Tuesday 1 March 2016


Autotelic adj. - having a purpose in and not apart from itself.
I was dealing with a big bruise on Pat the Salt's arm that didn't seem to have a rational explanation and a fragment of poetry, inaccurately remembered, knocked persistently on my mind. As you do, I googled the phrase and after several poor/wrong hits found:
Where did the blood comes from?
Before I bit, before I sucked,
The red meat, the blood was there
Nourishing sweetly the roots of hair.
Two things about this track-down surprised me.  1) that the writer was RS Thomas and 2) the only source of this work (and his entire oeuvre?) on-line is a Google book scan of his Complete Works 1945-1990. When I was growing up, Thomas had a very high profile in the world of 20thC English language poetry - not English poetry because he was emphatically and decisively Welsh, although also a priest in the Anglican communion. It's St. David's Day Dydd Gŵyl Dewi today! As a teenager, Thomas's simple and austere poems resonated with my failure to fit in the world I was passing through but barely engaged with. I was dreamy and lonely and romantic and wrote poetry.  At one stage, when I was about 16/17, I bundled up a good handful of the verse which I had banged out on an old portable Olivetti typewriter [remember them?] and sent it to RS Thomas with a request for an opinion. A couple of weeks later, they were returned with a polite note saying that he'd read them with care but couldn't find anything in there that sang to him.  I accepted a poet's verdict, dumped the whole sheaf into an incinerator and set fire to it. Even now I don't regret the decision because it helped me shuffle out from under a cloud of self-pity and start to pay attention to what was happening around me.  Round about the same time, perhaps not coincidentally, I discovered science and put poetry . . . on the back-burner.

What strikes me now is a certain amount of surprise that I had torn all this stuff out of my soul and put on paper and then . . . agreed with someone else that it was mostly rubbish. In growing up I've shifted a bit from requiring external validation to paying more attention to my internal qualitometer.  I wish I could tell my younger self that much.  More importantly. and with more chance of success [because my younger self is loonngg gone] I wish I could get my students at The Institute to write their reports in the best way possible without caring if I give them 8/10 or 7/10.  They could become more autotelic - driven to do what they do by an internal compass rather than seeking and accepting external validation.

I thought all that because I picked up a link on kottke.org flagging a nice little movie-clip about Vincent van Gogh called Painting in the Dark.  If you want to achieve 'Flow' (in the sense of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s cult book Flow: the psychology of optimal experience) you’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’ [prev], run your heart out or, in my case, blog like nobody's readin'. Which, after all my Russian readers left in a body last month, is almost true.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing! found this blog really thought provoking as it inspired much self-reflection.....wish I'd read it at 16.
    Thanks too for leading me to Adam Westbrook's video essay on Van Gogh - a really brilliant illustration of an essential life-enhancing message.
    I'm dancing into my kitchen right now to bake a cake like no one's watching! art for art's sake.