The Cave you Fear to Enter

The cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek.  – Joseph Campbell

With this one line, Joseph Cambell captures the power and significance of narrative to our lives. Campbell identified the archetype of  The Hero Journey and its presence in myths and legends of every culture.

In the first chapter of his work “The Hero with 1000 Faces,” he writes:

It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.

He continues:

The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what [Carl] Jung called “the archetypal images.”

Thanks again the marvellous Brain Pickings and TED-Ed this video tells of Joseph Campell’s ‘mono-myth’ or hero journey and timeless significnace to our lives.



Does belief shape space and time?

Isn’t it fascinating to read articles such as this from the Science Daily which shares the Quantum Theory of Entanglement and how observation affects reality. The article shows how a beam of electrons is affected by being observed; matter is affected from afar simply by ones eyes resting upon it.


This takes us back to earlier posts about the power of words to bless and curse. Earlier we discussed that words were as powerful as bullets – to bruise, to blow. Moreover, when heard, sounds affect one physically, altering neural pathways of belief.

So if sounds and sights can affect the physical dimension – this has significance for the realm of art, story, music, song and dance!

Is this why sacred narrative asserts that it is belief and faith that are redemptive?

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” [Romans 4:3]

Recapitulation, narrative and memory

April 25th for us antipodeans is a sacred day.

This year marks the 100th year memorial of the doomed,  Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) storming of the Gallipoli peninsula, a rocky stretch of Turkish beach and cliffs during World War I.

anzac 2

The bloodshed on those battlefields, was greatly increased by mistakes and ineptitude a by British commanders far away. Young Australians served for freedom of King and country however the war forever changed the national identity. It’s the time when the British colonial outpost of Australia, grew up and became a nation in its own right, despite Federation 14 years earlier.

Every year on April 25th, at memorials around the country and at parades through city streets, the battles are remembered. Diggers, or more accurately, their descendants honour the fallen; servicemen and women pay their respects to those who sacrificed their lives in the war.

These small ceremonies are repeated year after year with the same catch-cry,

“Lest we forget.”

anzac 3

This is what memorials are, the enactment of a story, the recapitulation of a narrative reminder of what was and what should never be again. War memorials are not enough to stop us ever going to war again, but they serve as a solemn reminder of the truth,

Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana [1905].

Ceremonies are a kind of sacrament, an embodiment of a kernel of truth. They point the participant back to a truth while pointing them forward to live life with the knowledge of this truth.

Sacred stories have always been important to communities; they shape a people conscious of the past and capable of facing the future.

Bear Skin goes to New Zealand

Hello all from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Jennifer from Bear Skin,  this week week has been fortunate enough to have had some time travelling around the South Island of New Zealand with her best mate Tamlyn. As a Tokein fan, this trip is exciting beyond words.

Mountains, snow, white water rivers, gorges, mysterious forrests, wide plains – New Zealand has it all.

I fully recommend any lover of literature and story to travel to the scenes of stories they love and re-imagine it all again.

The Lungs of the Earth

Trees, or better, forests, are known as the lungs of the earth.

Not only do their leaves produce oxygen, but their trunks and branches are made of carbon extracted from the air. Until burned, this noxious carbon is stored as wood fibres and strong timber.

How fascinating that we living mammals breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, not only by exhaling, but by burning fuel for cooking, heating and transportation! What a marvellous relationship!

Estimates show that one person in a developed country needs to plant 150 trees every year, the trees of which must each live for 25+ years to offset their lifetime carbon emissions.


What interests me is that the stuff of narrative is tension, crisis and conflict. It is from this crisis, the characters or heroes gain their agency, their mission, their adventure, journey, and eventual self discovery. From crisis comes catharsis – and in this story gives us satisfaction.

The crisis and tension alone is noxious and stressful, but woven into story it becomes the strong wood fibres and timber architecture of a tale.

lungs 2

British 19th century author G. K. Chesterton wrote:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.

I propose then that stories are the lungs of the soul, as trees are the lungs of the earth.

