This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.Toni Morrison
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.
In hindsight this seems obvious, but for a system to be resilient, it must have diversity. The classic example is mono-culture agriculture. Efficient, yes. Everything matures at the same time so it can be harvested all at once. But when some pest finds an opening, the entire crop is vulnerable. Not just one farm, but all farms with the same strain. Fragile.
Laurence Musgrove’s latest project, Texas Poetry Ballot, published my poem, Conversation at the Gates of Hell yesterday. He attracts a lot of very fine poets, mostly English professors, including several Texas Poet Laureates, present and past. It’s somewhat intimidating company. This is my third poem he’s published, so I’m getting the idea that maybe I belong there too.
It’s like going to Black Belt camp and feeling like an impostor. The following week is open to anyone and I notice I’m right where I belong.
When I read interviews with or attend presentations by more established poets, they frequently talk about projects they are working on, a collection of poems written to a specific topic or title. I have two draft chapbooks (Coyote and Lost and cancer poems) I put together from existing poems. The above poem seems like the kickoff poem from a project called Conversations at the Gates of Hell. I have earlier poem that fits in the project. It sounds like a collection I’d like to read.
A favorite Texas poet, Laurence Musgrove, has a new project, Texas Poetry Ballot, on the upcoming election. He’s accepted two poems of mine. The first was published today. Read State of the Union on his Website, then read the rest of them. They are very good.
I’ve been playing guitar off and on since the 70s. I’ve learned enough to play electric blues and blues/rock at the amateur intermediate level, but I’ve had no success improvising beyond mixing various rhythm guitar riffs.
Recently I’ve realized I can improvise in my cooking, taking the spices from one dish with some additional spices or herbs with a different protein and a different cooking method. Then I add whatever vegetables are on hand that fit. I routinely roll cut (a Chinese technique, see Simply Ming: Roll Cutting Technique) the carrots and zucchinis in stews and sautes of European roots.
All my poems are improvisation.
With music, it’s easy to point at wrong notes. Other than bent notes, there is no close enough to get by. With daily cooking, off perfect a little is generally still quite good. My distinction between peasant cooking and high cuisine it that peasant cooking is quite tolerant of slight or even moderate changes (most ingredients can easily cut in half or doubled). High cuisine is frequently pushed to the point of breaking so off by a bit often breaks badly.
Maybe it’s perfectionism not ability that stands in my way.
As Anthony Wilson tells in The most popular lifesaving poems, he pivoted his blog several years ago to the afore mentioned topic. Mary Oliver’s The Journey tops the list. They all are worth reading. Naomi Shihab Nye’s The Art of Disappearing was helpful as I was completing my Author’s Mission Statement.
How (And Why) to Create an Author Mission Statement is a guest column on the Writer Unboxed blog. It’s a five step process to getting clear about the goal of your writing:
- What you write (e.g., poems, essays, novels)?
- Who you write for (e.g., children, young adults)?
- Why you write (e.g., money, fame)?
- Put it together (combine the the answers).
- Put it to work.
My mission is writing free-verse poetry for a fairly literate crowd (not necessarily literate about poetry) to show alternative views, viewpoints, and understandings. Getting paid is nice, but is not the point. Fame may be embarrassing or counter-productive (see The Art of Disappearing by Naomi Shihab Nye). Getting published where many people will read my work and are likely to get what I’m trying to get across (i.e., with open minds) is the point.
Some but not all of my links to YouTube are being forbidden. I’ve tried logging out and trying again. Those are also forbidden. I have not found a way around this. I’ve unlinked all affected links. Hopefully, if you want to see the referenced video, there is enough context to find it on your own. Sorry.