Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Back Our Vocal Chords

I recently heard a fascinating quote by the band director and composter, John Phillip Sousa. He was testifying before Congress in 1906 about the new recording industry. Apparently he wasn't much of a fan. This is what he said:

"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

What Sousa predicted is exactly what happened. We have learned to be entertained, but for the most part we have stopped making music, we have stopped singing. We have stopped telling stories. We have stopped making art. We have stopped making much of anything.

I love to listen to recorded music by the best musicians and to watch movies with the most accomplished actors and directors and to read books by the greatest writers I can find. But the truth is, I have learned how to consume and I haven't forced myself to learn how to create.

And even the creating I do, I spend a lot of time comparing, unfavorably, to the professionals.

Did you know there's a wonderfully vibrant and rich and varied poetry community in the Sacramento area? There are regular poetry readings, poetry workshops, several print and online publications all full of poetry by local area poets.

I am, in fits and starts, and in a very limited degree, a new member of that community.

Sometimes, though, I can get a little jaded attitude about these endeavours. Because the truth is, none of us are Billy Collins or Emily Dickinson. Actually, most of us are amateurs. I certainly am. And most of the writing that comes out of this community is not something that is going to amaze or entertain or impress the rest of the world.

When I'm in my rather pride-filled, ego obsessed state of mind, I think this way. I can feel a sort of cynical contempt about what we are doing.

I'm afraid this elitist or consumeristic point of view is not that uncommon. I wonder if it's another symptom of the destructive edge to our entertainment culture. We have become used to the professionals entertaining us--through their poetry, their movies, their music, their art. Our art doesn't measure up, and it's easier just to be a consumer anyway.

If you read a local poetry journal, or go to a local poetry reading, or a local concert, play, or art show, you will have endure a few more sour notes than if you went to a professional gig. I personally don't like sour notes as much as sweet ones. I like making sour notes, (or mediocre poetry) even less.

But if you go to a local poetry reading or a local concert or play, you will have a chance to know something beautiful and mostly secret about your neighbors and the way they see this world. If you make art and then share it, you will have a chance to know something sacred about yourself. The artist and the audience have a little chance together to think about what is beautiful and what is true.

My deep hope and prayer is that our community could move away from the couch potato mentality. We could turn off the cd player and the dvd and sing to our children. We could make our friends a book of our stories. We could hang a picture we made on the wall.

We are the people that actually exist in our community, after all. With the skill level we actually have. And I think it makes our community far more interesting and healthier when we are making art together.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Do you know about Poetry Daily

Some how, my husband-- who is among many more important things both a marvelous combination of someone who knows everything there possibly is to know about computers and someone who wonderously enough seems to like me quite a lot-- anyway, to get back to my point, this aforementioned gentleman friend of mine has managed to put on my web browser "home page" a link to Poetry Daily, and it's really wonderful... I don't know how you do the link thingy, but you can find the site here...

Check out this marvelous poem by a Spanish poet --

And may you enjoy your day and the friends that find you in it.


I just keep saying the same thing

But here's another poem that helps me say it...