What Can We Steal From Lylanne Musselman’s “The Art of Seeing Value”?

Title of Work and its Form:  “The Art of Seeing Value,” poem
Author: Lylanne Musselman
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The poem made its debut in New Verse News, a very cool poetry blog.  (Every day, editor James Penha posts a new poem written from a politically progressive viewpoint.)  Ms. Musselman’s poem can be found here.  Go read it if you don’t already know the poem.

Bonuses: Here is a poem Ms. Musselman placed in the Tipton Poetry Journal.  Here is a poem she published in [PANK].  Here is a blog in which Ms. Musselman chronicles her adventures in art.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Social Involvement

Did you hear about this story in the news?  After decades of severe-and allegedly? criminal-mismanagement by those in charge, Detroit is in serious debt.  (If you really want to read about a crazy mayoral situation, learn about Kwame Kilpatrick.)  Some folks want to sell the very valuable art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts in order to raise some revenue.  Ms. Musselman’s poem is a valuable part of the discussion surrounding such a plan.  She describes a trip she took (from Toledo, apparently) to see a van Gogh “on loan from Paris.”

Ms. Musselman’s poem illuminates both the intent of the artist with respect to this specific work and the crucial part that art can play in the life of a city.

I love that Ms. Musselman turns her poem into a dialogue.  The first-person narrator describes her visit to see the van Gogh and brings in the thoughts of others, those who would “prostitute/ irreplaceable art.”  I don’t know if these are real comments that Ms. Musselman plucked from the Internet, but they certainly sound as though they could have been.  Ms. Musselman chooses wisely, including comments that directly contradict her primary point.  Making money is not always as important as feeding our souls (whether real or metaphorical)…some folks have chosen not to interact with art and simply don’t understand its purpose.  The story in Ms. Musselman’s poem is interesting enough, but including outside comments opens up the poem a great deal.

You may ask yourself why Ms. Musselman wrote this as a poem when it could easily have been a very short piece of creative nonfiction/memoir.  What does she gain by casting the work in poetry instead of prose?  I like the way that the lineation adds some momentum to the poem.  Looking at a world-class painting up close is a very big deal and an experience to be savored.  Ms. Musselman recreates that feeling by

forcing the reader

to stop every few

words to truly


what she felt.

What Should We Steal?

  • Open up your first person narrator by working in other voices.  First person writing can sometimes seem claustrophobic.  Avoid this by allowing your narrator to get out of his or her head on occasion.
  • Choose the genre that will best service your idea.  In part, Ms. Musselman wanted to demonstrate to the reader that art is too important to a community to sell, so she cast her experience in such a way that would inspire others to agree with her.

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