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 Poetry?)

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 against it.

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 course.

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.

The graphics of a poem may be one of its imporatant assets, operating through the eye of the reader, almost impossible to render in performance.

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 wonderland.

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 do.

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.


::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: august 2002
  a discourSe oN freedoM writteN by lou suSi