jueves, 20 de diciembre de 2012


A Well-Reasoned RantPart One

So it’s still about written versus performance poetry, is it?   

I’ve read in various places that “the written word is dead” and that “no one reads anymore.”  One ‘column’ in a local lit journal by the sois-dissant ‘Psycho Boy’ desperately tried to make a case for dealing the final blow to ‘written poetry’ on the basis that “no one wants to read.”  But styling oneself ‘Psycho Boy’ is enough against-the-grain truth in advertising for sensible persons to take his message with about a pound of salt.  

Psycho Boy would do well to look beyond his narrow confines – there are tens of thousands of people out there who love to read from the page (and a growing number who now like reading from a tablet – oh, how the Sumerians must have howled when it looked like there was in the wind a move from cuneiform impressions in clay tablets to ink-marks on parchment).

Look, we’re all of us – we poets and performers, we poet/performers – self-combusting elements trapped in this thing of art and artifice.  No one of us writes or performs because we want to.  Those who only want to write are not poets, those who want to perform are audience members on open-mike night.  It’s clear to me that we – the poets – stay in the poetry game because we have no other choice.

Ignoring those exhibitionists who just want to make noise while others must sit watching and listening (please let us dispatch them quickly, Psycho Boy, here at this point and later, in the galleries and coffeehouses), we can look at this “artistic division” in the light of a similar dichotomy of two musical styles.  The analogy will only stretch so far, but let it have its distance to find its range.

For a trained opera singer, the “primitive” 3-chord progression of American blues is a low form of art.  Blues is all emotion, all emotive power, while opera starts in artifice and works its way through carefully-planned “attacks” (a common term for the actual approach to the musical exercise, with any instrument – human or mechanical).  The music in each of these forms is conceived, written and performed differently, and the audience seeks different things. But the heart of the matter, in each case, is that the vocal instrument will affect the audience and (it is hoped) bring about new insights or rekindle certain feelings.

So we don’t expect John Lee Hooker to get up and sing the arias of Nemorino or Calaf, because the form of his music is fundamentally different.  There is a natural separation between these two forms – a fact for which many of us are grateful.  Nor would Pavarotti have belted out Stevie Ray Vaughn or BB King or Robert Johnson (though a trained opera voice would have a better chance in an acceptable attempt at crossover than would a blues singer).  (In fact, Pavarotti did welcome James Brown to his stage and even sang a song or two with him - but as i pointed out, the analogy would only stretch so far.)

In poetry, as in music, the person with a stronger foundation from which to build will most likely be better able to express emotion in words; such a poet will probably be better prepared to delineate and capture the essence of a scene.  Then, carefully overlaying the artifice of skilled performance, the poet subtly manipulates the audience so that they will feel those things which he or she initially intended (at the conception of the piece) for them to feel.  There is an aspect of determinism to this art, as with all forms of art.

I once watched a grown man rub halves of a raw onion in his eyes while reading a diary entry through a paper tube jammed in his mouth – it was not poetry, but it certainly was performance.  It did awaken certain feelings in the audience:  nervousness, unease, shock, disgust, pity.  Had he written his work with some craft and wit, had he determined to prepare a specific set of actions and emotions, then the onion would have added a dimension to something already existing.  As it was, the onion shone brilliantly – as the sole star of an otherwise execrable act.

This ‘feud’ (if that word does not dignify the situation too much) between written and performance poetry is pointless, since the two aspects of poetry are not strictly comparable – it’s like saying “Who is the better athlete, Arnold Palmer or Willie Shoemaker?”  Moreover, the two aspects are not mutually exclusive (doesn’t Willie play golf in his spare time?).  So why create a conflict over a difference in style?  And why create conflict where none needs exist?

Meaty questions indeed. 

© 2012 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.