Collaboration between poet John Poch and visual artist Eric Simpson to create a book following the theme of Longsuffering.
In the fall of 2014, we sat down to share with each other some of our recent work. We had long wanted to collaborate together on a project combining visual art and poetry, and we began to develop some ideas about a book project. In both of our works, we noticed how our subject matter kept coming back to various portrayals of being held back, bound, imprisoned, exposed, doomed to repetition, and fated, among other limitations and failures. We also had in common our delight in paradox and strong formal and shapely architectures and likewise our preference for strong ironies rather than easy sarcasms. We began to pair up our works and find extraordinary similarities and a more formal conversation developing between our photographs and poems. We even geared some of these works toward each other, revising and writing new poems, taking new photographs and re-developing existing ones toward this body of work.
One of the largest concerns for us was repetition. We wanted to repeat ourselves effectively (in poetry to sustain a particular voice, and in photography to have a unity of vision), and we wanted to repeat each other in the way that we saw similar concerns connecting individual photographs and poems. And yet, we didn’t want merely to repeat or to just “illustrate” something that the other artist had done. We saw that one poem didn’t simply mirror a photograph, but many of these works were reaching across the pages to touch and speak to each other. We didn’t want the failure of an echo, rather the triumph of a harmony. Kierkegaard questions in his book, Repetition, whether repetition is possible at all. He makes an astute observation, however, (repeating Liebniz) on different kinds of repetition:
Repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been, is repeated backward, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forward. Repetition, therefore, if it is possible, makes a person happy, whereas recollection makes him unhappy.
It seems that his idea of recollection is burdened with the weight of nostalgia while repetition lifts him with the wings of the imagination. Clearly some of our images and language here stress recollection, but we hope that we have situated, orchestrated, and choreographed each and the whole of these works to emphasize a repetition forward, opening not a door to the past but a door to the future.
There is tension, rejection, failure, and much difficulty presented in these poems and photographs, and perhaps even an obsession with death. But we believe our audience will understand that any failure presented here is able to be reversed and conquered by grace and that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” Beyond patience, we looked to the more challenging endurance and abiding of longsuffering.
The word longsuffering has been out of use in regular English parlance for some time. We say patience instead, not distinguishing between the two terms. The reason for this is probably that the center of that word, suffer, is something few want and most would like to avoid. But there is no avoiding suffering in this life, and to embrace certain kinds of difficulty over a period of time might prove virtuous. Anyone who has trained physically understands this. The student and the artist and the lover know it.
…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy. —Colossians 1:10-11
Patience and longsuffering, since mentioned together in this passage of scripture, cannot mean the same thing. The two words in the Greek here are hupomone and makrothumia. Hupomone is literally “abiding under” and makrothumia something more like “far or long wrath”. Both terms spatially position a person in relation to the situation at hand, the first vertically, and the second, it seems, more horizontally. Clearly, makrothumia (longsuffering) has embedded within it the source of affliction, a more difficult sense of waiting.