Thursday, May 27, 2010

passing it on

Here's a great post posted from another post about the Tea Party.

I've taught Tim Wise before in my English 1 course, and it always goes over well because he's making points that no one else seems to say. I started to read a book on race and he begins the book by telling a story about a time when race came up at a party and how the issue ended up being dropped, the room went silent because of the fear that comes with talking about race. Tim Wise isn't afraid, and I like that.
Summer has hit and I have found myself not quite as focused as I had been in winter months. I could blame this on the sun, but more likely it would be appropriate to blame my blaming the sun instead of taking my mind by the reigns and galloping about amongst the daffodils, instead of attempting to grab the horse by its flanks and see where that gets me. Mostly, nowhere and in pain. That probably seems obvious.

But, when my mind wanders I do tend to let the internet take control of me and I came across these photos by Sophia Wallace that feature some masculine females. This seems to be a sort of trend in fashion and in art right now (at least in circles I run in, I guess) but I think what interested me about this is that of female masculinity being en-vogue over in Berlin. Now, I've always had a thing for female masculinity ever since I cut off all of my hair for the very first time(I think I was in 1st grade?). I remember hating my curls and wanting to feel liberated from the washing, brushing, etc. On top of all this I was closer to what I had desired (and seems to be a popular desire of young girls), which is that of wanting to be a boy. They got to ride lawnmowers and wear cool shirts, ones with pockets and Wolverine on them. I was a stealer of my brother's clothes, which also seems to be a common theme among the gender-bending youth I have read about. And yes, my brother was angry about it.

So, it wasn't a popular thing to do. That Le Tigre chorus runs in my head: "Are you a boy or a girl/Are you a girl or a boy?" A common question before breast development, I assure you, and still a running theme afterwards.

Either way, it made me want to live in Berlin, and excited to live in an (almost) gender ambiguous mecca such as New York City, although it isn't as if I haven't had my problems here (mostly with hairdressers and salespeople). But I do worry about those less progressive areas and although it is great that female masculinity is being celebrated in popular culture and art, I just wonder to what end. I wonder about how politics and art work together a lot lately -- finding the only successful artist doing this sort of work being the great Erik Ehn, and I've seen work by Jess Barbagallo & I'd say it's doing political work as well. I'm not sure why political art is hard, maybe because the language around it can seem like one giant cliche and can't really effectively communicate the severity of political situations like apartheid, homophobia, and Virginia Tech true. It can only try to simulate, or recreate the real world, when maybe the real world is exactly the problem.

This all makes me wonder why I am a poet. If being a poet among poets (because, let's be honest, who else reads poetry?) am I just preaching to a "choir", so to speak. It makes work seem silly, but also always the only work I am able to do. This has been a theme in many conversations in my life recently and I have yet to find any answers. Maybe that's where the best work comes from -- when you find that you can't find any solutions and you have to work in that space where language fails because you haven't found the words for it either.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Feeling Good about Feeling Small: Individual Talents and the Sea of Greatness

"I'd rather talk about turnips" - James Joyce (when asked what he thought of talking about literature)

(*I switch pronouns in this b/c that's the best I can think of, while still being true to rules of pluralization)

A new mantra recently crept its way into my (often repetitive) inner monologue. "Not Better, but different." Needless to say, it's a helpful one to tell oneself, because unlike telling oneself "I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm happy", it doesn't feel like such a blatant lie. In a world of complex and paradoxical systems(modes?) of thought, this one seem very close to a truth. It is important to explain here that I don't mean "different" should be read as "original", because the way that word is used is often translated into "better", "individual", or "unique", and I'm just not convinced these things exist. That, obviously, is the point of the mantra.

In an (American) world where individual trumps community, it seems we are now caught in a constant disease of comparison. How is this person smarter than I? More attractive? More creative? Better this/that/other? It's hard to break, and it is all something one has to realize on one's own, which is difficult, I know. But I think the problem with this mode of thought doesn't just do a disservice to the individual, but to the community said individual works/plays in. I will use the example of intellect here, because after recently coming out of academia as a master's student, it feels the most familiar, and perhaps the least questioned in those circles. Obviously, this concept can be applied to every craft we find important and defines who we are as people.

Why is the intellect seen as the end-all-be-all to the expansion of the self? Why, when someone mispronounces a word, doesn't know a word/theorist/philosopher/author/artist, can't explain the relationship between time/space, can't explain her thoughts, etc!, is he seen as "below" the other, who must obviously be aware of these things.

