.
Then, after savoring the allure of fakes that we once took for original,
We bite the authentic gold coin, grinning like a merchant of times past
At the transaction genuinely concluded, its image secure from scratching.
Well beyond scratching the creative itch, the dreamed body in moving
Springs free from the original stasis of its fortunately required solitude
To prepare for the memory a present to be yielded with thanks to the past.
[Photo by Todd Moore]