Sunday, November 20, 2016

Read. Write. Listen. Recite.

In the preface to the extraordinary collection of poems, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart (1992), the editors Robert Bly, James Hillman and Michael Meade wrote:

We live in a poetically underdeveloped nation. Men blame their own lives for a deficiency in the culture. For, without the fanciful delicacy and the powerful truths that poems convey, emotions and imagination flatten out. There’s a lack of spirit, of vision. The loss in the heart appears as a loss of heart to take up the great cultural challenges that are a part of every person’s citizenship.… working in poetry and myth is a therapy of the culture at its psychic roots.

Now there’s a different thought. That the loss of heart that comes from the lack of art contributes to the loss of civic responsibility. That cultivating our capacity to read poetry, to write poetry, to hear poetry, to recite poetry, can contribute to the restoration of good citizenship. That people who engage in the depth of feeling and thinking that authentic art demands can feel their own power and need not look for a demagogue or despot to save them. That the power to both feel deeply and craft ways to express and communicate these feelings is an antidote to the constant sensation, mindless consumption, trivial and titillating entertainment that passes as living.

We have a perilous political problem in this country and now the whole world knows it. But we also have a severe cultural crisis that now is laid bare. Huge swaths of the population informed solely through Fox news and right-wing radio, spending precious days with reality TV and trivial tweeting, graduating high school and college entirely ignorant of Americans named Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, e.e.cummings, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou and countless more. Not to mention jazz musicians, thinkers, fiction writers, playwrights, dancers, visual artists. How can a true democracy exist if its citizens are uninformed of their own cultural legacy beyond Hollywood blockbusters and the pop singer du jour? If school children grown to voters are not led to their own artistic promise, their own capacity to feel and think and develop themselves through the power of art, how can they be wholly intelligent and responsible citizens? 

The therapy we collectively need is far beyond simple political awareness, songs of peace or better news sources. To get to the psychic roots requires “working in poetry.” And of course, working in music, in dance, in drama, in visual arts as well. This is how we can begin to re-build our capacity to restore our flattened emotions and imaginations, to breathe life back into our spirit and feed a vision beyond responding to the Facebook post from five seconds ago. Art feeds the heart and the heart feeds the spirit and the spirit feeds our vision and our vision protects us from false promises, low character and mean-spirited bullies.

Read. Write. Listen. Recite. 

And for God's sake, sing!

PS Struck by that line "men blame their own lives for a deficiency in the culture." I think we can add "men blame the government for a deficiency in their own lives."

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