For this month’s interview, I’m pleased to introduce Lynn Michael Martin, a student and poet who lives in Hagerstown, Maryland. Lynn has inspired me by his desire to help others find ways to express their worship of God and their earthly experience through the arts. He writes poetry, fiction, music, and occasional philosophy, but his favorite pastime is to spend evenings with friends, discussing life and art and God late into the night. Schubert, Tolkien, and Coleridge, but especially Tolkien, have profoundly influenced his work, and he writes out of a search for meaning and a belief that, for the humble heart, meaning is to be found. He also helps to edit The Curator, a small email poetry publication. You can see some of his work there and at lynnmichaelmartin.com.
Sheri Yutzy: Hi Lynn, welcome to Made to Create. First, I’d like to explore how you express your creativity in several ways. What form of creative expression comes most naturally to you?
Lynn Martin: Hi, Sheri, I’m honored to be here!
Currently I write mainly poetry, though I also write fiction and music and I enjoy writing nonfiction for my college assignments. It was not long ago that I considered myself a composer rather than a writer, though I was and still am quite amateur in my level of musical instruction. But I slowly started writing, finding in poetry an unsurpassed way of expressing the difficulties that I knew. I’ve never stopped writing poetry, and never plan to stop, though I am trying to focus on writing more broadly now than I have been.
What comes most naturally to me is something that many might not think of as a creative expression—philosophy. I have always wondered what is the root of a thing, and I love to discuss such ideas with likeminded friends. It is my life goal to create a personal worldview which is true to truth, beauty, and love, and all other great revelations of God. I can’t live rightly unless I am thinking and believing rightly.
SY: How important is it to have multiple creative outlets?
LM: I guess I don’t think about it in terms of importance. I am certainly the better for not only enjoying various forms of art but also participating in them—it has stretched me and also made it easier for me to express myself. What’s important to me is that when I come to the end of my life, God won’t say to me, and I won’t say to myself, “Right—you worked hard and saved a lot of money and had a comfortable existence, but when did you live the life you were meant for?” For me that has meant doing art in more than one medium.
Art—poetry, music, literature, visual art—changes a person. It is a part of a class of things which have basically no practical value, but which are valuable intrinsically. Art, worship, people—these are valuable not mainly for what they do for us but for what they are. As long as we assign them a monetary value, or seek after them because they will do something for us, we will not be seeking them but rather the glorification of ourselves. Rather than following after art for pride and self-advancement, a true artist must seek beauty and meaning with humility and a willingness to sacrifice him or herself for that beauty or meaning. We have to live, of course, and often that requires us to prioritize money. But we must keep our focus on the meaningful and the beautiful or we will be sinning like the Israelites, who tried to worship God in a golden calf—we humans want good things, yes, but so often we want good things that we can see. When there is a worthwhile thing that doesn’t help us in any way that we can see or touch, we suspect it, and this makes us want to put something visible between it and us. This desire is what makes people say that music is important only insofar as the words it conveys, or that baptism is only valuable for the mental things it does for us.
This is a very complex philosophical subject, and I’ve only touched on it for the purpose of saying this: that if an impractical but worthwhile thing, such as art or worship or meaningful human interaction, stands between us and making money—then we need to choose the impractical. That is why I interact with art in more than one way—I want to live a meaningful, worthwhile life, even if it costs me money or comfort, and, because of this, I have allowed myself to pursue more art forms than many have. This is not to say that I have attained some ideal—I continually disappoint myself by spending time pointlessly on entertainment or in fruitless conversations, and I regret it every time. But I have never regretted a late-night conversation with a friend, or staying out of bed for another hour to write a poem.
SY: I agree that true art—whatever form it takes—is always worth the time sacrificed for it. Let’s talk about your poetic process. What often sparks a poem in your imagination?
LM: It’s hard to say. Being ready to write a poem is a “stance” for me—maybe I am in a mindset to think of words, or I put myself in such a mindset, or there is a phrase which someone else said which rings something in my mind. Whatever words or ideas come to me I try to expand and take to their poetic completion.
