Sunday, January 13, 2008

What I Learned With One Night of Poetry

I've always been kind of skeptical of poetry. It's the ghetto-slum of writing to a guy like me. I like books full of people doing and saying things. Rambling about feelings of picturesque pastorals doesn't appeal to me. Exploring the complex workings of your psyche takes more than blank verse in my world. I've always liked my poetry like I like my zombie movies: epic, with lots of people doing deeds both nefarious and noble, never faltering to go forth to fight and fornicate ( and as an aisde, we're looking at a x12 alliteration score there, hypar combo!!1 )

But I've known that I was wrong. I mean, I disliked the pretention and 'high art' of poetry that was touted as the word-usage for 'enlightened people'. Screw that elitism. I just hate that shit. But I knew that wasn't the whole story. I knew that out there was a place where poetry was different and options were available and people threw themselves at the poets work with a kind of sick abandon that was part counter culture and part pacifistic revolution and part near-religious zeal.

So when I heard about Omaha having a poetry slam scene, I was instantly intrigued.

I'll admit, part of me was expecting crappenstance (that curious mix of the mediocre and random or crap and happenstance). And I was certain that it was going to be a bunch of tree-hugging hippies speaking about terrible metaphors they only half understood. It was going to be Moreen's one night engagement at the eleventh street lot. Ridiculous. Terrible. Frustrating.

But that wasn't the case. I wandered into the Omaha Healing Arts Center and smelled patchoulli for the first time (and despite what Angela said about it being hippy stink, I thought it smelled very good) and I had a drink that contained plant ingredients I couldn't recognize that was hot in that insidious way plant matter gets but was nourishing in a way I had forgotten liquid could be. I talked to some people about the show before hand, and then went and sat down.

This evening, I saw the best explanation of pirates vs. ninjas I have ever heard, a metre-perfect shakespearian sonnet to calculus delivered by a girl in a shirt with hex codes on it, poems of love like I hadn't expected, a well-written feminist rant, a crazy Kung Fu piece about Mushuu Beef fighting Lo Mein and Plum Wine that brought the entire house down, a Maori haka (if you don't know, look it up, those things are absolutely spell-binding), and more.

And when I listened to these people get up and speak their speeches and talk about what they had to say, I remembered something. I remembered that words still have power. That what we say and how we say them matter. That words are the most powerful and dangerous tool we have in our arsenal as thinking, living, loving and breathing humans.

And I realized that somewhere along the way I had forgotten that.

HELL NO! I can hear someone saying that now. Probably me. I don't have people who have that much faith in me in my life. 'You have more faith in words than anyone I've ever met,' someone might say. Or I hope they'd say. But I realized that while I used to think that, somewhere along the way I had forgotten it.

I've been writing books and dealing with ideas and concepts and theory and practice and work so much that ... I lost sight of the bigger (or smaller) picture. In the end, what I'm doing isn't just writing, it's a validation of hte power of words. I could easily write a movie, or a song, or paint a picture, or a bunch of other things. But instead I write words. I make stories. I create and I put it out there using the language that you and I think in and speak in and read in every day. Words words words, the world is words and I tap into that most primal part of us. The part that filters everything through words.

For a while now I've been opposed to poet-thought. That being defined as seeing the words as more important than the content. But that was short-sighted. What I had forgotten was that there were poets who were fucking poets. They put words together for the best effect. They aim to inspire and wound and hurt and heal and live and die and a thousand other things. They are brave and frightened and love every minute, even when they don't. They are full of fun and joy.

And that's what I've been missing. Fun and joy. I've been so wrapped up in the steps to achieve success as a writer that I've been unable to see the real issues here. We do it because we love it. If we're not having fun, then why bother? If I can't love my writing and work on it with passion and joy and all those other things, then why bother? It's not worth it. Better to do nothing than to waste it all so pointlessly.

I've lost my way again. And my complete angst over the past week has just been a symptom of that.

Tony and Ange were right, in their own way, but they weren't communicating the issue correctly because I don't think they understood the problem specifically enough. My goals aren't completely unreasonable and the demands I make on myself aren't impossible. But I can't do it like I've been doing it. It's a job, but it's also got to be a dream and a passion and a life.

I need to rediscover my love for the words. I need to recapture that joy. I need to remember that poetry has a place in prose. That poet-thought and author-thought aren't opposites, they complement each other, and I should take from it and use it and learn from it. If not, what am I? Just a writer who doesn't truly love being a writer. And that man is not who I want to be.

So I'm reassessing. Continuing my mission, but on different terms. I will hold as true to my purpose as I can, but if the timeframe slips a little then it slips. I can't keep forcing untruth into myself. I'm starting to feel it and react to it.

It's time to refind truth. It's time to refind emotion. It's time to refind the words.

So thank you, poetry and poets. You've made an angry, disillusioned fool into a more open, accepting fool.

I can't wait to hear you all again, and maybe even join in.

PS: For anyone who's interested, poetry slams and open mics happen all across the omaha metro area (and Lincoln) on a regular basis. Anyone who cares to see what it's like should check out I will likely be at the Om Center next month for this monthly slam, but there are other options as well. Go and watch and enjoy. The donation suggestion is small and the crowd is good and the poetry's entertaining. Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired, too.

1 comment:

Just Dave said...

James Michener said that poems were novels distilled to their final essence. Just sayin'.