Their food is the noxious tensions and crises of life. They architect their strong trunks and boughs from the stuff of bogeys, fears and fights. And they give out life giving atmosphere of catharsis, resolution, and redemption.

lungs 3

I wonder how many stories each person needs to tell or share to offset our heart and soul’s noxious fumes.

Many I imagine !


Taryn Simon – Life in Details

This is the second guest post by fellow blogger Damien Shalley. AKA the cryptic-contributor, he introduces himself again in his own words:

Damien Shalley thinks Jolt Cola would be a better product if it contained more caffeine.  He failed statistics at Griffith University (twice) and doesn’t regret it.  If he went into hiding he would go to Paraguay, because everybody who went looking for him would probably go to Uruguay.  He believes that Ozzy Osbourne is a nice fellow, just misunderstood.  His favourite hobbies include surviving the weekend and shirking his responsibilities.

If you are a reader and follower and have your own piece to submit to Bear Skin, don’t hesitate to contact me directly


Taryn Simon – Life in Detail(s)

by Damien Shalley


Human beings seem naturally inclined to organise things; our families, our work, our surroundings, our governance.  We develop systems and processes that help us to live safely and productively.  In doing so, we produce “artefacts” – records, objects and structures (both physical and organisational) – that provide evidence of our daily existence.  Taryn Simon documents and catalogues these human artefacts (and human lives) in a very compelling way.  She demonstrates, through her technically superior and artistically beautiful photography, something of the “soul”.  She takes delight in detail, and in doing so, shines a light on the complex world in which we live.



Simon currently describes herself as a “cataloguing documentarian”, a description that succinctly captures the essence of her work.  She is also, however, an art photographer of the highest calibre and has been collected by the most famous galleries in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Tate Modern and the Pompidou in France.  She is represented by the legendary US gallery owner Larry Gagosian (Damien Hirst’s New York agent), and in the U.K. she is championed by the enormously influential connoisseur Michael Wilson.  Wilson co-produces the James Bond film franchise and is regarded as Britain’s most significant private collector of photography.

Favoured by celebrities and feted by the media, Simon retains an almost tranquil humility.  She is modest and remains motivated by intellectual curiosity.  She is a wife and mother (she is married to film director Jake Paltrow) and regards her family as her bedrock.  Her most recent exhibit, “Birds of the West Indies” (2014) was critically acclaimed by the US art establishment and might well have been the closest thing to a blockbuster art opening since the days of Andy Warhol.(Steven Spielberg attended, as did current A-list celebrities like Jared Leto and Elle Fanning.  This gives some indication of her fame).

Her work is now more “spare”.  It is carefully arranged and photographed in a naturalistic way to highlight not just obvious features but also the inherent integrity of the subject, whether human, animal or object.

“Certainly the progression of my work has very much been a shedding of style and embellishment.”

[O’Hagan, S. (2011)  Taryn Simon: the woman in the picture, The Guardian].

Instead, she creates “visual inventories” – of people, of the things people create, of life itself.


Simon was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001 and in 2003 produced her first published work, “The Innocents” –photographs of people previously imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.  Now free, Simon’s subjects are photographed in places that reinforce that freedom; in their homes, in open spaces, in their favourite places. This work has been described by some commentators as redemption by photography.  Many of these wrongly convicted people were impacted by the misuse of photography by law enforcement officials using it to manufacture false or misleading evidence.  In this work, Taryn Simon turns the tables.




In 2007, Simon unveiled one of her best-known collections, “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.”

This insightful work combined an intriguing concept with the beginnings of a new and unfamiliar approach from Simon.  Eschewing the “art house” style she had previously favoured, Simon opted for unvarnished objectivity.  This collection represents the genesis of her “cataloguing style”, albeit undeveloped.  (She would soon take this concept much further).  The pictures are not stylised, they simply “are”.  Simon depicts with a certain detachment some of the hidden or lesser seen realities of our world.  She unearths the unseen, unknown spaces and unfamiliar aspects of our culture.  She becomes a “social archaeologist” uncovering and shedding light on our artefacts, reflecting our existence back at us through the lens of her camera.  (In doing so, she creates another “artefact”: an archival photographic record for future examination).


