Saturday, October 15, 2011

Words That Actually Matter (article)

Years ago, in a poetry workshop at UBC an established Canadian writer (won’t say which one) questioned the wisdom behind my writing practice when I told her and my classmates I seldom saved copies of any of my own poems up to that point. People in the room seemed incredulous (disbelieving). “Well, what on earth do you do with them?” - one of them interrogated.
“I put them in letters.”
“Letters?”
“Yes.”
“You don’t keep a copy for yourself?”
“Maybe some of them do, but I don’t.”
“Don’t you want to publish any of them?”
“Only one person, anywhere has that poem - doesn't that make it special?”
You could see wheels turning as the writer remarked, rather dismissively, “well, if you published any of them then at least you’d get to do things like come here and read for you guys.” I couldn’t argue with that rationale but it also occurs to me that in all truth I can’t remember any of that woman’s poetry, a Governor General’s Award winner, mind you, indicating that somebody, somewhere must like her work. I’ve always said that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure – which more or less means that you can’t account for taste and this includes areas such as that routinely referred to as art. But I've also asked: is it memorable?...will I or anyone else remember it? I can think of only 2 authors whose poetry I can read for an hour or longer in one sitting - e.e. cummings and Al Purdy - NOBODY else (not even my own stuff, haha!)...and I love poetry. Some collections of poetry? you need only open and turn to a page, any page and read a stanza or selection then turn to any other random page and read and you will think you are reading the same poem. Leaf through it and it is like reading the same poem over and over again - one...long...poem. One doesn't seem distinguishable from any other. Many are called, but few are chosen, haha!

Entertainment is a different beast in my mind. I won’t get into providing examples of expression I feel are art and those which are entertainment, cause some…are both. At any rate, I listened to a fantastic interview with Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. The writer remarked - “my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson and Mozart,” and I have long felt and said the same thing. The writers (though not always necessarily what might be considered the “great” writers) told and taught me most about what it meant...to be alive. As a passed-around Indian kid I never experienced an adult or elder figure who shared with me or provided me with context or background about the world I inhabited. It was only through literature (with a Big L), certainly not comic books, or children’s television or movies that I found the insight that would resonate with what I call my soul. It is not an exaggeration to say the great and lesser writers were more a mother, father or grandparent to me than any actual living human being until I was well into in my twenties (and people wonder why I'm such a strange guy haha!). But I also feel, about writing, and the words which have spoken to me and still exist to speak to me long, long after they were written – I believe in them with all my heart, for they have, as much as anything, changed me. These things are true. So, for me, to write is not an entertainment or a past time or a hobby - it is a compulsion. It is something I must do. If once, even twice in a life a writer can summon, then put down, words with any kind of depth he can go beyond entertaining, he can touch people and he can move them, and he can make them think and he can thereby enlighten them.

For the first time on my blog I am including work by other artists.

Lorraine (I called her Lou) was 19 or so when we knew each other at Lake Louise and worked together in an ancient, rustic, wooden hotel, high in the Rocky mountains in the early nineties. In our off-hours, she and I were in the habit of reading to each other until the one being read to fell asleep. There was a lot of napping going on up there and I’m sure it had nothing to do with how much pot was being used. Either way, I was given this poem during our time together and I kept it and it is very dear to me. I don’t claim it to be about or inspired by me - I don't wish to convince you of it's literary merits or impact - it is just something beautiful for me and I have held onto the words. Thanks Lou

I See You

You are my window to the world
Brush your finger upon my cheek
a touch that be so daisy petal soft
Our souls entwined, we conquer all mightier
sail the un-sailable seas
Unsure as a new born, my eyes remain closed
Life’s golden hand at love
an attempt to caress the sweetness
only to feel the rose’s prick
The blood trickles to drop free
you’ve pierced my naïve heart
To laugh and dance upon my remains
still, as I breathe your sweet breath
I lay with no heart, only to see you
continue your journey in another’s hand

- Lorraine F.


Finally, I am posting this poem by Storm (my daughter) who was 7 when she composed this and it just may be my favorite poem…period. Pardon me if I don’t mistake this for evidence of possession of not only an abstract thought process, but an elegant one…


My Special Place

I have a special place

It is quiet as a snake

It is quiet as snow falling

It is so quiet I can hear the sound of wind going by

It is so quiet I can hear the butterflies flying by me

I have a special place - it is a lake and lots of other things


- Storm Standing-On-The-Road



Like Maurice Sendak said: art has always been my salvation.



©2011 Champsteen Publishing

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