Art as Play

19 August 2021, Category: creativity

I’ve spent a lot of this year consciously learning what was previously unconscious. I lost faith in my writing, so I took a lot of workshops and attempted to figure out exactly what I am doing. For about five years, I’ve been writing poetry and still feel a certain level of imposter syndrome, not really knowing what I am doing. Taking workshops has been an attempt to relearn what I already know on some level, while also attempting to implement the rules of poetry so I can do it ‘properly’ (whatever that means.)

This blog is also over five years old, but I have never felt the desire to learn how to do it ‘correctly’. I put up whatever I want, whenever I feel like it. I have a rough schedule and try to keep to at least one post a week, but it’s not big deal if I miss this. Some people plan their posts to have maximum impact but that has never really been the point for me. Instead, this website is a place to think out loud in public, share what interests me and to experiment.1

The more workshops I’ve taken this year, the more I have come to see my creative output in the same spirit of experimentation as this website.2 The point is not to get published (although that is always welcome). It is not even to produce a finished piece. The point of a creative practice, especially within a medium as deep and as varied as poetry, is to experiment and try out different things. Poetry is many things, but part of the practice of poetry is playing with language. I’ve come to realise over the past year that art is at its best when it is not seeking external validation, but is a form of play. Messing around and exploring for the sake of it. Sometimes it works, but more often that not it doesn’t. Vanessa Kisuule calls this process throwing spaghetti at the wall:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmbzX7VyiIM

Calling the process play does not mean it is less serious, or it is unable to tackle important matters. It simply means to hold the end result lightly. Instead of striving towards a final destination, I am messing around with language, creating rules as I go. In this process I may write a life-changing poem, but its more likely that I won’t. This process of experimentation and pushing myself into new avenues enables me to grow as an artist, rather than remaining stagnant. It also makes the process more fun. It changes the context of writing from needing to be perfect each time to just messing about a bit and seeing what happens. It’s playing.

This is true for me in regular writing, but also on the larger scales as well. I worked some longer form projects and spent a couple of years editing and shaping them. I’m probably not going to publish them for various reasons. But the process of writing them and making something coherent has taught me a lot. It’s playing with themes and structuring, learning as you go.

The best thing about seeing your work as play means it never ends. I never feel like I have finished a piece, more that I have finished experimenting with it. And if that piece was a failure, there’s an infinite sandbox of language and form to mess around in. It’s an ongoing process.

Whenever I feel like an imposter, I now remind myself to return to the process of play, to write something stupid just for the hell of it. Because that is where the true magic lies, in the experimentation and the process itself, rather than the end product. The poems I produce are just a bonus.


This post was heavily influenced by Death of 1000 Cuts (especially the episodes on mental health and writing) and The Blindboy Podcast

  1. I delve into this a little bit in this poston never finishing blogging and instead seeing it as a constant work in progress. 

  2. Interestingly, I’ve always had this same attitude to erasure poetry as well, just not regular poetry. I’m not sure why this is, maybe because erasures start with someone else’s work? 

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