A Silky Attention Brought to Bear

The sand along the shore in Small Point, Maine: The water’s silky attention brought to bear

I’ve posted a few Jane Hirshfield poems on this blog previously (here and here) and continue to explore her body of work. In the meantime I have been savoring her volume of essays about poetry, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. As is often the case, musings on poetic invention are usually very apropos for visual art making as well.

Hirshfield’s first essay is about concentration, a term she uses to describe a particular state of awareness: “penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.” She describes concentration that may be “quietly physical—a simple, unexpected sense of deep accord between yourself and everything. It may come as the harvest of long looking and leave us, as it did Wordsworth, amid thought ‘too deep for tears.'”

Here are a few more insights into this idea:

Violinists practicing scales and dancers repeating the same movements over decades are not simply warming up or mechanically training their muscles. they are learning how to attend unswervingly, moment by moment, to themselves and their art; learning to come into steady presence…Yet however it is brought into being, true concentration appears—paradoxically—at the moment willed effort drops away…At such moments, there may be some strong emotion present—a feeling of joy, or even grief—but as often, in deep concentration, the self disappears. We seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself. This may explain why the creative is so often descried as impersonal and beyond self, as if inspiration were literally what its etymology implies, something “breathed in”.

Great art, we might say, is thought that has been concentrated in just this way: honed and shaped by a silky attention brought to bear on the recalcitrant matter of earth and of life.

There is much more to share which I will over the next few weeks.

6 Replies to “A Silky Attention Brought to Bear”

  1. “silky attention brought to bear…” is a great, visually rich phrase, especially in contrast to “recalcitrant matter of earth and of life”. It evokes for me the luminous, how light moves against dark to open into possibility.

    My copy of Hirschfield’s new collection just came. I’m looking forward to dipping into it.

  2. M, Great comment about her phrase. Thanks for that.

  3. “…but as often, in deep concentration, the self disappears.”

    I’m on the fence about this. Although I can agree with the rest of the quote, I see it rather as the self emerging after the more critical, judgmental and ‘willed effort’ mechanics of the mind disappears -that is, not impersonal and beyond self at all, but the exact opposite. Creatively you become your self only after you let your guard down.

    Admittedly it may be a question of semantics…

  4. I think many would agree that this is akin to the practice of spirituality, as well. Sometimes hard to separate the two.

  5. Troy, I appreciated your thoughts on Hirschfield’s take on concentration. I am in “don’t know mind” on the issue of self which makes me sympathetic to your take.

    And Nicole I am reminded of Gillian Welch’s simple statement: “A creative dilemma is a spiritual dilemma.”

    Thanks both for your contributions.

  6. […] In an earlier post I referenced Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry by Jane Hirschfield (here), an inspiring and thoughtful meditation on how poetry comes into […]

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