The Unexpectedness of Beauty

In this fascinating and wonderfully candid audio discussion, URI Professors Mary Cappello and Peter Covino discuss the complex, philosophical notion of “beauty” from a variety of intermingled perspectives: the artistic, the pedagogical and the personal. Cappello, a well-known writer of literary nonfiction, and Covino, an accomplished poet, describe ways in which “unexpected beauty” surfaces in and informs their own creative projects. Sometimes in life this “unexpectedness” presents as a form of, what Peter Covino calls, “dark energy”: things like trauma, abuse, violence. Yet this “dark energy” can provide the opportunity for a cathartic form of beauty to surface. Professor Covino goes on to describe writing poetry as a challenge toward self-recognition and “self-soothing” — what he describes in a one of his poems as the “soothe-less tangle” of language. He views language as offering a medium of solace: “you’re not sure how terrible your pain is, you’re not sure how difficult your challenges are, until you start to write them down, until you start to share your stories.” This translation of struggle, the articulation and expression of it, can be beautiful.

Mary Cappello describes her aesthetic at one point as a form of “disruptive beauty.” She is interested in “jaggedness” and “interruptive beauty”: an idea she defines as emerging “out of confrontation, over and against a determination to aestheticize experience.” Further, Professor Cappello offers a very interesting way of thinking about “ugliness” less binaristically with respect to beauty; she invites us to think of it as a differential, the space between the lyrical and the jagged: “I was thinking of a beauty not opposed to ugliness…can we talk about anti-beauty, unbeauty, or create a new term altogether?” She encourages the artist to be alive to the “availability of beauty,” and to be on the lookout for “beauty in unexpected places.”

Throughout this rich and in-depth conversation on beauty, both Cappello and Covino share interesting details of their lives, their creative process, as well as read from each other’s (and their students’) work. The full audio conversation can be found here. Some shorter snippets of their conversation are also available from the links below.

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