Friday, July 10, 2009

What a Difference a Week Makes

Well, a week ago I was all fired up about the weak language I heard from a politico, and now I'm fired up about a conversation with a group of poets in a coffee shop. The difference? We talked to one another, listened, had specific things to say, especially to one of our group who asked for help and advice. And the useful information kept her pen moving as she made lists of things she could do to learn the slippery art of poetry. For what has been described by some as a dying art, poetry elicited enthusiasm, energy, openness--things I value in conversation. There's the word that works--conversation--a spoken exchange. Ah, when we exchange words, all parties have a say. That's nice. In the age of text and twitter, the sound of a human voice, modulated to reach only those who want to hear it, is precious. A conversation suggests closeness, geographical proximity--not a newsreader on the other side of the continent--reciprocity, multidimensional sound, complete with tolerable interruptions, hesitancy, clarification, and the unique tone and timbre of each human voice.

Poems and stories, wonderful as they are, don't allow for the immediacy of talking face to face. We read and reflect, maybe write a note to the author, but we tell our coffee klatch or dinner companions about what we read. Speech is the most fluid and spontaneous use of language. It sometimes uses the sculptured sounds of poetry, but it also allows for laughter and the low murmur of sadness. Conversation cannot be called back without converting it to dialog, in which the writer prunes and shapes the sentences to fit the page. Much as I love making poems and stories, I value as much the increasingly rare chances to talk with patient, open-minded people. We worry about what high-tech life does to reading; shouldn't we also be concerned about what it does to conversation?

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