the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, / crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog / and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye– / corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like / a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, / soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays / obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb, / leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures / from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster / fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear, / Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O / my soul, I loved you then! … / A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent / lovely sunflower existence! ~ ‘Sunflower Sutra’, Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Sunflower Sutra’ celebrates beauty in decay. Ginsberg laments the way technology can destroy creativity and crush inner beauty. He reminds us, though, that “we are not our skin of grime”; “we’re all beautiful golden sunflowers inside.” Ginsberg suggests that if we stay true to ourselves, celebrate our humanity, our uniqueness, our creativity and our connection to the natural world, we can retain our souls and rediscover our glorious selves.
The poem, published in 1956, still resonates today, 60 years on. How many people in our current world feel like they are weighed down by the “grime” of pressure, technology, work, external expectations or life events? How many are influenced by the “soot” of the social media highlight reel, the constant always-on-ness of devices, the weight of online trolls? How many feel they aren’t accepted, let alone celebrated, for their authentic selves? How many make life choices out of freedom rather than fear?
This post has come about because today’s post by Naomi Barnes has me thinking about mess and imperfection, and the ways in which we impose structure on the magnificent chaos of human experience. I agree with Naomi that Twitter is an example of a wonderful, lovable mess. I like her notion of trusting the mess; that messiness is ok, even diffractively productive. It allows meaning to be made and connections to entangle and untangle. Her metaphor of tangled webs of yarn as webs of learning and connection resonates with me. It feels to me like an extension of our blogversation around the web-ness of learning, research and relationships (my webby musings are here, here and here). Naomi has reflected on webs of research as messy. While Pat Thomson talks here about why it can be good to follow intuition and live with mess in research.
I wonder what we dismiss or try to control, which, left alone, might be beautifully imperfect or gloriously creative. Or is it the job of teachers, writers, researchers, artists and scientists to work to make sense of the mess, for themselves and others?
I’ve chosen some of my own images, below, which explore the beauty of the messy or the broken.
Do we look closely enough, at people, situations, places and possibilities, in an effort to appreciate, accept and celebrate them for what they are? Do we see people, not for how we think they can be fixed, improved or developed, but what they offer and how they are their own wonderful selves doing their own authentic things? To what extent do people and organisations feel they need to conform, to organise, to fix or to judge?
Can we trust mess and idiosyncrasy? What happens when we do?
We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread / bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all / beautiful golden sunflowers inside. ~ ‘Sunflower Sutra’, Allen Ginsberg