Survey of Poetry

With cephalopod.

selective focus photography of octopus

I mean to tell you about the artist whose paintings, according to some, have a brittle, airy alloverness. How insistent they were, melancholy like the memories of a landscape.

I am thinking about the way that every human eye has a blind spot. How the blind spot, instead of appearing as a black dot in the vision field, is conveniently filled by a process of extrapolation, based on visual information at the border regions.

Taking a break from the paintings, I notice someone at the fountain, playing guitar. I would like to tell you about the poetic arc of the neck, leaning over the instrument, the taut curve of intention.

But I am distracted by thoughts of cephalopods. I have recently read about Otto, the six-month-old octopus at the Sea-Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, who was caught juggling hermit crabs. Otto was known to rearrange the contents of his tank to, as the aquarium director put it, “make it suit his own taste better.” Otto made international news for short circuiting the aquarium’s electrical system several nights in a row. It turns out he had learned to turn out the light above his tank by squirting water at it. It seems he did not care for the light. 

Octopus have eyes like ours, but no blind spot.  

Each arm has a mind of its own, unobstructed by central control. And now I cannot stop thinking about this looming intelligence of the sea, how when we’re not reminding ourselves to fear its presence, we are replacing it with a cartoon caricature. 

I want to talk about the art of this cephalopod, the poetry of its symphony of intelligent parts in motion. But between this blind spot and the limits of my language, I cannot take it in.


Otto’s story is available here (to Telegraph subscribers). I found it in James Bridle’s Ways of Being––Animals, Plants, Machines: The Search for a Planetary Intelligence.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

8 thoughts on “Survey of Poetry”

  1. My blind spot is huge and pervasive. I’m forever misinterpreting what I see. We really need to learn how to converse with all of these intelligent animals. I’m sure they have a lot to tell us.

    1. Deep head nod, Jeff. Hearty agreement. Even with all the reminders the cat gives me, I am still routinely amazed by the size of my blind spot.

      1. Thank you, Port! I like this idea so much that I followed this suggestion even before I read it. This same book was referenced in the one that first inspired me so I immediately went to find it in the library and am in the opening chapter as I read your comment. It’s wonderful, thank you!

      2. Yes! Thank you. Very into cuttlefish pictures at the moment. Cheers!

      3. Ditto! I could look at cuttlefish all day.

        If you’d like, I’ll send you one of my octopus/cuttlefish paintings. Think of it as an Easter gift.

        Also: stay tuned to my blog on Friday, 14 April 2023. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think.

        Happy Easter—and cheers to you, too!

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