Sunday, November 23, 2014

Found Poetry

One of my favorite museums in the world is the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. The visionary art according the museum's website is 'intuitive, self-taught artistry.' It appeals to me because if it isn't an apocalyptic psychotic product which there is plenty of that there, it is art created by normal folk like you or me. I haven't been for years, but one of favorite exhibits is that of the Baltimore Glass Man. The glass man is a retired (schizophrenic) gentleman who repurposes shards of glass that litter the streets of his neighborhood into art.

I thought of the glass man, who entered the art world later in life, when a friend sent me the video of Naomi Shihab Nye speaking at the Poetry Everywhere Project. Here, she recites a 'found' poem. If you watch it, you will hear her say that William Sanford when asked when did he become a poet, he said that was the not question. The question is when did you stop because when we are little. we are all poets. Nye wisely took the word treasures that her son gave to her to build poetry.

A summer ago, I attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival to take a poetry course. During the week, I had some one on one time to workshop my poetry with my professor. It was a meet greet as much as anything, and when he asked me after I told several interesting anecdotes about my students, very seriously: Why don't you write about them? It wasn't anything that I hadn't ever considered, but I've just never figured how to do it with integrity. One of the things that I abhor is the sometimes exploitation of the 'ghetto' for art's sake. You would think because I am a poet that I would be really involved with the spoken word group at our school. I support them, but I can't listen to that all of the time. In order to get out of the ghetto, I think, one has to figure out a way not to think like the ghetto. Yes, it can powerful to hear a young person express their angst about not having a daddy, and mommy is a drug addict ... but wouldn't it be more powerful for this same student to find a voice that figures out how to break the pattern and find words that empower not perpetrate.

And then I saw this YouTube video (thank you Ira for always being an inspiration for me). And what I can do is capture the wonderfully vibrant words and sentences that my students express when they aren't even looking. I love to listen to the talk .... and sometimes, without even knowing it, I find myself trying to copy not only their words, but the cadence of their sentences, the attitude of their demeanor, and accent of each syllable. They catch me doing it all of the time, and it makes them laugh. So, I've decided to begin a journal to capture what they are saying to me, to each other, to the wall. I really think that I may be on to something ....

And so we begin with the first line: She put your business in the sky. If that isn't a great line of poetry, I don't know what is.

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