What does it look like when a person is cryogenically frozen? (See above)  What does nuclear waste in storage look like? (See below).  Simon is one of the only private citizens to have ever photographed the inner workings of an American nuclear waste facility.   Her amazing photograph of glowing plutonium rods in storage (forming a shape reminiscent of the outline of the USA on a map) is one of her most famous works.



She also invites us (safely) into a bio-containment laboratory with test animals in cages; she shows us a human cage in the form of an exercise cell for death row inmates; she shows us a bottle of live HIV virus; she allows us to view a predatory Great White shark in an expansive and ominously dark ocean; she gives us the opportunity to witness the forging of a Smith and Wesson handgun frame.  (Incidentally, despite a formal request, Disneyland would not allow Simon official photographic access to any part of their operation, behind-the-scenes or otherwise.  Some truths might be too much to bear).  Australian Fairfax journalist Dan Rule in The Age (Melbourne)  saw these photographs as

high-definition visuals… photographs [that] defy their gritty, documentarian sensibilities”

[Rule, D. “Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar”,The Age, October 23, 2010].

This is Taryn Simon presenting raw, hyper-reality.  Anyone looking for the luminous photography of a Simon contemporary like Sally Mann should look elsewhere.  Regardless, this is a fascinating collection which provokes thoughtful examination of the lives we lead in western society.


death row

live HIV


 The “American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” exhibition was a major success and the genesis of Taryn Simon as “art photography superstar”.  Commentator Marcus Bunyan opined on November 9, 2010 in his Art Blart web journal [] that Simon’s “Index of the Hidden” photographs “excavate meaning by bringing the shadow into the light in order to index our existence, to make the hidden less frightening and more controllable.”  This seems to be a universal human desire: to understand our world and, to whatever degree possible, control it.  With “American Index”, Simon seems to show that she understands, and is responding to this desire through her photography.  However her subtext seems clear; one can catalogue life to the greatest extent possible but still never truly control it.


2010 saw the release of Simon’s “Contraband”, a collection of 1075 photographs of items seized at JFK airport, New York.  From drugs to fake cosmetics, prohibited foods and counterfeit BWM badges; everything that human beings consume, trade or desire is here. The mundane and obscure take their place amongst the uncommon and valuable.  (Just as in human society?)  The pictures are spare and speak for themselves.

 reality of truth






This work was presented at the lauded Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills and was described as a “visual inventory” or photographic catalogue. It was critically well-received in general, but there were “objectors”.  Some saw dull, lifeless photography that needed the accompanying (lengthy) text included with each piece to have any meaning.  Some questioned whether her photography was really art at all, or whether it was simply “technique”.  “Art” is commonly described as pure human expression and this is widely understood within the arts community.  One could easily dismiss these photographs – or photography in general – as a technical discipline quite removed from “art”.  One could also justifiably argue that Simon demonstrates artfulness by designing projects which examine specific themes (i.e. things hidden from view) and combines them with almost technically perfect photographic execution.  Art, like beauty, may well be in the eye of the beholder.

In 2011, Simon presented “A Living Man Declared Dead.”  This exhibition saw her examine bloodlines (she traced 18 family bloodlines across the globe), including those of people whose families had experienced disputes over inheritances.  Arguments over money, homes and land – “financial territory”, essentially – had caused one of the subjects she was observing, to be officially declared “dead” by a relative so that the relative in question could gain a greater share of their blood-relation’s deceased estate.  This is human behaviour that, although we would like to think does not occur, is actually all too common.  Those who did not wish to participate in the project for whatever reason (the “missing” and the “dead” figuratively and literally) are represented in the photographs as blank spaces.

For this exhibition, Simon presented what have been previously been described as “neutral portraits”.  These are photographs of individuals – human beings from across the globe – arranged in scientific grids against white backgrounds.  It almost represents a taxonomic key of human beings related by blood – a genetic “catalogue”.  Her emergence as a “cataloguing documentarian “was now fully realised.  Or was it?  More evolution was to follow.







