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Living In a World of Symbols

With Adriano Bulla
Part 8

Your love poured into me,
like an ancient song from a plaintive harp.
It sailed straight through me,
a longboat slicing into the frigid waters of a fjord.
What adventurers we are
when all tethers are cut loose,
ropes called logic, reason, and sanity itself.
Is this what the Mysteries demand?

You discovered that cave,
held fast to the valves of my heart,
where no god or spirit or demon could venture.
I bolted the doors,
living only through my flesh.

This is the skin of my mother, longing.
These are the eyes of my father,
devouring everything in their sight.
This is the seed of my father's father,
from whom generations have been spun.

-From Sacred Verses 5: The Eternal Twining

Adriano Bulla
You are both a painter and a poet, a bit like Blake, and in many ways the imagery does bring the Romantic Poet-Engraver back to mind... What do you feel, in your experience, are the similarities and differences between painting and writing poetry.

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
It's interesting you invoke Blake here, because Blake's work is imbued with spirituality, and many, of course, would say religion. I think of Blake as a symbolic painter, a painter whose entire view is composed of metaphysical principles reading as allegory or mythology. These are things that have strong meanings for me in my life's work.

 Well, for me the two crafts, painting and writing poetry, come from very different aspects of my creative drive. I feel like I'm going to repeat myself a bit here, but my icons are not an expression of my personal life or personal experiences.

They do not describe how I see the world around me, nor are they a result of my engagement in the world. That is what a modern artist does, but an iconographer's duty is not to define or describe this world, but rather to give the viewer a window into that other world beyond the five senses. 


For me, my poetry accomplishes what painting does for the majority of artists gives me a vehicle for transmitting my personal experiences and emotions, for defining...or perhaps the right word is reactions to the things I see and feel as I live my life. Painters use images and colors to do this, but isn't that what I'm doing in my poetry? Aren't I using the language of symbols and imagery to evoke powerful emotions and experiences? I think that I am. So, perhaps my poems can be thought of as paintings composed of words. All of my poems take place in a world of symbols, symbols from the natural world like the sun, moon, and stars...water, desert, birds and flowers. I use nature because for me the natural world is the most profound experience immediate to my own nature.

But in general, I'd say that there is a lot of common ground between painting and writing poetry. Painting uses color and form in a symbolic way, at least for me, and I use language in much the same way as I use symbols in my icons. Color and form are always vivid symbols in the icons I paint, but that also holds true in my poems. When I give the reader azure blue, or lapis lazuli, I am, of course, evoking the celestial or spiritual component of creation. My icons use blue in precisely the same manner.

I'd have to admit that when I write poetry, I feel this sense of complete liberation from structure, method, discipline or tradition. I'm a firm believer in those things, please don't get me wrong, but my icon work is very intense, very structured and governed by precision. There is no room left in my icons for chance or going with the flow, so to speak. Each line has been thought out methodically, is part of a visual and ritual complexity traditional to Kemetic religious iconography.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun by William Blake, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

 However, my poetry flows from a very different place. Unlike some very literary minded poets, I am not attempting to write in a specific style or after a certain genre. I'm not coming from a place of needing to be taken seriously as a poet, so following the traditional guidelines in order to do that. The impulse of my poetry is rebellion, rebellion against death and emotional imprisonment. My poems deflect self-censorship...I say exactly what I need to say, and not a word more or less. So, in this way, my poems are the most natural and uncontrived creative expression I have. They are not about this tradition or that tradition, paying homage to some time-honored style. My poems are about freedom, personal freedom and spiritual freedom, and they demand wings of their own. When I sit down to write I never do it thinking I'm going to write in this specific meter, using this kind of imagery and this number of words in each line. I don't think about my phrasing, and I never rhyme on purpose, no matter what you might think!

I know there are a few instances where there are a number of lines in a row that rhyme, which I have to tell you was completely coincidental. I read those lines after I'd written them and thought that sounds very intentional to me. Rhyming is not something I'm after in my poetry, so if it happens, then it just happens of its own accord. I think my poems are almost independent from me sometimes, writing themselves wherever they want to travel. So, that's why they embody an experience of creative freedom for me. I just sit and write, automatically, and I never force the words or disrespect the perfect flow of the words. I just let them fall out of my pen, and they land wherever they land.

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