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Towards a Poetics of Hyperrealism


Hyperrealism is a term mainly used to describe a movement in the visual arts that arose around the turn of the millennium. Artist like Ron Muech create works that reproduce the illusion of reality right down to every single pubic hair. They often strive to create works that are “clearer and more distinct than the subject itself”. According to Tal Danai, “the Hyperrealist process as a transformation of perceived reality into a manifestation of objective conceptual reality, which in turn illuminates perceived reality in a new light.”
In his essay, “Hyperrealism and Conceptual Art: What yo see is what you get?”, Danai writes:

While the difference between “Realism” (as in real life) in Hyper-realistic works
and that in Surrealistic works may be simplified as the difference between a
clearly imaginary and “unrealistic” (in its most common laymen’s sense) reality
on the Surrealist side, and the “almost real” or “could be real” or even outright
“Real” (in the same laymen’s sense) on the Hyperrealist side, the making of the
latter is of a much more illusive nature. […] In trying to analyze it one should be
constantly aware that that reality is not made for the purpose of creating an
imaginary reality. It is developed by the artist as means to an end of making comments on the reality the artist lives and operates in. That means that the visual work functions as a telling mirror allowing the artist to direct it at issues, ideas, emotions or any other elements of the artist’s ‘real’ world. The better polished the mirror, the more telling it is.

For the last 12 years, my poetry has been increasingly riddled with footnotes. I struggle to pack poems with all the information relevant to the metaphors I am creating. Just as the existence of the very real narwhal drives us to conceive and search for the unicorn, the bizarre details of nature and history drive me to conceive of and search for correlations in my perceived existence: in the poem, as metaphor and mimesis. My intention goes beyond literary allusions, geological allusions, or biochemical allusions.

While Surrealists often use the minutiae of reality in the fabric of their form, and many of my poems are surrealist, I have begun to write more poetry that seeks to avoid the dream-like elements of gowns made of egg shells (“Spinster’s Shroud”, mixed states. Wigestrand, 2004), to focuses increasingly on the facts alone to provide the quality of heightened experience:

A child unconscious                                      An child consciously
under cold water                                           held under cold water
experiences laryngospasm,                        reaches the breaking point
asphyxiates,                                                  after eighty-seven seconds,
but the heart                                                 inhales
keeps                                                              involuntarily,
beating                                                           but the heart keeps beating.
five                                                                  Ashes falling on water
full                                                                  float
minutes—                                                      like rotting wood,

every instant bobbing in and out of view.

(“Red-eared Slider“, mixed states. Wigestrand, 2004).

In the poem “A Request for Sound from a Televised Report from Afghanistan” (An Intimate Retribution. Wigestrand, 2009) the line, “bitter as fringed rue” can be processed as a metaphor based on a general idea of what the desert plant looks like, or the simple fact that it is bitter. However, the true metaphor, the core of the poem is found only with the knowledge that fringed rue has been, and probably still is, used as an abortion agent, as a treatment for asthma, as a remedy for menstrual discomforts and that the oil from broken leaves is so caustic that it causes blisters. The literary allusions that could be claimed are unnecessary and actually unwanted in this poem. The poem is about the facts. Nothing more than reality is necessary to create mimesis. In fact, anything more than reality steals focus from the metaphor.

The poem “A Guide to Knowledge” (from the current collection about Dorothea Dix) takes its title from a small encyclopedia written by Dix herself. In the poem I present the parasite Peltogastridae; Peltogastrella sulcata, which dissolves through the shell of the hermit crab and de-sexes it. It is the stuff of myth. But the hyperreality of this little fungiform serves as a far more polished mirror for the gender issues forced upon Dorothea Dix – by her contemporaries, herself and historians, than any myth.

For the past two years I have been exploring techniques for selecting and sharing information with the reader. How to keep poems fluid and readable while focusing on the unfamiliar microscopic activity within the gonads of hermit crabs.

I think I may be approaching a literary style of Hyperrealism.