Simon is most definitely a documentarian.  But she creates much more than visual inventories.  It has previously been argued (quite reasonably) that she is also a reporter, as well as a classic portrait artist.  Her work is most definitely rooted in the real world and much of it very well could be defined as portraiture.  More abstract commentators – cerebral types with a bent towards the ethereal – have described her as the living embodiment of conceptualism.  Her concepts, realised through a camera lens, deliver a powerful emotional effect on viewers.  Decide for yourself.

Taryn Simon cemented her place in the “photography as fine art” sphere when she was one of three guest editors selected to produce “Wallpaper” magazine’s October 2012 edition.  She chose as her theme “picture collections” and produced pieces including collations of celebrity photo magazine covers and compilations of photographs of highways and expressways.  Interestingly, the expressway photographs include stills indicating the impacts of freeways and motor transport on human and animal life.  This is Taryn Simon, after all – meaning seems to permeate all of her work, even for an “art culture bible” like “Wallpaper”.

wallpaper tsimon


 taryn simon_5


A significant dilemma for anyone identifying as an “artist” – particularly those delivering what might be regarded as “high-end” conceptual art photography – is whether or not casual viewers will be interested in looking at the work in question.  Will they want to patronise your exhibitions and will they understand your meaning, themes and subtext?  A common criticism of Taryn Simon’s work is that true depth of the themes she explores is sometimes lost on viewers.  The photographs she displays on gallery walls are generally accompanied by text, opening her up to criticism that the pictures do not speak for themselves.


Simon addressed this issue with her most recent exhibition, “Birds of the West Indies” (2014), a collection of photographs of props from James Bond films.  This exhibition introduced populist subject matter and successfully straddled the worlds of both documentary photography and fine art.  The props, appearing here out of context, take on a new life.  They offer insight into the human condition, they become objects of desire, theu become objects for examination in detail –not simply something which facilitates the action in a scene or enhances a plotline.  This exhibition met with wide acclaim from both the art establishment and the popular press.  For this exhibition, Simon viewed each James Bond film and extracted frames including images of birds. (All Bond films contain shots of birds as an acknowledgement to creator Ian Fleming; Fleming took the name of his famous secret agent from the ornithological book “Birds of the West Indies”- written by one real-life James Bond).


Switzerland (detail), Birds of the West Indies, 2014









 Taryn Simon, New York City, Path train subway, Tim Knox


GAGOSIAN GALLERY Opening of Taryn Simon: Birds of the West Indies


Life is important, a true gift.  We are told that a life of achievement is worthwhile, and that is generally true.  There is, however, enormous insight and power to be found in the quiet spaces in between our achievements.  Something essential to understanding our basic and universal humanity is contained within these spaces.  To know this is to truly relate to our human existence.  Simon truly “gets it” and delivers this through her images.

Taryn Simon elevates our existence.  She documents and and catalogues our world in an attempt to provide insight.  She truly is an artist – cataloguing in an attempt to create understanding, not in an attempt to control. There is something very hopeful in that.

Taryn Simon: Selected Major Exhibitions

  • Kunst-werke, Berlin, Germany, “Taryn Simon: The Innocents (and other works)” (2003)
  • Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, USA, “Taryn Simon: The Innocents” (2004)[29]
  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, “Taryn Simon: Nonfiction” (2006).
  • Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, The Documentary Factor, (2006).
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA, “Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2007).[31]
  • Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany, “Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2007).
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, “Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography”, (2008).
  • Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France, (2009).
  • Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand “Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2010).
  • Lever House, New York, NY, “Contraband”, (2010).[32]
  • Helsinki Art Museum, “Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts”, 2012.[36]
  • Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia, “Taryn Simon”, 2011.[37]
  • Tate Modern, London, England, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2011.[38]
  • Taryn Simon, Venice Biennale, Danish Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2011.
  • Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2011.[39]
  • Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2012.[41]
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2012.[42]
  •  Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, “Birds of the West Indies”, 2014

Public Collections (Selected Major Works)


On Suffering

Recently Stephen Fry created waves by declaring the Judeo-Christian  God to be capriciuos, mean minded and an “utter maniac”  for creating a world full of injustice and pain.

