Posts Tagged ‘arts’

The Joys of a Poet

December 14, 2016

(And His Arrival at this Most Minuscule of Positions)

carl-nelson4

I cross the Ohio everyday.

Of the many experiences I remember of my theater years, the most compelling occurred on stage.  They were small moments, mini-scenes, in which the characters seemed so autonomous that the actors no longer needed to please the audience.  They were little sections of life that didn’t need to sell their plight to the audience; didn’t need the audience’s approval.  No great injustice needed be fought.  Rather, the tables were turned and it was the audience which could either watch or not.

These scenes from my work which have so stuck with me were quiet areas in the midst of the plays’ turbulences where this balance had been achieved… if only to be enjoyed for a short time, the world and theater being what they are.  Looking back, it’s occurred to me that the theater was not my calling as it is not rising conflict which energizes me but balance.  I love playfulness.

Amount and quality of audience are the two measures of a playwright.  If you cannot attract an audience and/or critical stalwarts, then you are not a playwright.  Those are the realities.  But like most practitioners I fudged.  I could attract a smidgeon of an audience, and some of them liked it – so I rationalized and called myself a playwright.  For I did write several plays, and they were produced, and, as unsuccessful people are apt to say, (with each career change), “I learned a lot!”

I would guess one of the reasons artists would yearn for great success – aside from the money and fame and beautiful lovers – is that it gives them a forceful argument when dealing with the complaints of people they have known privately.   For a very successful playwright, the easy reply is that, “Well, you are just a small minority of the many, many who loved it.”  A small time playwright cannot use this defense.  The troublesome person lives right next door.  The hope for audience is partly a defense mechanism.

Also a large audience will grant a artist the opportunity to command better and better opportunities.  For a playwright this would mean access to the best actors, directors, set designers, venues and… even audience.  But it also means restrictions.  The more money, the more pressures to reduce risk and to frequent travelled ground.  The better and more powerful your collaborators, the better they are at stealing the audience for themselves.  A popular actor might want the scene re-written to better showcase them.  A powerful director might insist upon their vision.  A powerful financial source might prefer the politics slanted a bit differently – or removed.  And the venue has a very worried view of what their regulars will endure.  With the acquisition of a large audience, there is always the risk of losing it.  The second guessing becomes as bothersome as pushing a huge rig down the road, squinting ahead, all the while glancing in the mirror at a wandering trailer.

I’d guess the first audience for most of us would be our parents.  And perhaps many of us found theirs as frustrating as I found mine.  Mom and dad would pay attention, but only in their terms; not unlike strangers.  This was a bone of contention between us for many years.  Finally, I gave up.  I no longer shared how I felt or my hopes, and oddly enough, our relationship improved markedly.  Mom and dad were intelligent, generous, caring people once I got over the fact that they didn’t want to know me very well.

Segue to the audience…

Since that time, I have employed this tactic often.  The solution to many an insoluble problem is to ignore it; proceed as if the world were created without that problem.   If acquiring audience seemed an insoluble problem for me, why not eliminate the audience?  For all these reasons – and the fact that I’d pretty much played out my hand as a playwright – poetry looked pretty good to me.

So after I had moved from Seattle to this Appalachian area, I looked around and found a poetry group which looked compatible.  They were close by, met frequently, weren’t attached to any college or university, and most importantly had sympathy for the spirits – albeit pagan, (in their case).  When I first read my poems to the group for their reaction, one of the first individuals to respond asked skeptically:  “Who do you imagine your audience to be?”

They all looked to me.

“I didn’t think poetry had an audience!” I responded.

“You may leave now,” the next laughed.

 

In truth, I had had my fill of trying to acquire and please an audience.  A writer gets tired of playing the whiskey drummer.  Some of my misgivings are revealed in a previous piece I’ve written.

the-audience-is-a-mob

Poets have little audience, generally make no money, and, unless they misbehave, command little attention.  We wander about in the artistic world a little like derelicts or the homeless.  All of which allows us great freedom.  And we catch our audience as we can… perhaps spouting off in a bar – or wherever we find ourselves for that matter, like the local hardware.  People don’t believe they are listening to poetry in so much as they believe they are arguing with a drunk or indulging an eccentric – which is a time honored practice in small, out of the way spots like here in Appalachia – or hope of hope, enjoying a laugh with a clever fellow!

