F. Geoffrey Johnson
What is the role of the poet? Is it to put pretty words together in a clever, ingenious manner? Perhaps to shock people with vulgarity and rhyme. Is it to be published in the “best literary journals” or win poetry contests? Is the poet’s role one of fortune, fame, Pulitzer prizes and MacArthur awards (who couldn’t use an extra $500K)? Is it to be published by award winning publishing houses? I guess it’s all of the above for many.
During my thirty-five plus year journey as poet/artist I’ve tasted some of that water. However, I never chose to become a poet or artist, the arts chose me and I acquiesced. I sat on the floor of an empty apartment with a stack of legal pads from my previous job, newly graduated from Morehouse College, in search of a job in our nation’s capitol and no one would hire me. I had never written poetry before, yet I began to write. Day, after day, after day, I wrote. Soon, several legal pads were full and I shared my writing with my roommate. He not only liked what I wrote but encouraged me to continue to write.
Over the years I’ve questioned my role as a poet and what to write? The answer has always come back to me, write what can help humanity take a closer look at itself. Write what can encourage those in need of inspiration, those in need of love. Write about making the world a better place than it was before we began to gouge, rape, pollute and destroy this planet. Write for those who are voiceless. Write the stories we cannot find in our history books because of prejudice, injustice and hate. Write what hasn’t been written, and if it has, write it in a different if not better (i know that’s subjective) way.
I may never be given a Pulitzer or MacArthur award but I have been awarded abundantly. I have been given freedom to live the life I’ve led without having to live on the plantation. I’ve never had to work at anything I didn’t want to do and at the end of the day I’ve always, always, been my own boss. Pulitzer or MacArthur couldn’t give me that.
It was a natural progression to explore painting as an alternative means of expression in order to convey the stories I am allowed to share. As a storyteller, I use painting as a second language. I often tell people, I paint like a poet, always editing and thinking of the story first and foremost. The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” is so true. Sometimes words are not sensitive or expressive enough in conveying feelings and oft times get in the way.
I enjoy the mystery of painting because I am surprised as a painting emerges. I often begin with no idea of what will be painted, only a prayer that I may become a conduit for expressing a story that may touch others in a positive and/or thought provoking way. It is amazing to find the similarities in writing and painting. Both processes begin with empty slates yearning for stories in need of finding their target.
As i travel this road as an artist, i am constantly exploring new means of expressing the smells i see. Assemblage of found objects on satellite dish reflector plates began as a means of expressing stories and poetry I had submitted to literary journals that were rejected by editorial staffs. The series “Can You Hear Me Now” was born from the seeds of rejection. I thank those editors for this birth.