“The real giants have always been poets, men who have jumped from facts into the realm of imagination.” – Bill Bernbach
Tonight, I start writing. It is not meant to say that I don’t write. I write and am inspired and proud to have my blog. I write to express the world before me because every ounce of memory is fleeting. Every detail of memory is always in the state of flux. It is a constant war with becoming dull and tedious to reality. The ultimate chronicler of time, Marcel Proust once said that “once we have reached a certain degree of enfeeblement, whether caused by age or by ill health, all pleasure taken at the expense of sleep, every disturbance of routine, becomes a nuisance.” He held a lighted torch, telling us that memory needs some mystical crevice of space impenetrable by the vicissitudes of time and decay.
I decided to start with this quotation from Bernbach written above. He exulted poets and succinctly captures how they have become giants in our midst. I would attempt to deconstruct it like a piece of fresh onion layer by layer in several ways, in slow and painstaking motion. Hopefully, I can come up with several ideas that express the richness of this quotation and challenge my creativity.
First, what caught my attention is all about real giants. Giants, for me, is always associated with the Biblical Goliath. They are behemoth creatures whose loud voice reverberates and whose arrogance precedes their intellectual inadequacy. Giants connote a menacing presence because of their size, build, and caricatured face. They are associated with the act of crushing smaller creatures or picking the latter up and playing with them in their calloused palms. They are voracious eaters, idle, and conditioned for sleeping and snoring. Sadly, literary tradition considered them as the quintessential villain, from the Odyssey to our Filipino folklore. We derive our enjoyment and satisfaction on how we trick, outwit, and outrun them.
If you will ask me if I have seen giants in real life. The swift answer is no. Maybe the closest for me is to see big basketball stars who stood tall and beefy at almost 7 feet or more. Seen inside the basketball court, they tell us that this game is very physical and is only for those who have the brawn to do the hustle. Outside and separated from their teams, these athletes tower and become spectacles whose movements are being watched and measured by everyone. Indeed, childhood stories helped form our conception of giants. They emanated from the swimming vapors that come out from the nook where we hid and immersed in that fictional and secret world.
However, giants here are meant to express a grander influence in the things that matter. Thus the qualifying adjective of real or authentic speaks volumes. It is an emphatic description that signifies their considerable impact in areas like leadership, arts and literature, finance, philosophy, philanthropy, sciences, and others. Real giants connote that the essence of being a giant is of a positive and enduring force. They almost rise to the level of the omnipresence of gods and titans. Their broader view and perspectives of things allow them to tower above others not in a dominant way but a humble realization of their gift. Additionally, it invites noble qualities of resilience, having a vision, a pioneering spirit, and an unquenchable passion for excellence and innovation.
So when we say that real giants have always been poets, Bernbach is categorically stating that these people have minds more extensive than the typical creativity and imagination that sporadically surface in us. Poetry is integral in their chromosomal make-up. Moreover, in this quotation, Bernbach offered us a clear denotation of poets. They are someone who can leap from the concrete and cold facts to the realm of stratospheric imagination. They have the robust capacity to make solemn words talk powerfully like the most haunting voice in the deepest of gorges. They have the invisible force to sweep the reluctant commas and apostrophes in the lexicon and smoothens the rushing flow of living blood in the river of life. What is ordinary for us is a wellspring of truth for them. A strong atavistic resentment comes to them in times when mediocrity becomes the prose of doing things. They see the routinely and the mundane as a wider lake or raging caldera where every ripple is differentiated and admired for its unique velocity, character and immense potential.
Real giants could go beyond the day to day dreariness and elevate our perspective to something grander. Dr. Martin Luther King comes to mind. He saw beyond the segregation and racial injustice and crafted his poetry of “I have a dream…” which ignited and transformed the world significantly. William Carlos Williams, a doctor by profession, saw in the pain and illness of his patients more than all these aggregates of symptoms. He came up with the most lucid and moving expression of metaphors that revolutionized our way of seeing the simplest of implements on the farm.
Interestingly, when I tried to relate this to me, I find it profoundly resonating and compelling. The quote anchored and fit snuggly in my context. The moments I felt I was a real giant were those of my high points in life. Those were the times when I felt my potential, and my inner being was truly realized and affirmed. In those moments, I proverbially felt massive, in my self-belief, in what I hold to be authentic and valuable. Moreover, the language of poetry seemed to flow smoothly and in abundance in me. Words easily transformed into the expansive state, became uplifting and empowering.
However, a paradox behooves me. In those points in my life where I felt frustrated, desperate, hopeless, and seemingly lost, poetry kicked me out from those desultory states. Poetry attacked me ferociously like the wildest creature of my mind to fight back and retaliate with equal ferocity. Slowly, poetry allowed me to experience the process of empowering myself to be a real giant against my inner battles. It allowed me to embrace Emily Dickinson’s “the Loneliness whose worst alarm is lest itself should see” yet emerged more grounded and erected stairs from the pith. I learned it presented for me, images, subtle, cordial, sometimes fleeting, at times razor-sharp to cut the cleanest of a wound. At night, it called me with dreams, nostalgic and hopeful in texture, but sometimes harrowing in their destructive power like Richard Wilbur’s “mortally beset, and in need of ransom” cry. Poetry enveloped me as a nurturing mother as Maya Angelou’s cradle poem intoned “It is true I was created in you. It is also true that you were created for me” assurance of presence. It presented to me Frost’s choices, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Finally, poetry through the sun’s offspring Octavio Paz helped me see myself with a potent realization like “each is another and no other: crossing and vanishing through their empty names: water, stone, wind”.
What struck me too is the explicit assumption of the trajectory of facts to the sphere of imagination. There is a clear recognition that facts do matter a lot. The foundation of imagination is the concrete,
the earth-bound, the hard data, and palpable experiences. These are the things that we feel, and we touch and smell. We perceive them as bounded by limits and boundaries which we define or others defined for us. Interestingly, the quotation helped me to realize that there is no dichotomy between the facts and the imagination. There is no duality but an integral entity and flow of the concretely real to the state of imagination. To be stuck at the former is a tragedy for the latter is the molder of real giants. On the same plane, to be the imagination without the anchor to the present is a foolish hallucination that Rainer Maria Rilke got intoxicated. Bernbach dares to remind me this despite Einstein’s contrary assertion that “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one”.
Tonight, I start writing. Before me is the book “Treat Ideas Like Cats” by Zachary Petit. I start writing with the first quotation in this yellow book. I insist on looking at one creative quote and bringing it to the level of creative imagination. I fully adhere to the maxim that there is no short cut in my creative journey. It starts with the audacity and decision to write tonight.