Sunday 10 September 2006
A PARADE OF POETS
Is this my tulip meadow, decked out with flags? The woman calling through the bullhorn, is it poetry she shouts? The police at the corner, they are blocking the road... for a parade? Here they come. Here they come.
I can see their figures now, forming in the mist. Stafford, Hugo, Wagoner, Broughton. Roethke, Kizer, Levertov, Welch. McHugh and Hamill. Alexie and Bierds. Loudon and Martinez. A parade of Northwest poets, here they come.
Ah no, this is only an Iron Girl 10K. It is not a poet, but a runner passing by.
And now the flags are down, here in my meadow, this morning, there is a blackbird, a velvet blackbird pulling worms from the theatre floor. Not a crow. Not a red-wing. Not a wren. But a deep, dark, black bird, with albino eyes and a pointed beak. A small round body. He is fascinated with my umbrella. My black umbrella.
He just stretched a wing and kicked out a leg. I shall call him Strawberry. Imagine, this stroke of black, this deep, this dark sheen, in a strawberry patch.
CATALOGUE OF THE BIRDS
If everything were to slow down, if everything were suddenly to move at half pace, then slower, at one-eighth time, the birds would sing an organ hymn. Humans too would sing, perhaps an oboe. Legs would lift like drawbridges. The church bells drift like a whale song over Aurora. The traffic turn to a soft wind. "You can take any melody in the world, and by just shifting its rhythm and tempo[…] you can make it fit a love scene or a war scene. Just rhythm and tempo. Well, that's one of the oldest tricks in the world" (Stan Brakhage).
Late 20th Century French composer, Olivier Messiaen, wrote a "Catalogue of the Birds" for piano. He studied birdsong, sped it up, slowed it down. I can imagine him here, a piano in place of my desk, slowing time for Green Lake. Making the beautiful, beautiful. Making art out of the ordinary.
Most famous for his "Music for the End of Time," composed in 1941 while interned in a German concentration camp, Messiaen is concerned not only about pace but about the color of music. He talks of blue-orange piano chords. "When I hear sounds, I see colors in my mind. I tell this to the critics, I have explained it to my students but nobody believes me...."
Messiaen, I invite you to sound this green lake, sing Strawberry, amplify the flicker's tweed jacket.
A SAFE PLACE
Matt was the first to stop by. He comes to the lake twice a day now. And so I asked, "What do you get out of it? I mean, why Green Lake? Why not the sound? Why not the canal?"
He said, "It's a circle. It's safe."
He echoed Ken's sentiments from last week. "It feels safe. There's nothing like this in San Bernardino. This is a special place."
And so I want to know about this word, safe. What does a person do in a safe place? Do you talk in a safe place? Can you make contact in a safe place? Or does it mean quiet? Does safe mean shunted? Does it mean turn off? Or does it just mean relax? How much time can we spend in a safe place?
This is no promenade. This is a refuge. A safe place. What if we were to turn this safe place into a vital place? A community base, a healing place, a meeting space? What if… no. No, now you're dreaming. The impossible. The impractical. The inconceivable. Places like this have doors and dues. Places like this cost money.
I've been rolling my desk on a wooden trivet, a houseplant stand, instead of carrying it, these past two weeks. It's far from ideal, but it avoids the bruises, and it fits in my desk drawer. I can push my desk all the way from PCC to the edge of the park. As Bruce helped me up from the lake, he noted, "It's got a sort of third world feel." Driving my desk by its stiff wooden legs, the front edge resting on a 15" trivet with plastic casters. And every few feet, a rough patch, and it skids to a stop and the desk falls off and my trivet tips to the pavement.
The apples. Did I mention the apples falling from the trees? And the butterflies in the bush, losing their lavender? And the blackberries, small buttons now, dangling from the vine?
The Seattle sky, in spring and fall, is electric. It bends the light onto the moist soil, it fills like a balloon and shocks the deepest, brightest colors out of a thing, a violet, a rose, a plum, an aspen. Everything low to the ground makes a sun, makes the humans stop and stare.
THE CHICKEN YARD
I'm finishing up with the transcripts of Stan Brakhage's 1982 radio show "Test of Time." He has finally come to the point, precisely the point, of my project. Nostalgia. After James Broughton reads "A visit from Three Muses," Brakhage iterates the problem with muses-- they live elsewhere in history. Their greatness overshadows ours. We're affected by some "hatred of the great men and women syndrome." He says, in following with Broughton, that "really the chicken yard is the more clear ground." The chicken yard. A mingling of muses in the chicken yard. Just look at them scratch.
