Politics, Art, and Poetry

What’s it all about Alfie?

I’m listening to Dionne Warwick sing that Alfie song as I start typing, my mind running in various directions, trying to decide which strings to pick up and which ones to dismiss and does it make a difference?

“Well, by this time tomorrow, we’ll know (speaking of the election),” I said to my friend who works at the Chronicle. She wasn't so sure.

“Why isn’t Benicia on the map?” someone asked, referring to the weather map the San Francisco paper publishes. Now, I’d say this isn’t an issue I’m going to get my knickers in a twist about, but if you want to express yourself, send an email to: Wbushee@sfchronicle.com.

I went to a poetry reading Sunday at Ravenswood, a lovely estate in Livermore. About twenty people listened as two distinguished poets (both teach at university level, have published numerous books of poetry, won Guggenheim Awards, and can explain symbolism, surrealism, postmodernism and more) read—not very well, I might add. I speak of their reading, not their work. I understood some of it; some I didn’t.

Mentioning this to my Tuesday morning breakfast group, we got off to a rousing discussion about art and poetry, which raised as many questions as it answered.

In 1999, I spent two months at Vermont Studio Center, in that state, of course, with artists (80%) and writers (20%).  An artist spoke to us who believed in public art—art in the street and the park, wherever the public is.

“Only certain people go to museums,” he said. His words have stayed with me. I still like to go to museums, but there’s a presumption going in that if a work is there, it must be good. And if I recognize the artist’s name, well, I’m in the presence of greatness. If I don’t like a museum art piece, that’s because I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable to “get it.”

The reason I like reading as part of the Art Walk (this Saturday) and at The Rellik (the next Saturday) is that everyday people, many of whom don’t come to poetry readings or read the stuff, stop and listen and some stay to hear more.  

There are moments in poetry, in all art forms, in which we are touched deeply. As when I read Wallace Stevens, “A Postcard From The Volcano,” where he says,

“Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;”

Back to politics--my wish list for our government: that we’d get rid of the electoral college and have a much shorter election cycle; that people in Congress and in the California legislature would actually work on our problems and stop working on being re-elected. Fantasy, I suppose.

"The Black Panther of Poetry" November 07, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I like that short verse from "A Postcard from the Volcanoes" “Children picking up our bones Will never know that these were once As quick as foxes on the hill;”


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