Sunday, October 24, 2004


Some of my most interesting writing online has come in the form of responses to blogs by others. Generally, I prefer dialoguing to monologuing. Yesterday, CR Jenson wrote on his blog something I couldn't resist responding to -- despite my self-imposed limitation on time online.


Over the past two years, I've been teaching myself how to play acoustic guitar in my "spare" time. It's something I've really come to enjoy about my day-making a space for music. I've been pretty musical my whole life-I used to tinker around with a keyboard when I was little, then I started playing the trumpet and later took piano lessons. I was also in my high school choir and the musicals each year.

Now I pull out the guitar whenever I'm in the office and I need a break, or if I'm about to spend some time writing but am having trouble with whatever I'm working on. I strum for a while, warble along, and then get down to the task of writing (or grading).

Do many of you have a "second" or even "third" art that you're involved in? Do you paint on the side? Take photographs? Etc.? I'll admit that for many of my teenage years, my dreams were not to be a poet-I wanted, on the surface, to be a filmmaker and, secretly, to be the lead singer of a rock band.

I stuck with poetry because I figured no matter what else I was doing, I could always find a way or reason to write without giving it "special" attention in my life.

So how about it? Any graphic designers out there? Sculptors? Etc? Let's hear about the other arts.

This is what I wrote back (with some revisions):

Naturally I can relate to your tale of needing a second focus. Between, say, 22 and 34, I defined myself (artistically at least) as a poet; from about 26 on, I took up fingerstyle guitar as a kind of a hobby and got pretty damned good at it, playing people like John Renbourne, Mississippi John Hurt, and Bert Jansch. Then, after a long period of poetic "blockage" songs came out, in all about 50 or so. Later a cassette and a fully orchestrated CD. After running up against the typical roadblocks facing independent musicians these days, I've turned back to poetry in a major way. I love the pure creativity of the act of writing poetry, the lack of production time and costs, the intelligence of the audience, "worthy but few". It suits my intellectual nature, my actually (as it turns out) not-so-outgoing temperament. Lit mags -- even the stuffiest ones -- are far more interesting than your typically abhorrent music publications. And the promotion of poetry, compared to music, is child's play -- that is, still monstrously tedious and frustrating, but actually doable by one person.

I still play the guitar, do the very occasional show, and am thankful for the emotional release and personal enrichment it brings. Proud though I am of my album (I wouldn't change a single note of it, and lately it's even gotten a couple of good but belated reviews) too bad some in the poetry establishment will see me as a flake for having engaged so heavily in an art as "low brow" as song writing. (See that recent quote in Victoria Chang's blog of advice to "young poet" against revealing ancillary artistic activities like performing music.) As a poet, I realize I have some catching up - de-rusting -- to do... but I'm catching up pretty darned fast. All the arts relate and inform each other. Said Goethe: "Architecture is frozen music. Symmetry is rhythm standing still." Cheers, and keep riffing in the office!

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