Thursday, September 30, 2010

Emily Dickinson for President!!!

Since truth requires Art, I’d like to talk about the relationship between politics and the Arts.  I believe the vituperative atmosphere of politics and punditry is partly and largely due to the absence of Art and therefore Truth and its pursuit in our daily lives

To turn on the TV is to hear countless people bawling out opinions as if 1) they knew something and 2) they are facts.  Neither is true.  Facts, whether true or not, are taken for Truth even by some very good people.  Freed of Truth, facts have devolved into name-calling and thoughtlessness masquerading as discourse, which, of course, it is not.

The absence of the pursuit of serious art—music, dance, sculpture, painting, literature—in our daily life and in the schools is the greatest problem facing America, perhaps the world, today.  The humbling honesty of Art and its pursuit bring wisdom, thoughtfulness and erudition to our tables.  Another by-product is a profound respect for the thoughts and opinions of others.  I hasten to add that the road to peace goes straight through the arts.  Without the lessons of the Arts, the schooling in our universal concerns and cares,  our deepest yearnings and how we deal with them, the notion of lasting peace is both empty and pointless.

Even the smallest honest poem contributes to mankind (Emily Dickinson comes to mind).  The study of any of the world’s great poetry finds the DNA of the human soul.  We all share it and participate in its growth.  Failing to be instructed in the Arts diminishes it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

“When it comes to the truth, to hell with the facts.” William Styron

William Styron said that in a lecture at Trinity College, Hartford, CT on the day he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968.  It has been an important reminder to me of the not-that-obvious axiom that fiction deals in truth.  In fact, I am inclined to say that truth requires fiction.

 Fictions almost always inhabit poetry and those that do are almost always relevant to whatever truth the poet is trying to get across, and I say “get across” because the element of truth that makes fiction necessary is that it is unsayable and so we are always trying to get across the gap between truth and wherever we are.  This makes poetry sound impossibly difficult, which it is.  It is also impossibly alluring because we know that truth exists and that we want it in our grasp.

So, there I was writing all summer long about my sister dying and trying like the devil to speak the truth while knowing that I probably couldn’t and that I had to let the poem create its own fiction in service to the truth and my desire to say it.  Let me repeat, loudly:  I HAD TO LET THE POEM CREATE ITS OWN FICTION.

Often, our desire to say the truth, the facts, gets in the way of our art and it is art that points the way to truth, not fact.  We must sacrifice the facts about even our loved ones if we are to get at the truth we  want to write, the truth we want to honor them with.

It is up to the readiness of our craft to let the poem evolve as it wants to, to let the poem navigate its own way to the truth.  This is the point of yesterday’s entry about being ready to write about death.

I hope this hasn’t been confusing.  Or maybe I do.

So long for now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Being Ready to Write About Death

Salud!  I’m back after a summer of great discontent marked essentially by the sickness and death of my older sister, Alice, whose unsuccessful bout with uterine cancer, abetted by a host of other challenges, caused me to learn a number of things about writing.

I’ve said it many times before but WRITE EVERY DAY; that is, write lots, practice your craft.  Do not wait for inspiration.  Be ready for it.  Indeed, learn to create it.  By being in practice, by learning to write under any circumstance, you can be ready to write and write well even when most emotional and this is when you have the most to say because it is when you feel the most.

There is a problem at the juncture of deep emotion and the desire to write, especially if you are not prepared to write while under stress.  As poets we are trying to say what cannot be said and that challenge becomes greater the greater the emotion.  It ain’t for sissies, goddamit!  And you will lose the depth, the passion, if your craft is insufficient.

I was rewarded by having been in practice when Alice went into the hospital, when I first discovered she was gravely ill.  I started writing immediately and wrote daily just as I spoke with her daily until she could no longer speak.  Then I spoke with her husband.  As I wrote I realized that the stuff I was writing was pretty good.

I tracked the daily changes, tests and results, the fluctuations in my mood, her mood, the prospects of survival, the likelihood of death at various future intervals, the deep emotions that accompanied the fact that I was losing my eldest sibling, the first of us (five) to die.  When it got to the end I was able to write about her final hour, the first hour afterward.  Some of it was dour stuff but there were times of humor, joy and release as well.

The point is that I could write, distance myself enough from what was going on to reflect and (to cite Wordsworth) recollect in relative tranquility and to summon enough ready craft to do justice to the material.  I could not have done so had I not been in practice.

Next time, look for comments on fact vs truth.

So long for now.