Poetry Month Challenges Day 6: Expression and Ego

Expression in Ego by Maria L. Berg 2023

Expression & Ego

The dictionary says the ego is the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. But reading through Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, I found this interesting explanation of ego:

“One comes to learn a procedure by which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal—what belongs to the ego—and what is external—what emanates from the outer world. In this way one makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality principle which is to dominate future development. In order to fend off certain unpleasurable excitations arising from within, the ego can use no other methods than those which it uses against unpleasure coming from without, and this is the starting-point of important pathological disturbances.

In this way, then, the ego detaches itself from the external world. Or, to put it more correctly, originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all-embracing—feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it. If we may assume hat there are many people in whose mental life this primary ego-feeling has persisted to a greater or less degree, it would exist in them side by side with the narrower and more sharply demarcated ego-feeling of maturity, like a kind of counterpart to it.”

Sigmund Freud

He’s saying that the only reason we learn we are separate from everything around us is because we innately seek pleasure and avoid pain. In avoiding pain or “unpleasure” we learn that things that aren’t us give us unpleasure so we are separate from that, and thus the individual’s ego is realized.

I found a really interesting passage in Art As Experience by John Dewey that talks about this self awareness through “unpleasure” as well: “Nor without resistance from surroundings would the self become aware of itself; it would have neither feeling nor interest, neither fear nor hope, neither disappointment nor elation. Mere opposition that completely thwarts, creates irritation and rage. But resistance that calls out thought generates curiosity and solicitous care, and , when it is overcome and utilized, eventuates in elation.”

Dewey believes that expression only comes from conflict and challenging life experiences:

“. . . provided that the adverse conditions bear intrinsic relation to what they obstruct instead of being arbitrary and extraneous. Yet what is evoked is not just quantitative, or just more energy, but is qualitative, a transformation of energy into thoughtful action, through assimilation of meanings from the background of past experiences. The junction of the new and old is not a mere composition of forces, but is a re-creation in which the present impulsion gets form and solidity while the old, the “stored,” material is literally revived, given new life and soul through having to meet a new situation.

It is this double change which converts an activity into an act of expression. Things in the environment that would otherwise be mere smooth channels or else blind obstructions become means, media. At the same time, things retained from past experience that would grow stale from routine or inert from lack of use, become coefficients in new adventures and put on a raiment of fresh meaning. Here are all the elements need to define expression. The definition will gin force if the traits mentioned are made explicit by contrast with alternative situations. Not all outgoing activity is of the nature of expression. At one extreme there are storms of passion that break through barriers and that sweep away whatever intervenes between a person and something he would destroy. There is activity, but not, from the standpoint of the one acting, expression. An onlooker may say ” What a magnificent expression of rage!” But the enraged being is only raging, quite a different matter from expressing rage. Or, again some spectator may say “How that man is expressing his own dominant character in what he is doing or saying.” But the last thing the man in question is thinking of is to express his character; he is only giving way to a fit of passion.

John Dewey

I really enjoy those examples of how the viewer sees expression in action that isn’t expression.

How then are ego and expression contradictory? Ego is realized through avoiding conflict, expression is realized through enduring and facing conflict. Ego is separate from the outer world, expression is manifested in the outer world.

Today’s Images

From all my reading, my understanding is that ego is the separation from the outer world, recognizing the self through avoidance of pain. Expression is using pain “squeezed” through a medium to show the self to the outer world, or perhaps re-connect the self to the outer world. I really connected to the yellow and gray effect I made yesterday. For today’s images I tried using that effect with some brush-stroke and splatter filters I created to see what I could paint with that effect that would express my ego. Turned out my ego meets expression with all the shiny colors.

Ego in Expression by Maria L. Berg 2023

The Prompts


Today’s prompt is “Take a look around Poetry International for a poem in a language you don’t know. . . . Now, read the poem to yourself, thinking about the sound and shape of the words, and the degree to which they remind you of words in your own language. Use those correspondences as the basis for a new poem.

I enjoy this prompt. And wrote a poem I love to this prompt back in 2018 called “Contemplating the Other.” I got frustrated with Poetry International (the poems I wanted kept coming up blank), so inspired by Cris at The Scribbletorium‘s use of a Jorge Luis Borges poem for the opposites prompt the other day, I found this great post on Open Culture with Borges reading his poems: Hear Jorge Luis Borges Read 30 of His Poems (in the Original Spanish). I listened to Arte Poetica over and over and over until my poem sang to me.

Poem A Day

Today’s prompt is to “write a poem that smells. Or at least, write a poem that involves the act of smelling or a scent of some sort.”

DVerse Poets Pub

The Meeting the Bar prompt today is :

A.  Choose ONE of these paired opposites for your two poem’s theme whilst also including the chosen word somewhere in the body of each poem

  • admit – deny;
  • amuse – bore;
  • beg – offer;
  • condemn – praise;
  • fix – break;
  • mix – sort;
  • scatter – collect;

B. And with your chosen antonym pair, write your poem(s) in ONE of these poetry forms:

  1. THE CONTRAPUNTAL – 2 poems that are distinct from one another but together can be read as one poem. They can be adjacent columns or  fit alternately (italicised , boldened, indented to distinguish one from another  if desired)
    There are  lots of examples  HERE or read  Pauls’ MTB prompt in 2018 The Contrapuntal
  • THE CLEAVE  –so  similar to the above  to be almost indistinguishable – I’ve seen it defined as 3 poems but ‘the inventor’ only states 2!  Seems the poems blend together across each line to make one poem -see examples of CLEAVE POETRY HERE
  • The REVERSO – two poems in one with the 2nd one being read from the bottom to the top – see Frank’s 2018 MTB prompt or more examples HERE

The Poem

Ego or Expression

Me, I am real, in a real time I age
I record temperatures of the real
					scents of octopus and squid
sort and bear the problems of the real
					of eel and guano
and rot with the passage of coming age
					of dark mulberries squished 
					and boiled down to sauce
Send ears of healing and other swings
the swaying not sent here in cars somewhere
					a mix of horrors
a mess of somewhere and the notes 
					in the a fondue of peppers
can roam and sway and in the music
					a laundry of Swiss irons
I am fond of the page	
					a paste of tamarind,	
an art inappropriate for care	
					chamomile, and sweat	
in the dark where you will not find provisions	
					beware the purée's gone bad
irrational cares hone me
					and the yogurt is terrible

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