oetry is a sharing.
Rhyme, meter, form, these mnemonic devices
of the bards help them carry the good music afar, help turning
foes into friends. I like to share myself, I like to share
my friends, I like to share those texts I have learned to
love. And, through the performance, I carry. I carry these
texts, these friends, this self into the sensibilities there,
across from me, beyond the walls of the city, into you —
the listeners. (At least I think I do. I wish I always did.)
I want these texts, merely through their
words, maybe with a little help from inflections of the voice
and a few gestures, I want these words to live, to touch the
I in the Listener. I want them to take root, to grow. Otherwise
there is no point to my performing.
This is what I want to do, what I tend
to do, what I enjoy in other poets. This is what I encourage.
A wise elf (Ra's Elf, alias Ralph LaCharity)
built the trilogy of maxims: Poetry is not the poem; Poetry
is not the performance; Poetry performance is an attempt at
poetry. (Would he perchance have meant, an attempt upon
Any attempt to define an art, to set
any limits to it, rightly rouses the ire of the guardians
of freedom. A maxim, however, may simply serve us as the juncture,
the articulation of further discussion, emendation and amendment.
And yet, I would prefer to cite, "A
poem, a performance is not an Attmept but a Tempting,
a tempting of the Muse." A lure? A trap? How about
catching the Muse in a nice little cage made of words?
And, this nice little cage, we build
it for the single purpose of bringing our present to the I
within our Listener or Reader, where gently we "paint
out the bars of the cage and wait for the bird to sing."
(Recognize Jacques Prevért's poem, How to Paint the
Portrait of a Bird?)
This metaphor of the Muse and the Bird
lures us into discussing the Accessibility of the poem. Shoudl
the poetry be made accessible to the listener? Or should the
listener be made accessible to the poetry? Is accessibility
desirable at all?
Our nice little cage of words is a cousin
to the Trojan horse. Looked like a horse, (spoke like a horse?),
rolled on wheels for easy access. And the city was made to
want to receive the gifted horse and to break down its defenses
Another sage said that In a poem
every word, as it follows another word, is a surprise.
Wonderful spritely image: I can see myself leaping from surprise
to surprise, entranced by the highs as in a traversal obstacle
But my type of course is one that I can
follow. And the course I like to offer in performance is one
that you, I hope, can follow: looks like a poem, speaks like
a poem, rolls on wheels, gives me a high, gives you a high.
There are limits to the word condensation,
to the density of surprises that can effectively be carried
into the I of the Listener. Efficacy ranks high with beauty,
craft and language. If it can't be made effective, a poem
is not for performance.
There are many types of poems as there
are types of paintings. A picture can be exhibited, enjoyed
in the privacy of silent beholding. A poem can be printed,
enjoyed in the privacy of silent reading.
graphics of a poem may be one of its imporatant assets, operating
through the eye of the reader, almost impossible to render
At the other extreme, there
is the show unfettered by concerns for meaning, performance
that is pure music of the words. The graphic notation, here
the print, elicits re-creation at each reading, as with music
or drama. This too is a Tempting of the Muse, ensnaring the
listener, effectively shattering the defenses of the I. Like
a Lewis Carroll tale, the poem keeps your Alice in her perpetual
From another sage I read that it is Prose's
task to remain accessible; no such tax to be levied against
Poetry! Support First-Amendment Rights for Poets! I have no
qualms in the name of poetry, but I do disagree in the name
of performance, in the name of the sharing, in the hallowed
memory of Sappho and Homer, for the seeds they planted and
still we plant beyond the walls of the city, for the flowers
we tend and nurture within the I of the Listener, for the
sake of the growing.
Another contender argued
that This stuff of performance is not poetry but "political
speech," propagandistic rhetoric. That is right,
sometimes. The previous paragraph is rhetorical (meaning
oratorical), but it is not "a jungle of words with no
substance." It is not obfuscation, grandiloquent feel-good
phraseology that in fact is deception. If political speech
approached our "stuff of performance," the aim of
Dada and surrealism would have been achieved. They blamed
the outbreak of the Great War on the incrustation of the language
of their politicians and public. We here still have much to
In the facts, I mean, in the facts
of History, many poets were politically oriented. Many
poets were elected to State offices after revolutions. Proof
that they had been effective. Proof that their poems were
speeches that spoke, not diatribes that wore. Their poems
grew new flowers, new hopes, in the I of their Listeners.
Often these new flowers heralded a new nation.
We sport many sages in poetry. Another
of them maintained that a poem must be relished alone, line
by line, silently, must be read again and again until it sings
of its own. "I recognize a good poem," he said,
"when I feel the desire to memorize it." It is not
for me to add any more about his approach to his Muse. De
gustibus et coloribus non est discutandum.
And yet, my own taste for a good poem
is whetted when I feel the urge to translate it, to carry
it further, to take it on my voice to re-create the spirit
of its birth for a different audience, when I feel the urge
to till for it new grounds.