30 “Of My Ego and the Muse”


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 day in March? Couldn’t we have made it all one big celebration, one month, one week, or day? 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 also radically deepens my own understanding of a poem when I 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 the crew wanted to build up some high walls and make sure that even the first few lines of a poem would confuse and baffle people. The desire seemed to be for creating unsolvable puzzles in order to prove . . .  what? 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?

Robert Bly at the Poetry Out Loud Minnesota Fi...
Robert Bly at the Poetry Out Loud Minnesota Finals at the FItzgerald Theater. 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 yes, of word play and the joy of language, and turn it into disinterested, philosophical posing, to build high walls around an art museum, top them with barbed wire, and then expect people to climb them, 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 and the cost has to be something that the reader can actually afford. Draw them in, make the puzzle fun, take joy in the play of language even when its 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 goal 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.

Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 kid gets up and blows us away with their Barbra Streisand rendition? And we’ve all had to sit through painful poetry readings too, but damn, isn’t it amazing when the quiet one in the back is brave enough to stand up in front of a crowd to try what I had no guts to do at their 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

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Jamie Dedes says:

    A dear poem and a fine post. I rather think everyone celebrates the month for us. It may technically be “national” but in fact it’s (inter)national poetry month.

    Well done, David. Nice initiative to do the video. Enjoyed.


    1. Thank you, Jamie! I really appreciate that. And probably, yes, I worried more than they did. I suppose if my Irish friends were celebrating National something, I would understand. I’m probably being too politically correct.


  2. Colin says:

    Poetry isn’t about the mind. It isn’t about dissecting metre and rhyme. It’s about the heart, not the head. That’s the power of poetry, and I loathe, yes a strong word, the idea that poetry should be analysed at all.

    If it doesn’t move you, it’s not working. It only moves you if it bypasses your brain and plays chords on your heart, gently or not. I think that’s true.


    1. Is that perhaps what Emily Dickinson meant when she said that only if she felt as if her head were literally lopped off was it poetry? Perhaps. And I agree with much of what you are saying. I only think that the head needs to be there too. It’s the ignoring of the heart and soul that kills me about modern philosophy poets, but the intellect is still a part of being human, just not the whole of it, not by a long shot.
      I am really glad you chimed in here so strongly, Colin. I had just added a couple of sentences as you typed your comment. 🙂


    2. This is what I added: “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.”


    3. Colin says:

      I think…. that we are surrounded by verse, lyrics and poetry, but we make an artificial separation between music and writing. When we put it down on paper, we’re poets, intellectuals, philosophers. When we sing the lines we’ve written, we’re something else. Lyricists. Musicians. Not poets. I don’t know. I think the divide is manufactured, and anyone that is moved by a song is also moved by poetry.

      I guess that’s one of the reasons I like to sing. 😀

      And I think intellect has a back-seat. I’m not saying that the mind should not be there, but I do think that in poetry, the heart is in the driving seat, and whatever intellectual insight can be gained is through the effects that a poem has on feelings. 🙂


    4. I agree with that. I do. The intellect takes a back seat is a good way to say it. And there is so much stuff published in “important” places these days that is heartless and lifeless, and therefore, to me, not even poetry.


  3. Ah, accessibile! That’s the word I planned to use to describe the effect of your readings. It is the world’s poets who make the boundless beauty of dandelions and violet blooms accessible to those of us too focused on the washer hoses.

    Your reading-a-day project is a fabulous means of making poetry more accessible to those who only see a group of words arranged in a certain pattern. It’s perfect for a month dedicated to poetry appreciation.

    Congratulations for completing the month. Whew!


    1. Thanks for being here and for the great feedback!


  4. That is a great poem (which I will never show my wife because she would probably use it against me during some future DIY moment).

    I agree about the whole “reading out loud” thing, especially with poetry, but also with prose. I considered (and actually have done a little) academic writing, and it turns me off due to its sheer lack of lyricism, which I have been told is just the way it’s supposed to be. I think that writing that it unlyrical on purpose is a waste of ink and paper. Perhaps I’m a bit of a snob that way…:o)

    Anyway, I have learned not to judge a book by its cover, but if it can’t be read aloud, well, that’s a different story…


    1. I like the way you think. And thank you!


  5. angryricky says:

    Just wanted to say… Sorry for disconnecting during Poetry Month. I’ve been disconnected from the rest of my life too, from myself. Sometime soon I expect that my soul and I will sit down with a cup of tea and discuss the last few weeks, but I’ve been trying to have that conversation for a few days, and it always ends up with my lying down and crying, not having figured out or resolved anything. I plan to listen to your recordings this week, so prepare yourself for comments on things that have drifted to the back of your mind by now.


    1. Well it only hit me in the last couple of days that you’ve been sparse. It’s been too busy a month here. I wish I could be there, well not in Saudi Arabia, but yeah, okay, even there, if it meant I could be of some help. I’m sorry you are going through this. But you will get through this.
      I look forward to hearing your comments. And I hope you didn’t think I had forgotten about you. Sometimes I put the most important things off until I can do them right, but that doesn’t always work.


    2. angryricky says:

      I do that too. I’ll pull through, though I don’t now know how. I always have, so I believe I always will.


  6. slpmartin says:

    I was sitting here feeling that my postponement of the yard work was cause by a state of laziness…ah but you have convinced me that I have been working hard all day reading and writing poetry…far more arduous than manual labor….so enjoyed the post and reading…glad you ended the month with one of your fine poems.


    1. Glad to provide some vindication! 🙂 Thank you for that, Charles.


  7. John says:

    It’s your ranty posts that made me start following you in the first place. Your defense of poetry as something that shouldn’t be unintelligible, and your sharing of poets who write such lovely words that can actually be understood is why I’ve dubbed you My Poetry Guru.

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post… and, for sharing another of your own poems — beautifully written, and, like Charles, I feel that my day of poetry reading has been a workday well spent.


    1. John, I just cannot say strongly enough–I doubt I could rant long enough about–how much I appreciate you, and how your encouragement warms my heart. Thank you a hundred times.

      You remind me of a teacher of mine. I handed her a poem about my first son having “found his feet.” He was so fascinated by the discovery that I was compelled to memorialize the moment with a poem. I showed it to my professor, confessing that should have been studying for mid-terms. She nodded and replied, “Sometimes you have to do the important things first.”


  8. Hooray for “Of My Ego and the Muse”! I applaud your use, here and everywhere, of your *poetry* toolbox. (That faucet can wait, you know?)


    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate that a whole bunch-lot!


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