There is something about poetry and photography that seems to keep them both on the fringes of their respective areas of expression. While most writers and visual artists are considered somewhat suspect by the mainstream of society, poets and photographers appear to occupy their own special niche even further removed.
While writing prose for a living is still considered a slightly freakish thing to do with your life, especially if your not the one in a million who makes a fortune from it, at least you write in plain English which most decent folk can understand. But poetry hardly ever makes sense and when it does it's always about emotions and things that you're not supposed to talk about in public.
How can photography be an art? Everybody has a camera and takes pictures of trees and people – what's so special about some guy taking photos that he can't even get in focus? At least with those painter types you can see that it might be difficult to pick up a brush and paint a nice picture of a flower or a bowl of fruit. But my Aunt Mavis has a camera and she doesn't get her pictures hung on a gallery wall even though she takes some pretty snaps of flowers and the kids.
In spite of those attitudes, and the fact that fewer and fewer people seem willing to make the effort to appreciate and/or see beyond what's in front of their faces, there are still men and women out there willingly laying bare their emotions on paper and offering glimpses of how they see the world via the viewfinders of their cameras.
Admittedly they are a much more difficult medium to appreciate than, say, television or the majority of movies. The instant gratification factor is noticeably thin with poetry and in photography, but with a little effort the rewards are significantly greater.
One need look no further than Viggo Mortensen's recent book of poems and photography, I Forget You For Ever, for confirmation of that fact. On a purely visceral level alone the work in this collection has an immediate impact through the sense of urgency that pervades the whole collection. Consider "With These Hands While We Can":
This is how we pass the little time we have, what we do in our waking hours while we may or may not be dreaming, planning, rehashing, regretting, and occasionally feeling that we understand what in the world is happening.
In the paragraph directly before these lines is a listing of the numerous things we do to "pass the time". What little time we do have to accomplish anything is being wasted by our willingness to fill it with trivia and inconsequential activities. We have lost sight of our own mortality and its significance in regards to our actions and therefore don't pay enough attention to what is important.
Open the book to any page, photograph or poem, and you'll either be given a moment stolen out of the while of time and frozen for you to look at and think about. Or there will be a presentation of time speeding by so fast as to be nothing more than a blurring of light or the flicker of images from an old super-eight-movie camera.
In "Leaves", the book's opening poem, Mortensen uses missed opportunities to play with his son when a small boy as an example of a failure to realize that one day there won't be another day for you to do that thing you've been putting off. Sometimes the deadline is due and we're not ready for it but it doesn't matter, because clichés are right some of the time and time really doesn't wait for any man no matter how many regrets you have.
In the same poem Mr. Mortensen also reflects on how even when time is made, we are jealous of sharing ourselves, surrendering our valuable time, and parts of us are off somewhere else. In his case it's his imagination thinking about images for photos or ideas for poems. He says of himself that "I am what I imagine, not what I what I am". In other words, he's living with his next creation somewhere in the future, not in the here and now with his son.