Monday, August 27, 2012

Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now by Mark Doty


Mark Doty inspired this post - and it was sheer luck that in my google search I found him.

He writes/speaks:

I want to begin with a quotation from the contemporary American poet Elizabeth Alexander. A little line or two of Elizabeth's provides an epigraph for my talk. This is a poem in which the speaker is a teacher who has grown frustrated with her class. The class believes that poetry is all rainbows and sweetness and love. And she says to them, "'Poetry,' I tell them, 'is the human voice, and we are of interest to one another. Are we not?'"

So this is "Tide of Voices." In the early 1940s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow constructed a hierarchy of basic needs, a famous description of what human beings require. Above all else, he said, we need to be safe. When you're out of danger you can think about food and water, and when you have those things you can think about shelter, and once you have that you can turn to your emotional needs. When you're safe, fed, out of the weather, and loved, he thought, then you can turn your attention to a more complex human need and desire to create.



Full Transcript:
Audio
Just as Mark Doty turns to Elizabeth Alexander, I turn to Mark Doty as my (extended) epigram.  When Doty shares hierarchy of basic needs, I think of Mr. Davies and his talk on thoughtfulness.  I wonder where "thoughtfulness" lands in this hierarchy of an adolescent's needs.   A girl mentioned how a spider distracted her as it crawled along her pew - her fear - her arachnophobia challenging the fulfillment of her basics needs.  Another student says she was distracted by another student that whispering in the ear of another student - the irony.  A lecture on "thoughfulness" ignored.  Those that are thoughtful, listen.  Those that are not, do not.  Perhaps a few students crossed the chasm of oblivion to enlightened "thoughtfulness".
Just as Mark Doty turns to Elizabeth Alexander, I turn to Mark Doty as my (extended) epigram.  When Doty shares hierarchy of basic needs, I think of Mr. Davies and his talk on thoughtfulness.  I wonder where "thoughtfulness" lands in this hierarchy of an adolescent's needs.   A girl mentioned how a spider distracted her as it crawled along her pew - her fear - her arachnophobia challenging the fulfillment of her basics needs.  Another student says she was distracted by another student that whispering in the ear of another student - the irony.  A lecture on "thoughfulness" ignored.  Those that are thoughtful, listen.  Those that are not, do not.  Perhaps a few students crossed the chasm of oblivion to enlightened "thoughtfulness".
So how does one become more "thoughtful" - age, maturity, awareness, experience, personal connection?
Poetry brings awareness.  And poetry "fuses the outer voice with the inner voice" (Doty).
I find it hard not to quote extensively as a I read and listen to Mark
That inner voice is certainly related to the voice we use when we talk to the world and reflect in it, but they aren't the same thing. I doubt any of us sounds to other people the way we sound in our own heads. Poetic voice is an attempt to make a version of that illusive inferiority, to bring it into the light of the page. Or maybe, more accurately, to fuse the inner voice with the outer one in order to make a speaking presence on the page that feels like ourselves.
Poetry makes us listen.  Through listening, we become thoughtful.  Writing poetry is like Emerson's advice to listen "within"and "Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Mark Doty reads Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali (which led me to find the poet on youtube and copy this transcription below):
Mark Doty reads Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali (which led me to find the poet on youtube and copy this transcription below):
Mark Doty reads Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali (which led me to find the poet on youtube and copy this transcription below):
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I'd rest at last
and if I were ready -
I would take my revenge!
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who'd put
his right hand over
the heart's place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they'd set -
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn't bear his absence
and who his presents thrilled.
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school...
asking about him
and sending him regards.
out to be on his own -
cut off like a branch from a tree -
without mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I'd add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness -
nor the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I'd be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street - as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.
St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, October 7, 2006)
Listen to Taha Muhammad Ali read his poem
Doty concludes:
Doty concludes:
We must listen to be "thoughtful" and what better way to share our voice than through poetry.
Listen to the poetry all around you.  












Revenge
At times ... I wish
But if it came to light,
Likewise ... I
Or if he had
But if he turned
~ Taha Muhammad Ali ~
(Read by Taha Muhammad Ali and translated by Peter Cole,





It is revenge, of course, that brought the great corporate monuments of New York City down into the dust. And revenge that fueled the seemingly endless, capricious war-making that has followed. There is no end to revenge in sight but here on the page, within one life, a life which presents some excellent reasons the speaker might want revenge, might be moved to strike back. The chain of reprisal is ended for the duration of the poem and in whatever ways the text goes on reverberating in the minds of its readers and listeners.

Poetry's work is to make people real to us through the agency of the voice. "'Poetry is the human voice,' I tell them, 'and we are of interest to one another. Are we not?'" When people are real to you, you can't fly a plane into the office building where they work, you can't bulldoze the refugee camp where they live, you can't cluster-bomb their homes and streets. We only do those things when we understand people as part of a category: infidel, insurgent, enemy. Meanwhile, poetry does what it does, inscribing individual presence, making a system of words and sounds to mark the place where one human being stood, bound in time, reporting on what it is to be one. In the age of the collective of mass culture and mass market, there's hope in that.

Tina Chang, the young poet who is one of the new voices here this weekend, is the co-editor of an anthology being published by W. W. Norton. The book is called Language for a New Century: Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond. The title of this book represents my deepest hope for our art. May poetry indeed be a language for a new century. A way to place value on the dignity, specificity, and beauty of individual lives. A way to resist the streamlining diminishment of categories and generalizations. A way to speak, a way to be heard.





It is these last lines that conclude my point (however, obscure it has become by my over-quoting): 



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