Richard Blanco in Durham

Finding out that Richard Blanco was speaking for free in Durham at the Carolina Theater, I was shocked. Shocked that I was so out of touch with such cultural events that I stumbled across it in the free Durham News that hits my driveway every week. And even more shocked that the theater was packed!

I happily paid $50 to attend the reception so I could speak with him. When I sidled up, he was already talking about the similar states of music and poetry in the US now, and that he would like to see both return to more live interaction, like sitting around the campfire or in your living room. Not prepackaged technological media goods but a vital community expression of the personal and collective story. In his view, the role of an artist is to be a visionary, whose function is to persuade. A poetry reading is not a courtroom, yet still – scenes are set, stories are detailed, and one strives for the rousing finale that will leave those gathered convinced of the artistic truth just given voice, and pondering how they will let it resonate in their lives.

In his MFA program, having already received his engineering degree, Richard never recited a poem – it was always just read silently, or critiqued as a written document. I encountered the same attitude at NYU in graduate school for musicology – no need to hear or play music, just study the notation. What our world needs now are more occasions where people gather in the presence of their fellow expressive artists, who give voice to their creations in every mode they can think of – and giving all present an opportunity to respond in any way they feel moved: applause; dance; tears; or the sacred act of sitting in silence and receiving the heart and soul of their fellow citizen, shared openly.

I feel Blanco’s call to come out of my artistic closet – to not just commit my poems to ink and paper, and then upload to my blog, and share on Facebook. He is inspiring an attitude change! Find or call gatherings in my community where expression is live and fresh, and which solicits some sort of response from all attending. This is the impetus to launch the further evolvement of Players of Now – our first Expression Jam. Originally scheduled for November 14, we are postponing it into early 2014.

One Letter

There is no Art,
nor is there Life.
No loss, no gain,
no us, no them.

All our categories and labels,
divisions and distinctions,
are merely linguistic –
letters with no more meaning
than the letter “I.”

Hafiz Lives!

What is it about these old Sufi poets that their magic continues even today?
A conspiracy between a translator, a bookstore and poetry-loving friends blows a Tuesday evening dinner in Chapel Hill into the spirit realm.

bh1

Bhavani is a friend who loves and creates poetry, so for her birthday, I went to a bookstore and got two Ladinsky-translated books of Hafiz poems. The Gift is a collection, and A Year With Hafiz has a poem for each day of the year. Before I take The Gift into the restaurant, while appreciating a colorful sunset, I just open the book and read the first poem my eyes find. It is “I am really just a tambourine.”

Good
Poetry
Makes the universe admit a
Secret:
“I am
Really just a tambourine.
Grab hold.
Play me
Against your warm
Thigh.”

Before presenting the book to her as a gift, I read that poem. Being a percussionist, she especially likes the image of playing against her warm thigh! Then she reveals that she already has that book.  So I go back out to the car and get  A Year With Hafiz to give her instead. After a toast, she decides to read the poem for her birthday. It is the same poem!

The Last Tomato

tomatoThe vines are withering
yet a few tomatoes
miraculously ripen
some each day.
No birds or insects
defile this fertile fading.
Smaller and less robust
than its summer siblings,
each miniature offering
packs homegrown flavor
into an abbreviated form.
In three bites
only a memory.