For him athiesm is a much more internally consistent belief system.

It avoids the prickly internal contradiction that maintains there is an all knowing , all good and all powerful God responsible for this world who is also desiring of our unending grattitude and praise.


Cultural commentator Russell Brand, mouthpiece for the spiritual awakening pervasive in western culture , had his reply on The Trews.


The debate is interesting because it drills down beyond dogma into the narrative of belief systems. Every world view has a story at its heart and from this core narrative we draw the meaning of our existence.

The narrative of Buddhism says suffering is an illusion tied to desire. If we achieve detachment from desire we can escape the world of suffering and so the world of rebirth.

suffering 2

The narrative of Hinduism says suffering is merited, and karmic cycles deliver suffering upon us for past misdemeanours.

suffering 5

The narrative of Islam says God is far greater than humanity, and God’s greater wisdom means humans cannot understand the meaning of their suffering.

suffering 4

The narrative of athiesm says says suffering is entirely meaningless [as is joy or evil]. The locus of reality lies in existential being.

suffering 6


What all these narratives agree on is that suffering incites in us a sense of justice. From it we gain a sense of meaning outside of our own experiences, a solidarity with others who suffer. Suffering gives us a  knowledge that all is not right with this world and that suffering is inherently wrong for the human condition.

The Hebrew understanding of suffering to me offers the most profound illustration in the Book of Job.

job book

The narrative of Job shows that suffering is real and it is often unmerited. Job choses not to resign himself to God’s mystery.

His suffering presses him to go beyond religion.

Job then has the choice to turn from God to nihilism but instead he turns TO God with a daring challenge. “Show yourself.”

suffering 7

God created this mess and so only God can stand between an imperfect humanity and a perfect God and arbitrate.

In doing so, Job is declared righteous, as righteous as any of the covenant. It’s not blood sacrifice, circumcision, baptism, church attendance, meditation, renunciation, humility, pennance, piety or prayers that God smiles upon. From the very beginning it’s faith.

It’s the vision of God standing between us and Godself, a God-man ultimately carrying our suffering.

suffering 8

This redemption gives ultimate meaning to our suffering, not removing it but bearing with us, walking with us, taking away our tears with a glorious future hope.

How Power Makes You Selfish

Power tends to corrupt and ultimate power corrupts ultimately.

So goes the famous quote of British historian, politican and writer Lord John Dalberg-Acton.

In this recent video, UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner explains that the frontal cortex of the brain is the area in which we detect other people’s pain. He shows how damage to the frontal lobe, limits empathy which in turn incites impulsivity, anger and disconnectedness.

In short, one can acquire sociopathy.

power 3

The interesting twist is that giving people a little bit of power, creates the same affect on the brain as trauma. People doused with sudden power, lose touch, begin to act on whims and imulses and to fail to understand what others care and think.

It gives clarity to the story that a high proportion of CEOs show sociopathic tendencies.


So what do we do?

The story cuts close to home when similar group studies show that the power differential created by socio-economic status will will create negative behaviour – dominance, entitlement and disregard.

What is curious, is that similar groups may champion a story or film about a disabled, foreign or poor protagonist.

power 2

Why are we so schizophrenic?

Why do we marginalise those different to us at a party or in the workplace, but love and adore stories about mentally ill patients, artists suffering alzheimers, poor migrants and so forth?


Is it simply a matter of stories and art, building neural pathways for us that need acting on?

A recent post, Mean Tweets, observed how bullying phrases can be turned into comedy gold by the simple act of reframing. The act of retelling creates space for objectivity and in turn humour, which builds empathy. This is art.

So art is redemptive and healing ? Art therapist believe so. I concur.

power 5

If power negatively affects the frontal cortex in the same way that brain trauma does, stories and art can rebuild neural pathways and strengthen empathy.

I belive we all need more stories.

Everyone Around You Has a Story

The American poet and feminist, Muriel Rukeyser said,

The world is not made of atoms, it’s made of stories.

