This is off the subject perhaps, but it has a purpose. Has anyone ever pulled this on you? Have you ever been handed a sentence, a paragraph or a poem – by Emily Dickinson, perhaps, and asked to do something to prove a point? Let’s take as an example, her famous poem, beginning:
(WARNING: This little exercise may stay in your head for days!)
”Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The carriage held but just ourselves
….then you are given the kicker! You are told to SING THOSE WORDS to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
See what is happening?
On the simplest level, you are reminded (because you probably knew this already) that songs are patterns of speech set to music – sound and patterns…through carefully selected words….and thus connected.
People close to me know that I have until recently been on a tear about a few things having to deal with ART. Like a lot of geezers I keep insisting that there IS such a thing as ART and that that THING remains ART even though some among us, who are more casual, seem to be unconcerned about the issue.
That doesn’t surprise me because I taught younger people and have seen them grow into middle aged people, while I remain, of course, unchanged! They seem to worry less about things I feel are important. And I think that much of what they are NOT learning is dangerous for their futures.
I’ll get back to ART shortly, but what if the ones you would like to influence appear to not be ready?
Well, some things have become frighteningly clear to us Geezers: You must have noticed that when college freshmen are questioned about things they should know, and need to know, they are often ignorant. The majority cannot identify Benito Mussolini, do not know the basic facts about the Statue of Liberty, cannot identify the major opposing nations in World War II, cannot name even one of their two US Senators, nor locate Africa on a map of the world, etc
They are apparently not being taught skills and knowledge once believed to be necessary to life.
Analog clocks are disappearing from classrooms for our youngest because they cannot use them for their purpose and the exact time is freely displayed on their phones and laptops. Answers to most questions are available instantly so why waste “time”?
But what if they don’t know the QUESTIONS they should be asking to seek those ANSWERS? What does one learn by glancing at a map and deciding on a good way to drive from San Francisco to a restaurant in San Jose….then driving there?
To use a recent example: I saw on the map that I would take 101 South, exit right at State route 87 in San Jose, take the first exit, turn left and drive four blocks to the Restaurant!
It was clear in my head, start to finish, and I could visualize it. I made such trips with others who did the exercise differently. They entered the destination into their cell phones and slavishly followed the impersonal voice.
Here is another example A good friend, who had never driven cross-country, wanted to drive from Sonoma County to Louisiana for a wedding. From many such trips, before and after the Interstate System, I instantly visualized the best, yet scenic, route – with alternatives – thought about distances between major cities, locations of good rest stops and the placement of major truck stops where the lower fuel costs are substantial! I shared this and additional information with him.
(He made the journey and returned without a problem and enjoyed the experience. He later made additional trips and is now an “old hand.)
I believe my way of using maps and visualizing is preferable because it requires one to know in advance where he is going, how to get there and prepares him to be ready for key turning points…and to keep in mind that this is a trip to a destination.
But, in art I am usually focused on more than one thing at a time. And because of that, and a few other possible human failings, when writing I’m not always focused on one particular story or on one manner of telling it. Perhaps you have noticed.
Back when I was teaching, I would be happily traveling along on point, then something of interest would occur to me and I’d incorporate it into my tale. Although it could have been confusing, my students, as students always do, figured me out early, and we never had serious problems after getting to know each other.
As I often told them when speaking of poetry – “Poetry is the art of saying something by saying something else, by alluding to, not by describing.” Even the younger ones understood that.
In my writing later on, and especially of late, I have begun to focus more on those disparate ideas and examples and began to weave them together.
Using works from various art forms, I simply try to focus the reader on a major aspect of life., not as it is, but as how it COULD be…while keeping to a topic of interest to me. In my February Welcome Column, I wrote about using, while honoring and respecting, certain works of art and songs and poems that affect me, often in ways I could not have imagined until I had finished.
The poem below was a couple years in the making, and more than once I dropped it, even forgetting all about it for a while. . I think I picked it up later because I wanted to say something to SOMEONE about the magic of art – all art – when mixed and blended into a new piece of SOMETHING!
I found the catalyst in the words and music of the Kruger Brothers. I had seen a brief notice about these brothers, banjo and guitar, who were from Switzerland but loved American Bluegrass and Country music and had moved to the US permanently. As very young boys they had experimented with various instruments and musical styles and tastes.
I later found a YouTube version of their haunting, “Forever And A Day” and was hooked. I worked their musical story from that song into a poem titled “Embody” that I was writing, a poem about how some words, while welcome elsewhere, simply did not contribute to poems into which they had been thrust. Late in my poem “Embody,” however, the poem’s speaker becomes more accepting of the questioned – indeed of all – words.
I read this poem called “Interlude”
by an otherwise good poet,
but ride up hard against the word
“embody,” in the second line.
That whole poem begins to suffer
right there inside this hard cover book
from Port Townsend, Washington,
but I persist and the rest of the poem
is not that bad. Yet, against my will,
my eye has been captured by that
embody, which has begun to build
a dam around itself. Sometimes
I read a poem so pure
I never have to read it again.
That’s when a rare music lifts
and floats even before I finish
my coffee. Like this morning
with my cheese and bagel –
the television glowing,
a banjo picker from Switzerland,
in love with Kentucky,
picks with eyes closed
while his chubby brother
sings sweetly about
waiting for their mother
who will soon return to un-named
bays filled with icebergs that could be
Norway, from which she had sailed
for a reason never told. They sing,
“Seems like you were gone forever,
but for you I’ll wait forever and a day,”
and I think: Bays and great Norse sagas
certify mothers and why they leave
and why they return to sons in winter.
And embodied in faces and chorus,
of patient sons with banjo and mandolin
is the Norway of frozen seas… and Oslo
and Port Townsend, Washington… where
the ebb and flow of cold winter tides
flow out to the unknowns, but must return.
– C Brady