Friday, February 29, 2008

"Poets aren't quite like other people..."

Today BYU managed to get former Poet Laureate (and one of my favorite modern day poets. The other top one is Taylor Mali, but he is not the topic of this post, now is he?) Billy Collins to come and read poetry. I can die happy.

It was spectacular to sit in an auditorium, not too far back, and listen to a man whose works have been on AP tests. Think about that for a while. What was wonderful was the atmosphere in the room. As he spoke, I could feel myself (along with the hundred or so other people there) falling for his laid-back charm, being mesmerized by this unassuming man in a blue sweater.

When he stood up, he got straight to the point: poetry. He read and explained things he wrote in a soft voice. Thanks to a cold he apologized for, it was a little nasally but no less enthralling. True, at times it reminded me of Ben Stein's monotone, but the closer I listened the more I began to appreciate the subtleties of his recital. This droll little man with the droopy eyes was a mass of gentle humor. As he got further along the program, I saw his spirit. Here was a man who lived his life in a constant state of bored amusement. That sounds like a paradox, but that's what it was. You could tell he spent his life looking outwards, looking out his window as his poem "Monday" implies, but not judging what he saw. He liked the world, he wrote about it, and it brought him joy.

What was really beautiful was observing what happened when his "poem" voice, the voice that added a gentle emphasis and halting rhythm to his words, extended to his everyday voice, the one he used to talk about where the inspiration for such and such came from. When that happened, the most idle of comments became poetry, and so beautiful that you would have given anything at that moment to see life as he saw it.

After he had closed with the recitation of "On Turning Ten", preceded by the statement "If you are majoring in English, you are majoring in Death. So death is our thing" (poking fun of the abundance of mortality poems in the literary canon), I ran to get him to sign his newest book for me. I waited in a line that was more like a crowded corral, but it was worth it just to have something I can hold to remember the way I felt, sitting in an uncomfortable seat and wanting to be able to write like that when I grow up.

Anyway, here is a sample of his poetry, and one of my favorites, though it is really too hard to choose. It's the title poem from his latest book, The Trouble With Poetry.

The Trouble With Poetry

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along the beach one night-
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky-

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti-
to be perfectly honest for a moment-

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
i carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I have no response to that.

Joe vs. the Volcano: A Timeless Classic, Which, Much Like Transformers, Has More Than Meets the Eye

I watched this amazing Hanks-Ryan vehicle last week, and it blows me away every time. If you haven't seen it ... go now. Fast. Run to watch this highly underrated cinematic masterpiece. Yes I went there. Masterpiece.

Here's the thing. Not only is it wickedly funny, (Tom Hanks playing a depressed hypochondriac on a fatal mission. Meg Ryan playing three equally hilarious and diverse roles. Can you get any better? Come on.) but it really is thought-provoking.

A main theme of this work is the state of the soul, and in conjunction, the course your life takes due to the well-being of your soul. Wow, that sounded intelligent. Go me. But moving on.

The references to the soul start from the beginning, veiled as they might be. Joe, miserable and stuck in a dead end job, breaks his shoe walking in the oppressive building that houses his cave-like workspace. When asked what happened, he replies "I'm losing my sole". Sole!! Soul!! Get it? Genius. Later on, in a rant to his boss, he is "too afraid to live my life, so I sold it to you for THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS A WEEK!". Meg Ryan's third character, Patricia, has been bought out by her father and is soul sick. The chief of Waponi-Wu (Little Island with Big Volcano), carries around what is not a teddy bear, but his soul, and Joe tells him he "better not lose it".

That should give you just a taste of the deeper meaning one can find in this movie. I could go on, but then I'd get all preachy and make lists and give away the plot and no one wants any of those things to happen, am I right? But it just made me think about what I am doing with my life and what condition my soul is in. I love movies like that. Things that entertain and enrich at the same time. That kind of stuff is golden, baby. Pure gold.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Change We Can Believe In

2008. Election year. The excitement in the air is palpable. A victory for Obama is the hope in everyone's heart. Well, every sane person's. And here I sit, watching CNN (a first for me), listening to Obama's dulcet tones and believing in change, when I realize how much life really does change. Ready? Here comes the philosophical retrospective.

I was raised to love art, more than most people do (should?). But when I was little, I couldn't STAND modern art. It was trash. Filth. Rubbish. I could draw that stuff, and trust me, that's saying something. I thought art had to have a sense of realism to be considered classic. Grace. Beauty. What can I say, I was a romantic. Don't get me wrong. I still dig that stuff. It's great. But then I discovered the Wonder that is Andy Warhol.

Here he is. In all his disheveled, crazy, genius glory.

Warhol used to be the lowest of the low for me. But then, one day, it just clicked. Maybe I became more cynical. Maybe I became more crazy, and was thus able to understand his art. I think I just grew up. Warhol offers such wry observances on the state of America. It's very disillusioned. I connect with that, but just had to wait until I had experiences that made the art clear. Warhol's stuff is FULL of social commentary, the kind you only get in late twentieth century America. And you know what? It rocks. Now Dada-ism is the scum of the earth to me. Don't know about Dada? Look up Duchamp's Fountain. You'll get what I am saying.
So basically, things change. You know, there is always a chance that in twelve years I won't like Warhol (may that day never come). Or that Obama won't be president (I'll move. Run away to Mexico or something). But like the saying goes, it's the journey, right?