Last Night I Experienced Something New……

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“There are times when a journalist truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the ‘new.’ The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new….” – Screenwriter Brad Bird, Ratatouille  

I have taken a slight liberty with the above quote which is from an animated feature film by Pixar. Though the quote addresses critics specifically, I think it has a profound application to my work as a journalist.  

There is very little that I don’t love about this work, but the opportunity to experience and convey the “new” to readers is high on my list of professional perks.  

However, in context to this column, I am applying a flexible definition to the word “new.”   

Confession time: I had no idea that James Baker Hall was a Harrison County resident until I learned of his induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame last week. He and his wife, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, as many local people know, lived on the Harrison side of Dividing Ridge Road for over 35 years.   

Taylor-Hall still lives there, in fact. It’s a lovely home and she was a very accommodating host, taking considerable time to introduce me to her husband’s work and showed me a number of rare, handcrafted poetry collections from a wonderful little place called Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky.  

This unique publishing company in rural Owen County has been in operation since 1973. In my lifetime, I have traveled through the town of Monterey hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times. I didn’t know a thing about Larkspur until last week.  

I don’t know if the average resident appreciates just how rich is the literary heritage of north central Kentucky.  Mind that I am casting a wider net than Harrison County when I say that. I include myself among the “average residents” by the way. Most writers in this area I know more by name than by a familiarity with their works.   

There was a time when I would be uncomfortable with this admission, but I’ve grown old enough, I guess, to realize that its just flat impossible to be familiar with everything. Besides, despite what the young and immature may say, even the old can be new. Especially to those who are receptive to it.  

Therefore, it has been a gift to read Hall’s poetry for the first time and I sincerely appreciate his wife sharing a small piece of his legacy with me.  

It is an irony that when I embarked on my research into Hall that I was more familiar with his wife’s novels. I have long been a fan her novel Come and Go, Molly Snow because I love bluegrass music and because I am a woefully amateur fiddle bower. (Note, please, that I didn’t say “player.”)   

I have long been an avid reader. Novels, short works, essays, articles — I am not inclined to favor one form over the other. But it has not been the same with me toward poetry. I have no explanation, rational or irrational, to justify why it should be … it certainly has not been for lack of exposure. My parents are long-time fans of Wendell Berry’s poetry and I remember listening to the works of Robert Frost being read aloud at home.  

But my past appreciation, and interest, in poetry can be best described as lukewarm. And really, that is no way to be toward anything, particularly to things that I consider to be an essential part of the spirit.   

Define that however you wish.  

Pertinent to the general subject of this column though, just as Hall said in a 2001 interview that “he had his eyes opened” by T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I have had my enthusiasm for poetry sparked by something “new,” relatively speaking.   

I cannot recall the circumstances that led me to the IndieFeed: Performance Poetry podcast on I-tunes, but I have never once regretted subscribing to it.  

The oral tradition in poetry goes back centuries. Contemporary “Spoken Word” or “Performance Poetry”  has its primary roots in the groundbreaking work of the Beat poets of the late 1950s and 60s.  

It’s nothing really new.  

But it feels very new. A branch of contemporary poets are using web-based media to reach a huge audience of listeners.It is a new frontier and I believe that IndieFeed is the leading internet resource to showcase the work of these new and established poets.

Three times a week, the site features a broad sample of poets from around the globe.  

Some merely read their works before a live audience. Others utilize music to enhance their performance. But the web is inspiring them to craft a new branch of poetry and its reviving interest in poetry among a large audience, but it is a form of verse that relies as much on the sound studio and the performer as it does the page.  

Recently, I was entranced by a piece from an African poet, M. Ayodele Heath, entitled Of Ash and Dust.  

It is an elegy to the astronauts killed in the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters. Heath uses every tool of the written word and the sound board to create an emotionally affecting listening experience. 

Below are links to four podcasts from the IndieFeed: Performance Poetry website

These four contain nothing offensive, but that is not true of every poem on the website. And, as is true of all things, none of the poems on the podcast will appeal to all tastes. But I invite you to listen to these and other works that appear there and on other sites, if you choose to explore this genre further.  

 Let me know if you find them as new and fresh as I did the words of our own late poet laureate who has only now become new to me. 

 
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