Saturday, June 10, 2006

Responses - inappropriate & otherwise

A few items this Saturday morning...

  • Yesterday I was looking at google news and saw a link to this item Click here: The Poetry of Mass Movement - OhmyNews International - The significance of which is that Ivy Alvarez is mentioned in connection with her poetry chapbook anthology "A Slice of Cherry Pie." Small world!
  • Congratulations are in order for Christine Hamm who landed a teaching job at Rutgers!
  • "How the Ink Feels," a new exhibit in the Runyan Gallery of the Newport Visual Arts Center, features 71 matted and framed letterpress broadsides which illuminate poetry and prose selections by well-known writers. [story here]

Yesterday, Cindy at Quotidian Light posted the following quote on her blog:

"When artists discover as children that they have inappropriate responses to events around them, they also find, as they learn to trust those responses, that these oddities are what constitute their value to others."-- Kathleen Norris / The Cloister Walk

A couple of things have struck me about this quote since I first read it. The first being that I can't ever recall thinking myself an "artist" during my childhood. This immediately caused me to wonder if this is an anomaly? Should I have? It seems a stretch to me to think that most artists viewed themselves as such as children, but moving beyond that curiosity, I tried to recall inappropriate responses to events around me as a child. In terms of worldly events, I come up empty. Such earth shattering things as natural disasters, assassination of JFK and the likes that I view as a child on TV all seemed to me to be things that I reacted to pretty much the norm.

There were lesser occurrences, a more personal nature in my life, that I believe my responses to often seemed inappropriate at the time. Looking back I believe it was more that I even had a response that I was lead to believe was inappropriate, than what the actual response was. Considering I was on the end of that generation that was expected to be seen and not heard, I suspect this was not uncommon for others my age.

Today in the arts, I see examples of responses that are often viewed by many onlookers that something is being conveyed that is inappropriate. I think this universal across the spectrum of the arts, but perhaps it is more impacted in language arts because the consumer can identify with word definitions and reach conclusions or interpretations much quicker and with greater ease than say a painting, a photo, sculptor or music.

There are some for example who want poetry to be void of any social or political content. And sometimes they will superimpose such when it was not even the intent of the author.

Sometimes I feel I must be the only person in the country that did not write a 9-11 poem. I have read so many of them and quite frankly I was never able to bring myself to do so. I can appreciate that many found this perhaps therapeutic, but I don't think I would have been satisfied to simply add to the many sincere expressions of loss. For me a 9-11 poem could not simply be a me too exercise. And even as I think back on that day, deep down there were so many images and words that swelled inside and the end result of them may never be plotted on a page. But the fact remains that I did not feel a tremendous burst of patriotism. Nor did I want revenge. To many, those would seem inappropriate responses. I was not void of sadness or loss. Those were clearly within my vision. But I saw so much more as well.

If I take Kathleen Norris to heart with her message, then I am to believe that what I might create if I in fact did write a 9-11 poem would be of value to others. I have to ask myself, "In what way?"

An example of literary art that was considered by many to be inappropriate was that of Amiri Baraka, the New Jersey Poet Laureate who was asked to resign due to the uproar over his 9-11 poem. I wonder where the value to others was in this instance.

If Norris considers it dangerous to suppress art because of what some consider inappropriate responses to the world, I can agree with that premise. That is indeed a danger to society as a whole. Still, there is a risk to the artist for exercising honesty in his or her work, if that takes the consumer of such art to a place they are uncomfortable with.

So how do we learn to trust our responses? And maybe that is not the question at all. What if I trust my response but not the audience? How do I learn to deal with that?

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