Isn't there a lot of other things to know? Isn't that person probably not aware of something that person may know (say, how to tie boat knots, do bird cards, fix a bicycle, float in a lake, cook a pesto, bake cake, caulk, double-dutch, dance, feel wind on one's face, recall dreams, !, & obviously !!!) All really important things that I think are sort of forgotten in the "world of the mind". I just don't think it's healthy to focus on one thing only (gym rats have a lot in common to the hyper intellectual, in my mind). Not to say that these people are BAD or SHOULD REALIZE THE ERRORS OF THEIR WAYS!!! That's against what I'm saying. All I'm saying is, I don't think it's healthy for anyone to compare when it comes to people. We're multitudinous! (Not that I want to celebrate over population, but hopefully you get what I mean).

Comparing seems counter-intuitive to community values, and I mean real community, not the "birds of a feather" mentality, because I hope that we can care enough about ourselves to give everyone else some breathing room.

Oh, and I think turnips could actually be a rather thrilling topic of conversation. I bet a farmer would think so too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Statement of Facts

Not so recently, a colleague sent me The Theater of Good Intentions , by Mac Wellman. I agreed with the arguments and the essay made me question my own passive appreciation of certain media outputs. Encouraged to appeal to our own consumptive emotions and expectations we coddle ourselves into the heated blanket of ho-hum "realistic" story-lines, chain stores, office jobs, marriage, and the list goes on. Anything that comforts us from the lawless hullabaloo of events. Thus, anything that disrupts these routines disrupts our reality, or perception of the world (think: break up, mugging, shortage of scones at the local beanery). So, in my own way of thinking, Mac Wellman encourages a heartbreak be imposed upon the theater. That there is no way to portray "reality" in the theater and that Our Town should probably be put to rest. Along with some of Albee's work, in my opinion.

But, my problems are (1) this essay feels awfully close to an artist's statement (and I get a bit uneasy when anyone plans to say what art is/should be) and (2) how do we even begin to guess at the expectations of theater goers, since they are a rather varied lot.

I think there are people who are shocked at things. I taught high schoolers poetry last weekend and they were pretty blown away by Robert Grenier's poem "B BOOM". I am sure the usual patrons of something like Our Town would be shocked as well. But, as a guy in a study group brought up, how do we challenge the group of artists who have already read Samuel Beckett, Mina Loy, James Joyce? I do think those people still have expectations and try to avoid chaos just like everyone one of us does. Many of them probably own apartments, stop at Starbucks when tired, have committed relationships. We can't live entirely in chaos, unless we want to not have the pleasures of this world and enter another. Which might make more sense anyway. But that seems like a different argument, anyway.

Back to the question. How do we challenge those who can already sit through a play with a stage filled with sand? They aren't shocked. What are the expectations of these people? and has the surreal now become cliched in some circles? (I think so. I've seen so many plays where something like a black-hole speaks in a German accent about chaos) What do these people need to wake up from? and why? and what will do that, if it's not speaking black holes, because I don't think it is.

And, as I said in number 1, I don't like artists statements. If I had one, it would be don't make one. How can we say what art needs (invariably, the statement usually just says what art needs is that particular artist)? So I won't answer these questions, and maybe I'm just being a commitaphobe, but I don't like to pretend I have facts. But it is something to think about. Mostly because I don't want a passive society and I want to see plays I like, instead of yet another whimsical misadventure of a singing troupe of bats. But, I guess if done "well", that could be pretty good.

Raving to be continued...?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Blog: Attention

Fellow poet and dear friend, Andrew Reynolds, recently started his own blog. He has been celebrating the work of Ronald H. Bayes for the past few weeks. Andrew introduced me to Bayes' work when I first met him, back in the fall of 2008(?), when we were only young students of poetry -- toting our editions of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics and celebrating the work of our heros, who we would, later on, have to learn to work past if we were to do any poems we could consider to be our own.

Ronald Bayes is a fantastic poet and one I think should be more well known than he already is, and perhaps the fact that he isn't heralded along with the other greats of his age is just because he wasn't in a big city, reading and pushing through the intricate web that is the poetry scene. No matter.

Read and be amazed. His line breaks, as Andrew says, have "Eliot-like control" and his use of language is somehow familiar, but made strange just from the power of his intellect and howling imagination. How he moves from idea to the next seems fluid in only the way one remembers something they forgot, but is unsure where the reminder even came from. Like yes, obviously, this is where we go from here -- return for your forgotten books! Backtracks are sometimes necessary.

I'm not sure what Andrew will write about after the "Ronathon", but it will be amazing, which is made clear just from what he has chosen to show of Ron's work. They are strong poems and encourage the active reader to read on.