What is the fear in making art daily, in making art immediate? In decodifying art? Are we afraid it would drain the industry? Afraid it would peel away a layer of bronze? Is there no hope of a patina in an integrated world? Are unique and success wearing the same suit? Once we erase the high-low line, does our incentive to make art fade?
Brakhage raises the question of Liszt. Liszt, the champion of the common man. Serving the common man out of a sense of obligation. The obligation of genius. In an effort to share the music of Beethoven with the peasants and farmers who could not afford the concert hall, he transcribed the "Fifth" for solo piano (a symphony captured in a piano!) and took it to the provinces. A whole symphony, a symphony for the farmer! Liszt believed in the farmer. No doubt the farmer believed in Liszt. And so it goes. And so it goes.
Where the poets go, when they leave the chicken yard? Where do they go? To university. And if they are lucky, they stay, to teach their somedays away. They split their time between Paris and New York, and not in the chicken yards. They read in conference rooms, to other professors, from their latest works. No poet wants this. No poet wants this.
Brakhage explains his reasons for making the poet human, for making the artist, the composer, the filmmaker human, which he does by telling stories, telling their pains and struggles. His reason is not "to bring these voices and this music down to earth, so that you care more about them. But more to inspire some confidence to reach out to one's neighbor, or finally even to one's self. To make it daily some way and not have it removed and lofty as I feel has killed interested in the arts in so many people. Hardest of all is to appreciate or give any expression to or for the people that you really know" (Stan Brakhage, "The Test of Time," 1982).
Nostalgia is more than just making the poet visible and present, it's about making the poet human, live and contemporary. Bringing the poet back into context. Tying her into the community.
An idea, brought up early in the project, to bring out the poets, en masse, to collect 10 or 20 poets and have them out by the lake on a Sunday, each at their own desk, contributing in their own way to the understanding of the poet and the modern experience, this instigation, too, must happen.
10:51a.m. – The chimes, the bells, church. The robes, brown, tied round with rope. The bowls of bullion, the slippers, the dangling knots, the leather, the worn books, the previous thumbs.
Young Maya came back to tell me about her poetry class at the Richard Hugo House. She said it included all sorts of other and visual arts and how helpful it was in inspiring poetry. Here here, Maya! Becoming familiar with all those borders, those lines between the arts. One day you will press yourself into the spaces between them and grow. And your growing will outgrow them.
One is pacing the forest.
Two is playing the flute.
Three sits on the bench smoking.
Bill, The Metaphor Man, came back today. He knows about Liszt, about Listz's ego. "What he did, he did with a measure of self interest. I have a suggestion for you, climb on the back of Liszt, put Beethoven's 'Fifth' to words. Put the 'Fifth' into language." A big order. And what's the pay? Ah, recognition.
I had a chance to read Stafford, today, to a group of seven gathered round the desk. Lauren made a second reading of "In Fur" and left everyone standing, with fur in their ears.
POETS PLANTING TREES
The other day I asked a grown man with a grown son, "Have you ever planted a tree?" "No," he answered. "Are you going to plant one before you die?" "Yes, I want to. I think I am." And so I must do this for him and for all the poets who have never planted a tree. Who might never plant a tree. O what an oversight!
How do you plant a tree? I mean, for the person who doesn't own land, for the person who lives in an urban space, how do they start? Where do they go? Write the mayor. Call on the arborist. Ring up the forester.
I have done these things. I am awaiting an answer.
It used to be that you viewed art in private, in an intimate setting. A scroll was pulled from beneath a chair, a piece was taken down from a shelf, unveiled in the privacy of home, between friends. Before the advent of the museum, before the gallery, it was in your hands.
Brakhage says this was true of poetry too. New poetry, in the 50s and 60s, was received like this. "Long before the book came out I'd been reading Creeley's poetry through friends, sometimes just receiving it in the mail, as was the ordinary way then, and now again, to receive new poetry, in letters in the mail."
My desk creates this sort of intimacy for those who stop by, for the readers at Green Lake. Dozens of poems have passed over this desk, already, in both directions, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to ear.
I am unfolding this book. I am unscrolling the news. Take this from me. Use your hands.
“The best job for an author is to be a postman. It has nothing to do with writing, it gets him out in the air, he sees what is going on in his community, he can read everyone’s postcards, and he comes back to his desk refreshed, not weary of words” (Professor Albert Guérard).