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Artist of the Month - October 2002

Craig Deininger: The Art of Words
by Sydney Francis


One day I know I will step out
of all this and be thinner than the...

lighter than the

space between the stars
than the dim and narrow beams they toss among themselves.

And until that day I must make great efforts
to forge with conviction through the chains of this world.

I am bent on becoming what I am once all this is gone.

For too many times I have been crushed by it all
that I now say let it crush

if in crushing I am to be freed.

So let the beasts step forth from the shadows
and take their places on the final field

and when they spill me out like sunlight
let my final thread of breath stitch the skies like an anthem.

I am a bit daunted by the task of writing about a poet, an artist who elaborately and meticulously crafts words, as I may choose colors for a visual composition. Admittedly, I am out of my depth. I am, however, eager to share my interview with Craig Deininger, local resident and poet, as he shared with me valuable insights about his poetry and his creative process.

Deininger has been writing poetry seriously for 18 years, meaning he has made poetry a serious pursuit for the last 18 years. He has studied at U-Mass and Oxford, and has a life of travels and adventures, which seem to fuel his insights. Deininger is currently putting together a comprehensive manuscript of his work, including 40 out of 800 or 900 poems. In the past, he has discerningly submitted poems only to The New Yorker and to Poetry, a distinguished journal of poetry. He plans, however, to submit some poems to the upcoming publication of Glyphs, produced by the Moab Poets and Writers.

The name Deininger means "dweller of the dunes", which is apropos for his current residence here in the arid desert of South-eastern Utah. He has been writing what he calls his "desert poems", which I mistakenly thought were poems about the desert. But rather, he uses desert imagery or impressions to liberate fundamental human conditions or experiences through metaphor. Or more specifically, he writes real experiences, which express greater truths as if they were metaphorical.

In trying to relate to Deininger's process, I asked him if he thought in words and tones, like I, as a painter, think in color and images. He replied, "no", but he also thought in images: images laden with content. He clarified to me that rather than writing about an experience, he writes through an experience. He says that in his poems he "delivers the experience without explanation." He wishes to move the reader beyond rational explanation, allowing him/her to fall into "the mystery" which is expressed in the poetry. He successfully achieves the poetic effect through an arduous creative process.

At the beginning of this process, Deininger has the inspiration, the image in his mind laden with content, which in words he pours onto paper, like a furious stream of consciousness. Then he spends a great deal of time meticulously editing and revising this writing. He says he must get into a critical and detached mindset, as he must be "ruthless" in how he cuts and rearranges his words. There is a strict discipline to this process, because his poetry must maintain the magic of the inspiration, while being well written. The poem necessarily needs flow, while not feel overworked. He said it can sometimes take a year to write twelve lines.

In reading over the poems included in this article, I tried to gather my conclusions about his poetry. And I came up with questions, rather than conclusions. The above article is a restatement of what Deininger told me at the interview, whereas I have endeavored to be able to comprehend what he told me. So I have read and re-read his poems. I especially liked Request, because I felt it really resonated with me. But is it possible to identify with the sentiment or feeling of a poem without being able to put it into your own words? I cannot restate or make conclusions about Request, yet it speaks to me of a profound truth to being human. The way I conceive of this power in his poetry, is to see it like a dream image, which while you are in the dream-state is saturated with truth, emotion, and content. But if you awoke suddenly and tried to put the power and truth of the dream image into words, the integrity of the experience is almost always lost; the words do not express the dimensions somehow felt in the dream-state. Is the art of poetry then, in Deininger's case, the ability to verbally express the content of these images in words, and to create a state or a space in which the reader enters so that the imagery and words have the intended sense of saturated meaning? From this point of view, poetry by nature appears to unlock or un-inhibit a presence that is greater than the mechanism, in this case the words, which express it. And therefore, I would conclude that the power of this word art phenomenon is owed to the capacity of the poet.

Deininger indicated to me that he writes poetry aiming for freedom, but I really cannot convey what that means; even though, it is an essential ingredient of his work. I think the authenticity this pursuit of freedom is most clearly revealed by the poems, themselves. It is better for you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions by reading his work.

At the end of the interview, Deininger noted that I used black-ink to write my notes, to which he said, " I write only in blue ink," and with a moments pause for reflection, "because it is blue like the wide open sky."

Deininger will be teaching a class in Modern Poetry at the College of Eastern Utah at the Moab Center this fall season. Contact CEU at 259-7257 for additional information and class schedule. Deininger will also be a part of an on-going poetry workshop offered by the Moab Poets and Writer, beginning mid-October; contact Julie Fox at 259-6896 for more details.

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