Well, you can scroll past some commentary and a pretty intense rant to get right to the poetry video if you want, but if you’re feeling feisty, hop right in!
The Good, Nothing Really Bad, and the Slightly Ugly of NaPoMo
So here we come to the end of another April, dubbed National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets. Most of this month I just dropped the first word. I’ve had enough of nationalism, to be honest. The internet goes well beyond the borders of countries. Maybe it’s a small thing to you, but every time I wrote “National Poetry Month” I wondered if my very dear friends in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, Holland. . . well you get the idea, I wondered if it ever crossed their minds, yeah, they’re leaving us out of this too.
Don’t get me wrong, The Academy did a good thing. Especially when you consider any funding for education in writing and poetry that could come out of this. It’s just here on the web we don’t have such boundaries. Isn’t world poetry month in March? Couldn’t we have made it all one Poetry Month? Ah well. There seems no fixing it now, except for me to drop that first word. It’s a small thing? Well, maybe.
As for the poem-a-day thing. Wow. I am so impressed with so many of you. I only managed to highlight a few of my poet friends who were attempting to keep up with the NaPoWriMo challenges, but there are several I still want to share with you when this month is over (like any minute now?), particularly ones who tend to write, or at least post a poem nearly every day anyhow, and many who record their own work and post the audio. I’ve attempted it before, and I’ve never ended the month with more than 20 poems, so my hat is off to you all, and I raise my glass in your honor. Would that we could all sit down and enjoy a bottle or six together now that you’ve met your goals.
My Record-a-Poem-a-Day Project
My own project this year was much like last, except that I used a good bit of audio recording on SoundCloud, and a lot less video. I wanted to record and post a poem each day again this year, not because I’m in love with the sound of my own voice, but because I hear over and over again just how much it changes people’s perception of poetry when they hear it read aloud. It radically deepens understanding of a poem by the attempt to interpret it vocally, or in the case of some marvelous deaf poets like Raymond Lukzac, to literally wrap their hands about its interpretation and delivery.
My Rant About Why I Do This
Face it, as annoying as Tom from the Scarriet blog may be, he’s right about one thing, we poets as a community seemed to decide, somewhere between modernism and postmodernism, that poetry was going to be an impenetrably difficult art. Forget about reading many messages, some on the surface, some as we dive deeper, no we wanted to build up some high walls and make sure that even the first few lines of a poem would confuse and baffle people. We didn’t just want a game, we wanted an unsolvable puzzle to prove just how smart, how special, how profound we deep-thinking, dark poetry-types really are. Honestly, I cringe at the anti-intellectual movement too but are you willing to consider that part of that movement is a response not to intelligence and education, but to arrogance and classism. And why the hell do we want classism in the arts anyway?
Am I going too far? Fair enough, and I might even argue with myself on a point or two, but I’m making these extreme statements because whether or not this is what we intended, it is in fact how many people feel about poets and poetry.
What an awful thing to do to art, to take it out of the arena of humanity, that meeting of spirit, guts and intellect, and turn it into disinterested philosophical posing, to build high walls around an art museum and expect people to climb them, then to fumble with impossible locks on the doors before they can get in. Or if the door is unlocked, the price is too high for a ticket.
It is changing, thanks in large part to programs like Poetry Out Loud and coffee shop readings, and yes, like it or not, the fun and boisterousness of slam poetry. It’s about being human, about communicating, out loud. Listening, or better yet, reading it out loud makes those words breath for us. Do we really only want to have our poems seen by other poets? I say that’s true for me only if that means that all the world starts to write poetry.
It’s not that I’m against difficulty, but the museum has to have a door. Draw them in, then make the puzzle fun, take joy in the play of language even when it’s subject is dark, and make me feel more alive having experienced it. Is that so much to ask of poetry? Or is the pressure to publish too soon (I’m speaking of professional programs) short changing the young poets who haven’t had time to let their work simmer and gain depth of flavor?
