Friday, November 20, 2009

Kerouac, Right and Wrong

This entry comes from one of my writing group experiences. We talk, circle around an idea or issue, then write for 20 minutes or so. My response this week still has my head spinning, so with little revision, here's fresh food from the Louisville lovelies group.

"The purpose of art is to stop time." -- Jack Kerouac

Time as a construct makes me dizzy. Painting, photography, sculpture must freeze the scene, make the model pose until captured. Think of those early photographs that required a long exposure, so long that the subjects needed props to hold them in place. And while these visual arts stopped time, did they also warp it? I'm thinking of a studio portrait of my grandmother. She's about twelve, her hair arranged in careful ringlets, her stockings smooth, dress neatly draped over her knees, a perfect lady, and an unlikely role for her, but for the time it took to pose, she was just that, and not the boisterous girl who once left her red petticoat in a confessional.

Borges says that we cannot help but be part of our own time, cannot, as artists, fully enter past or future, so as writers we cannot stop time's effect on us. Maybe this is one of the differences between the visual and literary arts, although a novel, poem, or play from another era, honestly written, carries time forward to us, just as that photo of Gram carries her forward to me, however odd the portrayal.

Kerouac has to be right in one sense, that an honest journal, portrait, or poem catches and immobilizes a slice of time, becomes a freeze frame able to evoke the past. But he's also wrong. Nothing stops time, and time makes strangers of us all. A dozen years from now, my grandson will not know that an old photo in an album has caught a little girl in a nicely dressed lie. And a dozen decades from now, language will have changed so much that these very pages will seem alien, of value only to some pedant studying old words, old phrases and constructions, curiosities as odd as narwhals, as dead as passenger pigeons.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Life Without a Coffee Shop

Last evening, as planned, I drove to the next town to attend a poetry reading at a comfy, independent coffee shop. Horrors! There's a sign on the door, "poetry reading canceled, closing early." This cannot be. People will come, they will cry, they will demand explanations. Well, that didn't happen. A friend who had already arrived and I posted a sticky note next to the closure announcement telling a third friend where to find us, and we went up the hill to a Mexican restaurant, kept a beady eye on the door and finally three others joined us for an impromptu dinner and reading--just to our own table, of course. We had a good visit, laughed a lot, and left satisfied. But the ghost of a thought followed me. Already I live in a neighborhood where our only semi-independent coffee shop closed precipitously on the day of a poetry reading. You can understand my angst. Poetry and cafes have long been good bedfellows, warm companions, etc. The supermarket version of coffee shop is not the same.

Here's another thing; the place that closed without warning--I was to have been the feature reader that evening, heck, the only reader. So I take these things personally. If that Mexican restaurant, long a fixture in its town, closes, I'm going to call for an exorcism, or genetic alteration to remove my poison poetry gene. Or stay home. But that might call down the imps of the perverse and my house go to strangers, a sign posted on the front door, "Contaminated. Do not enter." How can Auden claim that poetry makes nothing happen. Just look at this mess.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fear of Fundamentalism

Prayer for an American Rose

Let her wear jeans.
Let her practice karate
and feel sun on her skin.
Let her study ecology, engineering,
medicine, law or all of these.
Let her serve no man but
whom she serves by choice.

Stop the woman haters here and there
before she grows breasts and bleeds.
Do no marry her off.
Dear god, she's not meant to wilt
in skirts and a scarf.

Some days the news makes me grind my teeth and pace. When that happens, and I see children I love in danger, I understand, a little anyway, the urge to revolution. If we cannot protect our freedom, little girls will be locked away in domestic prisons, and we will have to fight. More than anything in this world, I want girls to have the freedoms I have had all my life: to study, to write, to work, to wear what feels right and to worship (or not) as I choose, to marry or not. To manage my money, drive a car, walk the dog without waiting for a male relative to go along.