One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kerry's Wednesday Challenge ~ Existentialism

“I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.” 
― Woody Allen
Credited to

I suppose it could prove disheartening from the outset to learn that there has never been definite consensus on the definition of Existentialism, but let us take courage from these following guidelines:

The Free Dictionary states:
A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

Merriam-Webster states:
A chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.

From this, we may narrow it down to a few characteristics:

  • individual experience
  • sense of isolation
  • indifferent environment
  • responsibility for choices made

Eye ~ M. C. Escher (1946)
Fair Use WikiPaintings

Let us take, as example, the poem Futility by Wilfred Owen. 

Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,

Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds--
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all? 

Here Owen describes the death by freezing of a soldier in the trenches, during World War 1.  The environment is harsh, the speaker feels isolated from the society he has sworn to protect and relates his sense of hopelessness at leading his men to their deaths.

The poet, Marvin Bell, has an innovative approach to Existential poetry in his work, The Book of the Dead Man.   Here is one example linked from When I first read his poetry, I was inspired to write in a similar style, an example of which you can read HERE.

Calvin & Hobbes

Poets grapple with the meaning of life - it seems an indelible part of the job description, so I hope that you will not feel daunted by the challenge to try your hand at an existentialist theme today.  Pretty much, anything goes, so long as you get us thinking about what it all means.


Poetic Soul said...

This sure makes a person wonder

Emma Major said...

love it, just my sort of muse

aprille said...

The search for identity starts much younger than was once supposed.

Susie Clevenger said...

I would say thanks Kerry, but this one drove me crazy. All I could come up with was questions without answers. I look forward to my "participant" ribbon. :)

Jinksy said...

How to stretch the mind on a chilly morning, what? I stretched mine so far, I forgot to leave a comment here earlier! LOL

Ellecee said...

These are the age old questions with no hard and fast answers,,,a perfect challenge,,Thank you Kerry,,

Kerry O'Connor said...

This was not the poem I had intended to write when I set the challenge, nor was it an easy write but things happen, and poems are one way of coming to terms with them.

Marian said...

aww, Kerry, your poem :(

hedgewitch said...

A very meaty prompt, Kerry. Off to get my teeth into and see if I can chew.

Helen said...

Love the challenge .....

Marian said...

gosh, now i am giggling because i was kind of befuddled by this prompt and just now remembered that i have an older poem called "existential whateverthe" and i don't know, it just made me giggle. whateverthe!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Way cool challenge, and I loved going back and reading your dead women poems......they are fantastic!!!!!!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Thanks, Sherry.

"whateverthe.." seems to sum it all up quite succinctly, Marian.

Kay L. Davies said...

I liked Calvin and Hobbes a whole lot more than I ever liked Jean Paul Sartre or the theory of existentialism, but I'm sure I can take a stance and write from there.
Interesting challenge, Kerry.

Ella said...

Damn...I think I can crawl my way in and out of this one! lol
Sorry, I am surrounded trying to recover my artsy eye in a cloud of colored confusion....

Audrey Howitt aka Divalounger said...

Great challenge!

David Ance said...

Not a fan of existentialism in most of the arts, but there's no denying its profound effect on them. Was going to post an older poem, when I realized that my repurposed haiku fit the prompt well enough on its own.

Susan said...

Hi, Kerry, I'm home. Would you believe the hospital wifi did not accept blogger? A hospital is one of those deserts of humanity where the meaninglessness or meanings of existence emerge. I have to celebrate mystery and also skill.

Anonymous said...

I can't quite get a handle on it, but I think reading some Kafka must have helped?! Kerry, thank you for the info and for an amazing prompt! Amy

Gail Dixon (Louisiana Belle) said...

So much to ponder here...lovely post. :)

Peggy said...

You must be quite an amazing teacher Kerry. Your explanation was wonderful. Trying to write a poem each day and post it and so far three in three days!

Fireblossom said...

Sings: What's it all about....Ker-ryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

Lolamouse said...

I remember your "Dead Woman" poems and really liking the style. I'll have to give this one some thought!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Susan, the link you gave us here goes to a page that does not exist. I have removed it and ask that you relink your page when you get the chance.

Susan said...

I tried again, Kerry. I think the Hospital blocked the virtual blogger while working the blog-gee.

Dave King said...

Apologies for the late connection - Broadband problems. I found this prompt quite difficult - I wanted to write a novel! Much thanks for.