Notes of an Iconoclast
Art is the cure. It is a realized prayer. An answered invitation to the all and everything. This, of course, includes deep realms of suffering. The world would have us believe that art is not practical, that it is the path of beat and broken madmen who tend to die tragically. It's like Plato's cave allegory in a way only our latent wombs are a bit cozier, the blue radiating flicker of television telling us what we need to be happy. Fearful of the world beyond creature comforts, we live like livestock, without the nobility of peasants, we also die. Few of us, however, fall like the flames of a star. Like Van Gogh, who would have never flowered had there been Prozac then. Art is a real threat because it is never static. It is always moving, like a revolution, a great language, or the legends of excess hung around every great artist carried through history by the momentum of his or her sight.
Art. There's no money it. The masterpieces are only recognized long after the fact, and it is a bitter irony that they belong to the very entities they defy. It's like Hitler mocking the German Expressionists and calling them mad because they dared to portray his reign instead of that of the austere classicist, whom Hitler never really got. No wonder he flunked out of art school and floundered so miserably in his role as despot. No wonder the world frowns on artists even now. Stubbornly we resist its pull, believing we lack talent, not seeing that artistic impulse is beyond our base ego needs, beyond ourselves. Imagine if people turned of the noise, stopped buying things to plug up the holes in their sinking vessel of lies. Imagine them taking up painting or poetry or dancing naked to the Hair soundtrack every night, choreographing numbers, singing back up, and mugging for no one but the gods beyond these walls.
I spent some time with a two-year-old and her 21-year-old dad this afternoon. He gets her every Sunday and they play in his one room pad. She's really into coloring on this paper he tapes up on the wall for her, so I brought this big case of colors and paints I scored at a discount store for three bucks on a impulse. The child's father was spontaneously guided by the best instincts-he's a creative and disciplined soul-tracing her foot, focusing her scattered brilliance some but not too much. She listened as we spoke about her, not knowing what the words were, but able to discern that she was being recognized. It seemed to soothe her that her zeal was encouraged by our wonder of it. She insisted on music, danced waywardly, her little booty shaking, face full of life before an audience. She wanted a party, but she was trashing the place like a miniature rock star and her father began to curb her some. I had caused the frenzy, so I got up, kissed her with lips she'd plastered with chapstick, and said good-bye to my little muses.
The kids at the high school where I teach who paint or observe things in other ways, even a few of the more cunning trouble makers, would survive if they kept with something beyond sneakers and gang signs. The young teachers agree when I say we ought to have a more liberal arts base approach. This is ironically a more disciplined approach, but more importantly, it allows them a viable outlet for their frustration at finding themselves in their seemingly unfortunate station in life. It is something as nessacary to the soul as food and water are to the body. We must reach for it rather than buttons and plastic and all those other things that we serve, not the other way around. We are insects serving the queen. We are lost. Each of is found only in the quantum leaps we took as a child.
We must scrape our knees and then some. We must risk being chastised; we must risk the disapproval of our gods and express ourselves as the world's reflection. We must be more like that two-year-old, scratching out herself for one moment in eternity, celebrating innocence, which is wise enough to never separate death from life.
Notes of an Initiate
It all started because I took the advice of some disgruntled monk (Ikkyu), who has been dead for 500 years. I began considering how poets effect one another, how, indeed they need one another. Certainly T.S. Eliot would agree. After reading Ikkyu, Jim Harrison wrote the After Ikkyu collection of poetry, and I, in turn, feel inspired by both of them, as well as the more talented members of my workshops at CSULB. As a direct result, my poetry has gained great momentum. This is somehow miraculous to me. I keep paraphrasing Shelly about the idea that poets are collaborating on one long epic poem that will only end when humanity stops writing it. When that happens, the 4 horsemen may very well arrive on their asteroids.
Freud would have called us incestuous orphans in a dysfunctional surrogate family, but Jung understands the nature of poets. We shed our skins through voices; this is esoteric terrain. It's as if one might purge the soul onto paper, and save it. A voice is immortal as long as we evoke it.
Poets are humble elitists, the makers of masks. We are walking oxymorons, who wrestle ourselves into restless visions. We are naked yet misunderstood. We are bent by self-explication. No wonder the rest of the world can't get around to us until long after we are dead. What I'm getting at is commitment. Which I didn't have until I sacrificed sweet slumber to listen to the nighttime confessions of the hippest family there is, then added to their prayers. Maybe it's manic to take such big gulps and throw one's self off the proverbial high dive, but poets are quantum leapers, extremists, heretics. Poetry transcends politics. It's mystic like the night I am now well beyond. But it just might save the world (and me).