“THE FACTS WILL FORM A POEM IN YOUR MINDS”: THE REAL AND THE ARTIFICIAL IN ART AND NATURE
The great (and almost wholly self-educated) British physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, lecturing on the properties of metals at the Royal Institute, London, in December 1858, said “I am no poet, but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your minds.” Many artists and writers, as well as many first-rate scientists and mathematicians, have had that experience, of the facts forming a poem in their minds. Why is it, then, that we speak so often of poets, writers and artists as people who make things, or who make them up, though we are happy to say that scientists discover things? If the facts form a poem, do they really only form it in your mind or do they also form a poem – a radiant, resonant order – out there in the world? Is the poem of the facts real, or do we have to dream it up? Were the poets William Butler Yeats and Marianne Moore, when they spoke of “literalists of the imagination,” speaking of artifice or of reality, or of both?
Robert Bringhurst has published some twenty books of poetry, including Bergschrund (1975), The Beauty of the Weapons (1982), Pieces of Map, Pieces of Music (1986), The Calling (1995), Ursa Major (2001) and Selected Poems (published in London by Jonathan Cape in 2010). He has co-edited (with Doris Shadbolt, Geoffrey James and Russell Keziere) Visions: Contemporary Art in Canada (1983), which after thirty years remains a key work on the history of Canadian visual art. With Haida sculptor Bill Reid, he is coauthor of The Raven Steals the Light (1984), published in French in 1989 with a preface by Claude Lévi-Strauss. The Black Canoe (2nd ed., 1992), Bringhurst’s study of Reid’s sculpture, is a classic of Native American art history. Design schools and publishers around the world rely on his book The Elements of Typographic Style, which has been translated into ten languages and is now in its fourth edition.
Photo by Louise Mercer