As a fan of the amazing blog Humans of New York, I’ve focused several Bear Skin posts on the power of hearing and sharing the stories of every day people.

This TED talk by Dave Isay is about his project Story Corps. In booths around America, the Story Corps has captured interviews and stories of everyday people since 2003 with the goal and aim to become a

digital archive of the collective wisdom of humanity.

In March 2015, he won the coveted TED Prize declaring his goal is to take the project globally.


Enormous Smallness: The Sweet Illustrated Story of E.E. Cummings and His Creative Bravery

This blog post is a repost from the amazing Brain Pickings – a blog well worth following.

I have loved E. E Cummings ever since hearing “She Being Brand New” recited in the 1988 film ‘Plain Clothes‘.  Cummings, a contemporary of other favourites such as Hemingway, uses words-as-pictures to the most effective end.


Enormous Smallness: The Sweet Illustrated Story of E. E. Cummings and His Creative Bravery

Paraphrased from an article by

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. In a Cummings poem, the reader must often pick his way toward comprehension, which comes, when it does, in a burst of delight and recognition.

Susan Cheever wrote in her  biography of E. E. Cummings,

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings  is an uncommonly delightful picture-book celebration of Cummings’s life by Brooklyn-based poet Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo.

The story begins with Cummings, already known as “E. E.” and living in his New York City home where he spent the last forty years of his life, typing away as the love of his life, the fashion model and photographer Marion Moorehouse, summons him to tea-time with an elephant-shaped bell.

From there, Burgess takes the reader on an affectionate biographical detective story, tracing how Edward Estlin became E. E., what brought him to Manhattan from his native Cambridge, and how elephants (and trees, and birds) became his lifelong creative companions in the circus of his imagination.

Young Estlin’s first poem “poured out of his mouth when he was only three.”

With the loving support of the unsung champions with whom the history of creative culture is strewn — the mother who began recording his spontaneous recitations in a little book titled “Estlin’s Original Poems”; the father who stomped on his hands and knees, play-pretending into existence the mighty elephant that was little Estlin’s creative muse; the teacher who encouraged him to pursue his love of words; the uncle who gave him a book on how to write poetry — he eventually made it to Harvard.

There, he came upon the words of his favorite poet, John Keats — “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination” — which awakened young Estlin’s creative courage. After graduation, he began experimenting with poetry and moved to New York City, falling in love with its “irresistibly stupendous newness.”

But then World War I struck and Estlin went to France, volunteering as an ambulance-driver. While working in the French countryside, he was mistaken for a spy and sent to prison for several months.

When the war ended, he wrote a book about his experience, titled The Enormous Room. Estlin was reborn as E. E.

The following year, he published his first book of poems, Tulips & Chimneys.

Burgess writes:

Using a style all his own,
e. e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally go,
and his playful punctuation grabbed readers’ attention.

His poems were alive with experimentation
and surprise!

And because of his love for lowercase letters,
his name began to appear with two little e’s (& a little c, too).

But his expansive experimentation was too much for the small-minded literary pantheon:

Some people criticized him for painting with words.
Other said his poems were
too strange
too small.
Some said they were
no good at all.

And yet Cummings, who viewed society’s criteria for what it means to be a successful artist with mischievous wryness, was undeterred. A century before Neil Gaiman’s memorable advice that the artist’s only appropriate response to criticism is to make good art, Cummings embodied this ethos. Burgess captures this spirit with quiet elegance, weaving one of Cummings’s poems into the story:

But no matter what the world was giving or taking,
E. E. went right on dreaming and making.
For inside, he knew his poems were new and true.

love is a place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds.

His poems were his way
of saying YES.

YES to the heart
and the roundness of the moon,
to birds, elephants, trees,
and everything he loved.

YES to spring, too
which always brought him back
to childhood, when the first
sign of his favorite season
was the whistling arrival
of the balloon man.

The book’s epigraph is a celebration of this unflinching yes-saying: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

With that courage he catapulted himself into the open arms of those who also hungered for beauty and meaning, and became one of the world’s most beloved poets — a capital-A Artist of his own lowercase making.

Read the full article at