Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Reflection: A Concrete World Full of Souls

Fare thee well, American bard (click graphic to view)

Shock and awe.

What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

--Kurt Vonnegut Jr., 1922 - 2007

Friday Reflection: Three Angels

Three angels up above the street,
Each one playing a horn,
Dressed in green robes with wings that stick out,
They've been there since Christmas morn.
The wildest cat from Montana passes by in a flash,
Then a lady in a bright orange dress,
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels,
The Tenth Avenue bus going west.
The dogs and pigeons fly up and they flutter around,
A man with a badge skips by,
Three fellas crawlin' on their way back to work,
Nobody stops to ask why.
The bakery truck stops outside of that fence
Where the angels stand high on their poles,
The driver peeks out, trying to find one face
In this concrete world full of souls.
The angels play on their horns all day,
The whole earth in progression seems to pass by.
But does anyone hear the music they play,
Does anyone even try?

Can anyone guess the author of that poem? I found it in an anthology called The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, edited by James Hillman, Michael Meade, and my personal favorite among living poets, Robert Bly.

This is National Poetry Month, and not everyone in the bard shop is excited. I think that Bernstein's point is well taken: when you confine Christmas to one day a year, it's pretty easy to forget the true message of the fellow from Nazareth, whether you consider him to have been a very wise man or merely a god. When you celebrate poetry four weeks out of the year, the other 48 can become plastic and stagnant.

Here, we're always celebrating poetry, because I think our culture and our politics need poetry more than ever before. As I said last month in our piece on Frost, we need poets in corporate cubicles, on American Idol, in the dull, prosaic and hygienic halls of Washington, on Madison Avenue, and on Wall Street.

The poet quoted above seems to think so, too. He sees living souls in this corporate, concrete world. He hears the songs of the poets, "playing on their horns all day." But he worries that we've become deaf to their music, to their living message of truth and beauty.

Another question we might add to the last one the poet asks ("does anyone hear the music they play / does anyone even try?"), is something we've brought up in our discussion of the iPod culture. I see the people wired to their little drives every day on the subway; often I can hear the tinny fuzz of sound coming from their heads. Yet I wonder: how much are they listening to the songs, and how much are they just tuning out of what's around them?

Poetry—real poetry, that is, not the Hallmark-card pabulum of our age—has always been meant to awaken us to the living present; to reveal to one another the souls still alive in the concrete jungle. It is never about blinding the eye or deadening the senses. If we are to have a true awakening in this era of genocide and global war and crushing poverty and medieval disparities of economy and environmental destruction, then we had better rediscover the poetry that still lives, repressed and caked over with conditioning, within us, and celebrate it—every day and month of the year.

Oh, the poet quoted above is a fellow named Bob Dylan. Pretty good musician, too.

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