As I said, things have been slowly changing, and it’s really my dream to be some small part of that change. So when someone tells me that a poem came alive to them in some way after hearing me read it, I’m ecstatic, almost tearful with joy. I’m not kidding or exaggerating. But even better is when people tell me that I’ve inspired them to start reading out loud too, to take poetry into their own hands, to read it, to write it, to speak it out. Well, I cannot think of much in this world that makes me happier.
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing.
One last thing about my modus operandi this year. I thank you, my readers for the kind comments on all of these readings, and I respect those few of you with a discerning ear who said, sometimes privately, “You could have read that better.” I admit you were probably right. But this year I stated at the very beginning that one of the goals was to read these poems in as few takes as possible, rather than my normal picky careful, obsessive approach.
Why? Really, I should have talked more loudly and more frequently about this. You see, a friend yesterday, when I enthusiastically told her how I loved the audio readings that she emailed to me, and that she should upload them, she said that she was far too shy to do that. Have you noticed that even poets often seem reluctant to read their own work?
But it’s word-play; it’s sound; it’s meant to be read out loud and tasted, experienced by more than just the eye. It’s meant to be heard as much as music is meant to be listened to and played. Why have we gone and made people afraid and self-conscious about this very natural thing?
It should not be left to the “professionals.” I love the fact that more and more bands are playing in bars and clubs again. I love the Monday night music jams we go to at a local bar here where we live. People come from all over, bring their instruments and get up to play with the band!
How else will we learn? How else will we spread the joy of it, the sheer thrill of dancing with words? Granted, karaoke is sometimes a nightmare to sit through, but isn’t it awesome when that shy girl gets up and blows us away with her Barbra Streisand rendition? And we’ve all had to sit through painful poetry readings too, but damn, isn’t it amazing that the kid with the black dyed hair and eyeshadow had the balls to actually stand up in front of a crowd to try what I had no guts to do at his age?
We say if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, but some things are just worth doing. Period. And maybe if I can just jump up to the microphone and treat it like it’s something natural, maybe that will help others to be less afraid. Maybe even some of the listless readers among the professionals will learn from the enthusiasm of the youth, and start reading in a way that doesn’t put the crowd to sleep.
Critiques can come later. We can and should have classes about technique and rhyme, and meter, and the avoidance of cliche. Yes, of course, we should. But dammit where is our Barbaric Yawp? Maybe, just maybe the only way to read poetry well is to just read it, and that means sometimes reading it badly, especially at first.
How much critique do you give your children on those crayon and watercolor pictures you have hanging on your fridge door? Yeah, I thought so. There is a time and a need for critique and technique, but there is a time to cut loose and get sloppy on the dance floor as well. Let’s just read this stuff because it’s fun, because it brings us joy, or makes us cry, or helps us feel less alone in this world. Please?
Okay, so there you go, that is what I am about.
So, for the last poem of the thirty, I bring you an old poem I wrote. I posted it last April, but I’ve never recorded it until now. Maybe not my best, my deepest, or most clever, but it’s actually pretty damn smart now that I think about it. You see, accessible does not (say it with me now) equal simplistic. In technical terms, I would say that the language of this poem was a fun experiment for me in having the words and the lines do what the poem is saying. The line is oddly “bent,” like the railing. Squeaks and sticks are onomatopoeia words. They make the sounds they describe. And besides that, it’s a very human poem.
I thought of it while driving home the other day, all the beautiful yellow dandelions on the new growing spring grass. Then I passed a lawn which was all the same, no color, no clover, no variation . . . Hey, maybe this really does fit the rant above. But I’ll leave it at that and give you the poem, “Of My Ego and the Muse.” You’ll notice that I only did this one in one take, and my kitty cat, Milton decided he wanted to read with me. Why not?
Of My Ego and the Muse
The rusty kitchen faucet drips and drips;
our oven needs a heating element;
the door knob to the bathroom squeaks and sticks,
and the railing in the stairway is oddly bent.
One day I’ll switch the hoses to the washer
so hot is hot and cold is cold again,
and find the reason that old dryer
never dries but only rocks and spins.
In the interim, my toolbox sits unused.
Our speckled lawn grows weedy and unmown
with dandelions and violet blooms,
while I sweat and labor. . . at this poem.
© David J. Bauman 2012