Friday, August 30, 2013
Try Something New
I’m devoting some of the time I’ve gained by retiring to things that are new. I’m lucky in that my kids keep me up on new music. Their tastes range widely and they share new groups with me. But for the most part finding things that are new requires work. The internet helps. So, sometimes, does Face Book. Face Book is how I found Button Poetry. Someone shared a link, I watched my first video of a spoken poet, and there you go. I read lots of poetry as an English major and an English teacher but I never had time for poetry when I did social work. I was lucky if I could read everything I wanted in the newspaper.
Bear with me here. If prose writing: the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that make up the books you read, or this piece here, were corn-(I know, it’s a stretch) then poetry is the whiskey that comes from it. Poetry is words which are mashed, cooked, distilled, and aged before presenting. Bushels of bushels of corn are needed to make one shot of whiskey. Prose writers explain, extrapolate, expand on, intertwine, writing for hours, months, and sometimes years to produce an 80,000 word novel. Poets skip all that and give you only the barest essentials needed to trigger your emotion and convey their thoughts in words which rarely number more than a few hundred.
Button Poetry exists online. It is writing and acting combined. Performance art. You click a button and a poet speaks his or her poem into a microphone before a video camera to an audience at an event called a poetry slam. And then the audience is multiplied by making the video available on line. The poets are young. I recently saw young poets reciting their work live at LitFest in Chicago to small crowds and bought the printed poetry books of some, but the books were an afterthought to the performance. Button Poetry does not give the viewer an option to read the poems in print, which is a mistake I think. But this is a new and different medium. Poetry slams are catching on and bringing original composition, art in the form of poetry, to young people everywhere, but particularly in urban areas.
The difference between simply reading the words and both hearing and seeing them spoken, by the author, are very different. I have an audio recording, somewhere, of an old and now dead poet T.S. Eliot reciting The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock, a poem he wrote in 1915. What you hear is a quivery and monotone voice using a very slow cadence which makes the poem even creepier than it seemed in black and white on a piece of paper. I think it’s just as well I didn’t see T.S. on video.
These button poets are emotional. It’s what makes their presentations and their poetry powerful. Poetry is really more of a hobby for writers these days. The amount of money that is paid by us to purchase poems and the money spent by the publishing industry printing books of poetry is shrinking, or has shrunk, to miniscule amounts. Printed poetry exists now mostly due to the largesse of charitable foundations and supporting gifts from corporations and good people. But spoken poetry, the words heard once before fading in the air and rarely, maybe never, read on paper has found a new and growing audience largely among the young and perhaps, through online efforts like Button Poetry, with older people as well.
Enough of me writing about it; give it a try. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) probably would not have chosen to attend a poetry slam and consented to be videotaped belting out I heard a Fly buzz-when I died but then Emily didn’t have the internet, a laptop, a smart phone, e mail, an I Pad, Face Book, or Twitter either. But you do.
I suggest you view Natalie Illum - "Blueprint" (you can click that) reciting the almost impossible to deliver poem by a daughter recalling her own brilliant but addicted father. While you’re there you could try (these are not links by the way) Dylan Garity’s “Friend Zone” or Denise Froham reading “Dear Straight People”. Anything Neil Hilborn does is great. They’re short. Try a bunch. And if you like, you can subscribe to Button Poetry for free (which is a problem all its own, but for another time). Button Poetry would be in the category of exposing ourselves to art, and the new ideas it creates, however it’s presented. If art is an individual trying to explain his experience with life in this world to you, these young poets are creating art at full volume. It’s not for everyone, but then nothing is.
Take for example last week’s update “Urn or Coffin.” I now realize everyone does not enjoy death and dying as a topic of discussion, but then I might have guessed that. Live and learn. Death is pesky though. Try as we might, it just won’t go away. Enjoy these poets while you still can.