Further thoughts on the cultural labor of poetry and art. Not merely "is it good?," but "what has it accomplished?"...reviews of recent poetry collections; selected poems and art dealing with war/peace/social change; reviews of poetry readings; links to political commentary (particularly on conflicts in the Middle East); youtubed performances of music, demos, and other audio-video nuggets dealing with peaceful change, dissent and resistance.
Friday, March 18, 2016
Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 38: “Cell/(ph)one (A simultaneity in four voices)”
Opera Lenten Journey Day 38: “Cell/(ph)one
(A simultaneity in four voices)”
picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
To which he
replied, but I am God. Or something like that. (Actually, he replies that the
law says that you are gods, quoting Psalms 82:6.) The Jesus of John’s Gospel seems
far more divine than human, and I’m annoyed by him as a character, as if he
were an extra from an Ayn Rand novel. I keep expecting him to shoot lasers out
of his eyes or something. The point is: Jesus’s humanity is not easy to see in John,
in all his proclamations of his divinity. He’s harder to hug here than in the
synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). So he’s harder for me to see. The
question may well be, how can we see people as God sees them (or, if the God
language isn’t your thing, as they might be seen by loving eyes) not as we want
to see them? And similarly, how can we hear the voices of others with the ears
of Love? Today’s poem is the chorale poem, “Cell/(ph)one” as well as Paige Webb’s commentary
on the text performance.
(A simultaneity in four voices)” commentary by Paige Webb
instructions say: “Read line breaks as slight pauses, space breaks as
silences.” But silence is emphatically impossible during this poem’s
performance. When one reader pauses between stanzas, other voices overwhelm the
absence. The listener’s focus splits, unable to discern any one for long.
In a video
performance on Youtube, the camera faces the shadowed backs of the reader’s
heads. It seems appropriate, the facelessness. In that recording, “[Breaking
Convo]” is the loudest voice; what he says, the most insignificant (“Huh?”).
It’s a conversation broken by distraction, a distraction itself.
somewhere in there, a prisoner at Guantanamo relays a message to his wife—a
fragment of real intimacy swallowed by cacophony. I replay the video, listening
for his voice. All I can pick out is “That I love her.” What can break through
the static, and how far do we need to lean in to hear? One factor is context,
that we live in this particular time, in this particular country, and not
another. The question is how we participate, how we listen.
This is (still)
the era of Trump’s campaign for more power, with his reductive phrases and
their racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic subtext; with his supporters’
violent acts and threats on Muslims, Hispanics, and African Americans; with his
manipulation of fear and anxiety that in turn has raised my anxiety and
confusion about this moment in history, after all that has happened. On my
route home, the flash of a new billboard: “We, Muslim Americans condemn
terrorism!” Black letters thrown against a white background, beside an image of
the American flag. All that its existence implies, the individual experiences
that led to that statement.
highway in St. Louis, protesters blocked traffic this past August, on the
anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. An SUV drove through the crowd. Below the
news story someone posted: “Agreed. Do not fuck with the evening commute.” The
protest was against a constant, an aim to break it by a shift in
attention—“Ferguson is everywhere” the yellow roadblocks said—a shift away from
the small want to get home now, from the radio, the sound of the kids’ T.V. in
the back, the cellphone in one hand, the other on the wheel. I watch that SUV
drive through again: Dilililiililillililiililli.
Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, the
image of a T.V. in static mode recurs, while the phrase “this is the most
miserable in my life” punctuates throughout. Static, loneliness, and what
breaks through. Under [Cell/phone]: “You are wanted. You are not / alone.”
That’s the promise of digital communication—its sheen of connection without the
messiness of actual intimacy. [Cell/phone] ends the performance alone with
compulsive repetition of “I have to take this call.” I imagine it read to the
beat of someone reaching for his phone, driven by the human need (anxiety) to
feel valued, wanted. This is the need books like Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products exploit. I say this as
a person who owns a smartphone. Who checks it too often.
instruction: “cut [the poem] into four columns for four readers.” Divide the
page; don’t let your hands touch the same text; speak over, rather than to, one
another. In the video, the four readers haven’t cut the poem—and of course not,
it’s a beautiful book. Regardless, the visual of each holding up Sand Opera with a hand or two somehow
feels like a quiet defiance to the noise that overwhelms a single voice, that
pushes out empathy with an individual’s speech, that kind of intimacy. That’s
what Philip Metres offers in Sand Opera—a
break in the static, a shift in attention, a space through which we can lean in
“That I love
Paige Webb is an MFA candidate at Washington University,
St. Louis. She serves as an instructor for The Kenyon Review Young Writers
Workshop and is an editor ofFebruary.