Poets talk among themselves swapping words and a cleverly turned phrase in a verbal one-ups-man-ship.  And now and then when the urge to flock comes upon the poet community, they hold readings.  The grudges are dropped, the qualms muffled and a general comity of fellow feeling along the lines of “We are all in this together” and “I will listen to you if you will listen to me,” contains the aggregate of assembled oddballs.  Aside from this, poets send out their little missives to journals and odd sorts of publications as if spreading sparks in hopes of starting a fire.  This is the off-the-main-road-poet’s life, aesthetic nobodies chipping flints over damp wood and hoping for a conflagration.

As far as rewards, there is the quiet joy – something like that of a stamp collector – of having trapped a bit of life in verbal amber.  I’m reminded of the New Yorker joke showing the painter in his studio sitting to admire his painting on a Friday’s night with a coke and a theater pail heaped with popcorn.  Only the artist fully grasps the ins and outs and the subtleties of life captured in a well done work.  His lack of audience allows him unfettered freedom.  And his inability to market successfully frees up his schedule.  Find a bit of work or arrangement to pay the rent, add a few understanding spirits to voice admiration from time to time, and you have a satisfied fellow.  Or, at least someone satisfied enough to continue working…

A good poem doesn’t need an audience to be alive.  It’s alive all by itself.  It’s the audience which needs the poem to feel alive.  And that is because a good poem has balance.  And we rest in its achievement.  Not everybody of course, but there are people out there who delight in a little heaven here on earth.

So, to the number of audience an artist needs?  Just enough to keep him working, I’d say, and find him a little rent.

No more than fifty to a room at any time.  Anymore and it’s just the sound of hands clapping from somewhere out beyond the circle of light; the circle of trust…  but quixotically, always with the possibility of many more, if only to make the writing of the poem like purchasing a lottery ticket.  We keep talking and writing, hoping for that conflagration.

If you would like to read more of Carl Nelson, visit:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

From the Editor’s Perch…

November 26, 2013
Who Can't Sympathize with Someone Who Slashes Their Wrists at the Office?

Who Can’t Sympathize with Someone Who Slashes Their Wrists at the Office?

“Not Waving but Drowning”

 

The full poem by Stevie Smith goes like this:

            Not Waving but Drowning

               Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

                                                   –  Stevie Smith

For my money, Stevie Smith lived the essential poet’s life: monotonous secretary’s days so compressing in their accumulation that she finally lost her employment of umpteen years from slashing her wrists while at at the office.  You don’t have to be a poet to sympathize!

Not dying, she continued on living with her aunt while scrabbling together a living out of writing book reviews and doing poetry readings.  You might wonder why artists choose this life?  It’s probably mostly because they live between their ears.  Like religious ascetics, worldly things haven’t as great of a grip on them.  And between the ears, “The desire for liberty is the most powerful force for creativity in an artist; that is why even in the most oppressive places some of the most beautiful and powerful art is made.”  (- Lindy Vopnfjord)

Smith reveled in the liberty of the mind more than most poets.  As the novelist/critic Martha Cooley notes, “Over the years, Smith got called everything from whimsical, quirky, childlike, and silly to mordantly sophisticated, stoic, brilliantly comic, and plain old depressed.”  Smith aptly represents this blend of modest successes with great failure which I’ve tried to describe in these previous essays on the strategies of losing:  “She tolerated rather than apologized for her own misreading, believing them usefully deviant; and she took great enjoyment in reading in a desultory manner, grazing without aim.”

But, of course, she was a fine poet.  Great poetry is made of those lines, such as the poet Robert Bly describes of Whitman’s, which can sustain great weight across the span of a sentence.    “Not waving but drowning” is a gold standard of poetic phrasing.  It has all the features: off-rhyme, metrical emphasis, and a meaning which ‘contains multitudes’.   You can’t crush it, and you can’t brush it away.

You couldn’t crush Stevie Smith, and we can’t brush her away.  Her failures are enduring.

Photo plucked from Google Images

Travelling Expenses

April 13, 2013
Paul Before (actually midway through production)

Paul Before (actually midway through production)

ROOM 13  –  Premier!

