Articles & Reviews

NIN & POETRY: a short statement

Article by Stephen Morrissey
Montreal Poems, Issue # Four, winter 1978

Altho Anaïs Nin never wrote any traditional poetry, all of her creative-work is involved with the poetic process. This process, for Nin, involves the juxtaposition of symbols from the conscious & unconscious mind revealing a new perception of reality. It calls for the creation of a new reality thru art: "transforming, transcending, translucent, transfiguring, transmitting ... it is from the artists that I learned to transmute."

This transmutation isnt merely a part of her artistic production, but is essential thruout her life, in relationship, career, travel, etc. To transmute is to create: "By creation (Nin) means the liberation of anxiety so that achievements and desire become equivalent, so that nothing separates the two." (Evelyn J. Hinz, The Mirror and the Garden). Poetry, then, is the ability to transmutate. "Writing", Nin tells us, "should develop our senses, not atrophy them." It shld make us more aware of reality, more aware of ourselves in the world as thinking & feeling human beings in relationship with other people. There-fore, "The artist lives more in harmony with his own character and is closer to freedom and individuality, and therefore integrity."

Nin's aim in literature has always been to "integrate poetry and prose." "Prose is literal. Poetry is dimensional. Why should we want to penetrate this realm of the dream? Be-cause it contains the key to a knowledge of ourselves." This, I believe, is Nin's purpose in art. To know herself, to understand her life, her relationships, the complexities of that life, to discover meaning in life thru this act of creativity.

The act of creativity is the birth of the artist, of the newly created person always in the process of being created. With the act of creativity is passion, love, enthusiasm for life. She is always an affirmer of life: "I refused to share the universal pessimism and in-ertia": her art & life is a "refusal to despair." The art/poetry of Anaïs Nin cannot be separated from her life. Life and art are an interplay, a dance, they nourish and sustain each other: to separate life from art or art from life is to kill both.

"What everyone forgets", she writes in her diary in 1953, "is that passion is not merely a heightened sensual fusion, but a way of life which produces, as in the mystics, an ecstatic awareness of the whole of life. . . " Passion is a way of life. It is not a frag-mentary perception but a perception of the totality of life, a holistic perception; the awakening of the senses. She continues, "it is this way that poetry becomes the greatest truth, by intensification, condensation of experience. While poetry is con-sidered by most as illusion and delusion, it is the only reality, the moment when we are completely alive."

This act of creativity moves from the individual outwards—it is a knowledge of one's self, of "the hub" as Miller calls it in the Diary. With self knowledge comes the most important revolution, a transmutation of being, the birth of the new person. It is a poetic expression that can be created only when we are passionately involved with living.

The energy necessary for this revolution in being comes from love, a love that is born simultaneously with the act of creativity. "The poet is in love, a lover", she wrote in 1935; and in 1968, "the poet is primarily the lover of the world ..." With this attitude it is no wonder that she rebelled against much traditional, formalistic poetry. "Many American poets, according to Karl Shapiro, wrote prose, not poetry." Their work is literal, not "dimen-sional". The source of the dimensional lies in knowing oneself, knowing the conscious as well as the unconscious, allowing the unconscious to enrich the conscious with its symbolism. For the symbols of the unconscious become the "intensification (and) con-densation of experience." And this in turn delivers to us the "greatest truth", "the only reality". This is the poetic process, the act of creativity that enriches & nourishes our daily life.

Not everything from the unconscious is of use to art. Nin opposes the self-indulgent. She calls for a "Japanese order" which does not restrict behaviour & creative expression, but which removes the excessive & the insignificant. "There has to be a freedom of flow absolutely unimpeded by the critical mind, but the second stage is the disciplined crafts-man who says: this is unfocused, this is trivial, this is unimportant..." Editing creates form. It enhances the expression by removing the unnecessary, that which detracts from the essence. "The very role of the poet is to exalt whatever he touches, it is to take or-dinary reality and give it a fiery incandescence which reveals its meaning. Without this alchemy all writing remains dead."

The theme of Nin's novels can be found in the Diaries. Here we discover the dream, ges-ture, statement made by a friend or her father that later appears transmuted in the novel. "Form and style are born in the theme, inspired by the theme. I proceed in real-ity as a poet does. I often begin with one phrase. I hear one line, like the first line of a sonnet, and the rest is development." The source of her work is always the same, "the fusion of conscious and unconscious."

This exploration of the mind can also be seen in her psycho-analytic experiences which so influenced her artistic work: again there is the cross fertilization. With Otto Frank she moved from psycho-analysis to "poetic-analysis", a movement from reductive Freudian psychiatry to "an exploration of the soul" with Rank. "Through Rank she discovers a new system of poetics", writes Evelyn Hinz (The Mirror and the Garden). Again we are reminded "that poetry (is) the greatest truth." Thru poetry the hidden self is revealed. We can be aware of the hidden self & its desires thru the act of creativity, thru the aware-ness of the self in a diary with its reports of daily activities, dreams, fantasies, worries, fears, anxiety, the whole range of human experience; or thru the poetic process which allows expression of the unconscious symbols without the interference of the "critical" intellectual mind. "Poetry is alchemy which teaches us to convert ordinary materials into gold. Poetry, which is our relation to the senses, enables us to retain a living re-lationship to all things."

For a period in the 1930's Nin workt as a psychoanalyst in New York City. At that time she wrote, "Science may heal, but it is the poetic illumination of life which makes my patients fall in love with life, which makes them recover their appetite for it." With this "poetic illumination" is an affirmation of life; in the movement of the poetic process we discover real values, real meaning; poetry is an illumination that results in psychic healing and the creation of a whole person.

Copyright © 2007 The author