Empowerment through Language...

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Fate, Discovery, & Sunday a.m. Television

I woke to a gray, heavy July Sunday morning, thick as flour, damp to the nose, quiet. I am reading Patti Smith's tender memoir, Just Kids, and I waited to make coffee for at least an hour. Then I infused the moist air with the incense of coffee perking, the syncopation.

Next, I immersed in my weekly ritual, "CBS Sunday Morning." That program always airs something that makes me wonder, something that makes me more aware, and always an amusement, along with a thoughtful meditation on humor.

Afterwards, I stumbled on "Kool: Dancing in My Mind" on Sundance. Choreographer and director Robert Wilson documented his journey to find his collaborator from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Japanese dancer Suzushi Hanayagi, with whom he had lost touch.

His dear friend, a dancer, an artist equally gifted in both Japanese traditional dance and the most avante garde modern, was in a facility in Japan for elders with Alzheimer's. Graciously and gracefully, the 30-minute documentary illustrates the essence of their art as dancers and philosophers, and how they collaborated to make dances. The reunion and its implications were poignant. The dance expansive and impeccable.

I adore any book or video that illustrates the creative process, no matter the artistic discipline or medium. In this film, it was Robert Wilson's articulation of making a dance, making a piece that caught my ear. Dancers make a piece; poets write one. The context for me is one of active involvement somehow. Making a poem opens the potential for the work to guide us more than writing a poem seems to imply to me; it expands the promise, the vow of discovery.

At the beginning of the film, Mr. Wilson avers, "The most important thing, as an artist, is not to say what something is; because, if we know what it is we're doing, there's no reason to do it. The reason to work is to say What is it?"

Anyone can be safe in making art. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe danced that difference between each other and within themselves, I am learning. Safe is okay for some but seems somehow mundane to me, at this point. Writing a poem seems safe. Making a poem must somehow involve taking a risk, refusing complacency.

The making of a poem is about process. The writing of a poem is a concern rooted in product. Again, I am prompted to my repeated question of myself and to my students, "What's the rush?" The act of making a poem is the glorious mystery of what it will achieve, given its own journey, what it make aspire to express. In making a poem, the poem is the driver, the poet holds the map and navigates. Our fingers dance what the poem asks of us, leaving a notation of that choreography on the page.

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