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/room-13-a-film?c=gallery

Well!  Movies take a little while to realize.  But Paul is almost there.  Above is a promotional clip made during its creation.   The upcoming release of his short, Room 13, will premier in the upcoming Seattle True International Film Festival on May 10, 6-9pm.  For full information, go to: http://lesslost.eventbrite.com/

And if your are interested in a breakdown of what it costs to create a movie, such as this…  (Note.  We have not measured the blood, sweat, and tears.)  Go to:  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/room-13-a-film?c=activity

Paul After

Paul Afterwards, When It’s In the Can

Popcorn available! (everywhere good movies are shown).

Photos by Somebody.

From the Editor’s Perch

November 7, 2012

Sometimes, we’re not the best person to present our personality.

Outsource Your Personality

 

Neil Simon, the playwright, has a face that is about as engaging as a cue ball.  I find it unnerving to look at his photo.  His plays however do quite well.  I’ve enjoyed his plays and my intent here is not to dish Mr. Simon.  However, anyone who has watched the Academy Awards has got to have noticed the charisma gap between the screenwriters and other behind-the-scene workers who win prizes – and the actors who win prizes for performing their work.  It’s especially remarkable when you see them all packed together for a photo.  You think, ‘nebish’, ‘nebish’, ‘cool’, ‘cool!’, ‘nebish’,…

I’ve wondered if playwriting isn’t for people whose personal charm does not match their ambitions, because playwrights are always shopping for just the right actor to carry their play.  As a vehicle, playwrights find themselves faulty.   They’re always looking.   They are always remarking, ‘Oh, if I could only get __________ to play __(me)________,’.

It’s an unnerving process to hear the first reading of one’s play.  The actors rarely are what one hears in one’s head.  And you just have to learn to live with what another person does with you.  It’s rather like having a talented stranger fill in a day of your life….  ‘Jeeeeze!’ you think.  At first, it’s like cringing while you watch a seriously bad driver.  ‘I guess this is what I’m going to look like to people.  Maybe when he’s done, I’ll get my wife some flowers.  That may help.’  However, after all is said and done, the script usually looks better with actors.  After all, that’s why you use them.

Recently, I found something better.

My son has only been in this country about a year and a half.  But he is blessed with an unusual amount of charisma and stage presence.  It’s unavoidable that he is going to copy much of how I act and what I say.  The other day I was watching him, while realizing this, and was struck, happily, by the result.  ‘When he says it, it really WORKS,’ I thought gleefully.  ‘When he puts on my personality, it really sings.’  It’s like getting my wings.  What a happy thing to observe.

Also, kind of odd.

Photo by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

June 23, 2012

 

Does Art Make You a Better Person?

A lot of people, mostly artists I’ve noticed, say it does.   And it’s usually only artists – or people in arts related careers, who are pitching for a fuller revenue stream  – who broach this topic.  You rarely hear of a lawyer, or a garbage collector, or a plumber, or a cop, or a mayor, or any of any number of professions raise this question about themselves.  They seem to take it for granted that being paid for doing something useful is worthwhile, and hopefully, that participating in life in this capacity makes them a better person.  But it may not.  That’s the way it goes.  A person has to get the food on the table. 

However, artists have a lot of trouble even ‘getting food to the table’.  So another reason to justify doing what they are doing seems necessary.  Personally, I would keep looking for a reason, because I haven’t seen the theater turning out superior persons.  Mostly it makes them like gambling addicts who will squander their last few dollars to create a hit.  Their relationships founder; their lawns are not mown;  weeds abound in the flower beds, their homes tilt; the children either aren’t conceived or grow up a little funny, and financially the whole consortium dances right along the edge.  Actors and writers maintain that assuming the personalities of a variety of characters gives them insight into the human condition.  What I see is that it adds quite a little arrogance to their own condition.  We are always writing/acting ourselves.  Who’s kidding who?  It’s as plain as the nose on our faces – which doesn’t change.  Has art made me a better person?  I can’t say it has.  But age, and life, may have formed me a bit.

How About Beer?

But has beer made me a better person?   I can’t say it has, either.  But I enjoy it.  And so I enjoy art.  I enjoy making it.  I enjoy watching and listening and experiencing it.  I enjoy talking about it.  And like most artists, I figure out a method  of paying my way.   Isn’t that enough?  

Photo by Carl Nelson of John Ruoff/Mime

Addendum:  “There are, of course, more important things than art:  life itself, what actually happens to you.  This may sound silly, but I have to say it, given what I’ve heard art-silly people say all my life…  Art shouldn’t be overrated.”  – Clement Greenberg


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