But I think it’s important to note that art is not created in a vacuum. Creating art is a dialectic—art is a response to external influences. To create worthwhile art, I have had to both interact with other worthwhile art and with friends who have given me worthwhile thoughts to consider. My poetry often contains allusions to works by friends or by classical poets. Poetry often seems something I do not invent, but rather learn.
Also, a situation I’m struggling with often sparks poetry, which makes poetry a learning process in another way—as I write the poem that situation gains some clarity for me. For example, I enjoy writing sonnets for their unique strengths. A sonnet generally ends with a thought opposed to the original thought of the poem—sometimes it’s an answer, sometimes a question, sometimes only a change in tone. Often when I reach the “turn” of the sonnet, I don’t know what that answering thought will be, but it comes to my mind only when I get there. Writing has been very healing at times.
SY: You’re involved with The Curator, an email poetry publication. What piece of advice would you give to a beginning poet?
LM: Yes, I’m managing editor at The Curator, a young email publication particularly but not exclusively geared toward the Anabaptist community, and I’d be glad if any poets reading this would send us some of their work!
Writing well is very simple, actually (though that doesn’t mean it’s easy)—you merely need taste and experience. You learn taste by reading good poetry, and you gain experience through writing, through interacting with other writers, and most of all through living a meaningful, reflective life. Any artist can do this, and every artist must do this, and the worthwhileness of your work will depend directly on how much you do this.
That is the goal, and it may not seem easy, but the important thing is to strive, and not to give up. On the path you will see many beautiful things, and learn much that you didn’t know or that you thought you knew. The best piece of advice I can give is this: Don’t do it in the future, do it now. You will never have a better opportunity to write or read or spend time with other artists. Writing will take whatever time and effort that you put into it—if you only have five minutes, that is good. If you have an hour, that is even better. Simply push off other duties for however long you have, and write a poem. You won’t regret it.
SY: Wonderful advice. What is your vision for The Curator in five years? Ten?
LM: We at the Curator have noticed that, in the Anabaptist world over the recent years, music has had a resurgence, and that art of all kinds is also growing in popularity. It is our hope that we can provide a space for some of that art, specifically poetry and other forms of writing. We want this art to influence us, and we want any influence that we may have to be for its improvement and for the betterment of our culture.
At this point, we don’t know what directions that may take us, but we hope in time to provide more resources for poets and other artists which can help them to hone their skills. I would love to see us printing a poetry journal in five or ten years, but there’s no way of knowing when and how that will happen. Currently there are not enough poets in the Anabaptist world to make that a possibility, but let’s change that!
SY: Please do print a poetry journal! I love your vision for this. Does writing poetry help you understand God better? If so, how?
LM: I write because I am one person in a world far too big for me. I’m not an emotionally expressive person, but when I read A Tale of Two Cities, I cry, and when I read Gilead (by Marilynne Robinson), it changes me. There is a moment when you see something beyond you—something which lends to your life a sudden meaning from beyond the world. That moment, that epiphany, is what I have always sought through my creative endeavors, whether writing, singing, or reading. It is a moment of humility, of sight. Tolkien calls it a “sudden and miraculous grace.”
It is that moment which shows us that God is at work—that the world is wounded, but that it will be healed. Every happy ending (attained after hardship and misery) demonstrates the power of the Resurrection, a power in which we rightly hope. But even when we so often cry into the darkness and hear no answer, our tears have meaning, if we weep in humility. And if there is meaning, then there is a joy beyond the world for which we humans must hope, a joy which falls on us now in tangled shafts of light, but someday face to face.
SY: That’s a beautiful reminder of how God’s redemption is always at work. Thank you so much for sharing with us!
LM: Thanks so much for having me!
Thank you for joining us, readers. If any of you are poets or aspiring poets, you may find opportunities to let others read your work at The Curator.
When do you most easily find the epiphany or meaningful moment Lynn talked about in his last answer? Comment below.