Thursday, February 18, 2010

Down But Not Out...a serious take on life and poetry...

February 18, 2010

Down But Not Out...a serious take on life and poetry

I’m going to talk about beat poets today. Why? I’m not exactly sure, other than I’m pretty much just rolling with whatever jumps into my head on some days and if that doesn’t scare you, then you are a hearty one!

Literature inspires me, poetry in particular. I’ve got my favorites that I “study,” just for the heck of it and, let’s be honest, if that doesn’t flash a railroad crossing-type sign proclaiming, “Geek!” I’m not sure what does. I adore Harlem Renaissance writers and they hold the top place on my list, but I hanker for open forms of poetry and the beat poets really float my boat.

“Beat” poets, as in “down and out,” beat up and, seemingly done for, except the very feelings that inspire their craft, bring about their salvation through the craft. The term “I’m beat,” as in tired, found its way into our lexicon, along with, “Hey, you beat me,” when someone wins some sort of event during competition. How refreshing to turn a negative message into a chance to make it different through the power of emotive words. Being "beat" is temporary and when we're down, the next directional pull is up.

We’ve all felt as though we just wanted to “Howl,” as Alan Ginsberg did with that eponymous poem and so it’s empathy at its best to read these poems that speak our pain as we gnash our teeth at the unfairness of it all. One of the solid outcomes of poetry is the fact that it is cathartic for both the writer and reader. Beat poets have inspired generations and legions of us, including spoken word poets who rhythmically slice, dice and pare down messages to the real essence that is life and all of the promise it holds.

In fact, the literary theorist and critic, Northrup Frye when talking about creating said, “The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.” It is in this way that we formulate our own individual mission statements whereby, even if our messages are seemingly negative they hold transformative possibilities. It is through the expression of the negative that we open ourselves to the resurrection of the positive and all of those rich redemptive elements that allow us to reconnect and begin anew.

If you’re a poet, then you would agree with Robert Frost when he said, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” We don’t define the work, the work defines us. I've written poetry since I was a little kid in third grade, all scabbed knees, freckled of face and filled with joy over all I had to say. Those sweet early poems of mine would be the precursor to all of the stages of my life that would follow; the angst-filled prepubescent youth, the sufferer at the hands of unrequited love, the angry, heavy eyeliner-using young dancer and the humbled, but joyous new mom. It's all there in verse, meter, line and time.

LeRoi Jones has a short and profound poem about finding our place in the world and when educating America's youth I have taken hours and multiple white boards to explicate this poem, it is so rich with meaning, so I will leave you his provocative words:

I can’t say who I am.
Unless you agree I’m real.

By Le Roi Jones
aka Amiri Baraka

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