Sep 23, 2011

Meghan O'Rourke, "Inventing a Horse": Imagination and Creativity Re-Examined

 Inventing a Horse by Meghan O'Rourke : The Poetry Foundation

                                                     From the first line to the last of “Inventing a Horse,” Meghan O’Rourke is hinting at something larger than mammalian horses. She offers no rationale for inventing a horse; the act arrives out of the blue, suddenly and mysteriously. We could pass it off as a child’s fantasy—“Buy me a pony, Daddy”—but it’s also in the first line, from the get-go, that we we’re talking about pretending in larger terms. We’re not buying a pony, but inventing a horse, and that “is not easy.”

Immediately, the inventor (the dreamer? the creator?) finds that there would be many additional duties, all of which imply something much more adult and weighty than a child’s desire to ride. We could pass it all off as the parent reminding the child that caring for an animal takes time and effort. But in that case, would he make ominous statements such as ”live with humans like you?”  Or “accustom him to the harness?” And would even the most formal, distant father speak these lines to a daughter about the horse she desires? 

            and not to grow thin in the city,
   where at some point you will have to live;

and one must imagine the absence of money.
Most of all though: the living weight,
the sound of his feet on the needles,
and, since he is heavy, and real . . .
No, I think Meghan O’Rourke is very skillfully playing a rhetorical game. She gives us a whiff of the specifics that might concern a father, but from the first line, the poet has loaded the situation with overtones that are dark, difficult, pragmatic, economic, philosophical, psychoanalytic.

O’Rourke is having her cake and eating it too, playing at a childhood situation while driving at something adult and complex. So, by the time we get to the more obviously daunting questions, we’ve been prepared for them:

and, since he is heavy, and real,

. . .  one must imagine love
in the mind that does not know love,

an animal mind, a love that does not depend
on your image of it,
your understanding of it;

    I find those lines chilling, haunting, almost Gothic, the creation of a Frankenstein—or is it Hannibal Lector whose mind "does not know love?" 

    So what is this scary metaphor for or symbol of a horse? I suspect it’s poetry—or art in general.  Once “invented,” art, like a half-pretend, half-material horse, is full of considerations that are, if I may quote myself, dark, difficult, pragmatic, economic, philosophical, psychoanalytic. 

Like O’Rourke’s symbolic horse, a poem or painting is indifferent to the nutrients for a literal horse, because the work of art is an invention, not a palpable, hungry, breathing, and above all, not a loving presence. So it is:

indifferent to all that it lacks:

a muzzle and two black eyes
looking the day away, a field empty
of everything but witch grass, fluent trees,
and some piles of hay.
Like the Mona Lisa of the 1950s song, this invented horse is just a cold and lonely, lovely piece of art. Yet I do not mean to diminish the scope or sophistication of the poem by comparing it to something in pop culture as well as a child's imagining.  By offering this notion of a poem, Meghan O'Rourke is able to conjure all the romance, gallantry, nobility, and simply all the pleasure of a horse. In a modern culture where horses are not a primary or practical means of transportation or labor, all those characteristics amount to a child's enjoyment of riding; it’s a fanciful, pretend world. So O’Rourke tries to give us the weightier aspects of invention as well.

s  She has taken an enormous chance here—the chance of sounding foolish. A poem as a child’s horse might even seem to degrade, or at least challenge, every traditional, loftier notion we have about the nature of artistic creation. But Meghan O’Rourke sees that the experience of writing is all that—a child’s infatuation, a romantic gambol, but also a gallop into awareness of darker matters.  She makes every piece of the puzzle fit, and gives us a fresh consideration of creativity. It's an intriguing, provocative ride. 

Inventing a Horse by Meghan O'Rourke : The Poetry Foundation


Anonymous said...

Oh, my dear, you sent this at the perfect time. It's not about horses, well it is about horses. And creativity. Like looking at a collection of clouds, and not seeing a picture in the clouds, but in the sky, and what the clouds frame.

Rune Eide said...

Art, like a horse, can't be created by a committee. They might all end up with their own versions of a camel.

But then the camels live on ...

Anonymous said...

Merry-go-round. Horses. Beautifully painted. Unlike the sweating steeds that pulled plows—two 14 inch bottom plows in straight rows. One horse in the furrow—pulling—the other on the unplowed ground that would turn 180º then they horses returned. Plowing.

Ken Mac said...

girls and horses. Oh Altadenahiker !

PJ said...

I have so much to say about this poem that I would end up spoiling it. It's now officially one of my favorites. Thanks so much for this, Banjo Man!

Banjo52 said...

AH and Ken, I'm pretty sure you've gone PG13, but I can't prove anything.

You two and RuneE, you have your own metaphors going. Good deal.

Abe, I often wonder how people who really know a subject (farming or nature or animals) are responding to any writer's version. You might have your own poem going there. Very nice.

Paula, thanks. I'd love to hear you go on. I didn't applaud you enough last time you did, but at least PA did.

Anonymous said...

I chose this poem to recite for the contest known as poetry out loud and was struggling to find the meaning to this poem. Earlier I found it, it came out of nowhere (just know it wasn't as deep as your view, but we all see things differently). I think it is about the tiring amount of work involved with caring for a horse (I ride horses myself and understand this). But even with everything you have to do, you still go out and do it everyday. Because you love the horse, and no matter what has happened to the horse it is still capable of loving you back. If you're gentle and kind. It may not be the right view but I just thought I should share my view of the poem.

Lovers' Lane