Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blog #4

The Film Forum consistently has brilliantly curated film series. Currently playing: NYC Noir. The commonality being people behaving badly in a dark & seedy New York, in films made anytime from the silent era of Von Sternberg on through the 70s renaissance of films like Midnight Cowboy and Mean Streets.

Two classics from the true noir era, I Wake Up Screaming (1941) & Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), attracted a large crowd, probably due to some recent coverage in the Times. The theater was filled with a mix of serious film buffs and folks just out to see an ole-timey black and white movie. It created what I thought was an interesting dynamic.

The unfamiliarity of the past got big laughs. (In a movie theater, the more vocal audience members sort of overrule the subtler watchers.) When Burt Lancaster said, "On the level" or "It's curtains for you," laughter killed the emotion. It seemed a shame that mere novelty was the draw when there was so much more to appreciate. Okay, it's funny when Barbara Stanwyk is diagnosed as a "cardiac neurotic," but let me sincerely experience the suspense of her potential murder instead of being interrupted by giggling at the first sign of melodrama. I couldn't help getting the feeling that these films were being made fun of. And that made me mad.

My urge to rant aside, there were a couple interesting things at work:

1. How an emotion by proxy can color your own. As in, oh everyone's laughing at the silly archaic language so even though I'm feeling a sincere emotion because I am allowing myself to be absorbed in the story, I will distance myself like everyone else and have a good, knowing chuckle at how dated the actors sound. Ironic distance. What's up with this? Emotional peer pressure?

2. The two levels (for argument's sake, I am not saying that there are ONLY two) one can experience/appreciate these films. Ironically or sincerely. What is the value of each? Obviously, I'm in the sincere camp. I don't think it's possible to ironically appreciate the beauty of the filmmaking. Can one appreciate the cinematography ironically? The craft of the storytelling? And if we make a distinction between visual and cerebral, does one category lend itself more readily to ironic interpretation?


Isn't part of the emotional peer pressure you talk about the public production of taste, the culture of review & judgement with a bit of popcorn? Recently I fell in love with a book, Dorothea Lasky's Awe & I keep talking about how much I am "in love" with it to people & when they write me back (talking equals email to me now) they concur that they love it as well. Would they say they "loved" it necessarily if I hadn't? Maybe, maybe not. It's a bit of pressure, but also the way we contextualize things. Someone defines a category that allows for a reinterpretation of a book/movie/sculpture & broadcasts it through a review or critique. If it works for us we adopt that category. The obvious difference between reading a review & the laughter in the theater is that a review allows for a different engagement. You can stop reading. you can mock it, you can rebut in your head. In the theater I guess you could have yelled at everyone to stop laughing but I doubt that would have been effective. So I think the emotional pressure toward a recontextualization is implicit the texts social nature.


Blog #3

I just finished reading James Schuyler's Morning of the Poem out loud to myself and it frickin' blew my mind. Here's a sample:

So many lousy poets
So few good ones
What's the problem?
No innate love of
Words, no sense of
How the thing said
Is in the words, how
The words are themselves
The thing said: love,
Mistake, promise, auto
Crack-up, color, petal,
The color in the petal
Is merely light
And that's refraction:
A word, that's the poem.
A blackish-red nasturtium.
Roses shed on
A kitchen floor, a
Cool and scented bed
To loll and roll on.
I wish I had a rose
Or butterfly tattoo:
But where? Here on
My arm or my inner
Thigh, small, where
Only the happy few
Might see it? I'll
Never forget that
Moving man, naked to
The waist a prize-
Fight buckle on his
Belt (Panama) and
Flying high on each
Pectoral a bluebird
On tan sky skin. I
Wanted to eat him up:
No such luck. East
28th Street, 1950.
How the roses pass.

posted by Justin

Blog #2

I've been wondering for the last couple days what constitutes intelligence and creativity. Meri and I were discussing this in terms of our jobs in advertising and marketing. I personally am not that into what I do (when I'm actually employed). It pays the bills and I like it fine, but don't love it. I am, however, able somehow to assimilate it into my work and think it has actually helped my poetry.

I've always been reluctant to say that advertising requires intelligence, or much anyway. While there are certainly smart people in the business, I'd say it's more about being clever than actually being intelligent. I've also made the argument that writing ad copy is not creative. It's more about being a technician of language, plying your trade and whatnot, to my mind, but most people in the biz thoroughly disagree with me.

Point being: what is intelligence, or for that matter, creativity? What makes art more creative than ad copy and what makes an intellectual more intelligent than a great marketer or ad person or whatever? Or am I just being a snob and sell-out, which would ultimately make me a total hypocrite?

For me, part of what makes my poetry creative and my ad copy is that I have to accomplish a certain goal with ad copy, convey whatever feeling the concept demands and, of course, get people to buy shit. With poetry, I have almost no aim whatsoever except to write a good poem. Well, that's not totally true, but you know what I mean. I have no material gain in mind. With poetry, I'm just trying to follow what the poems wants and be true to that.

That said, there is a kind of pointlessness to what I call creative work. Is that part of what makes something creative? The fact that you didn't have to do it to get ahead in life or make a buck? You just had to do it because you had to, or thought it would be fun and keeping all that energy bottled up would cause you such anxiety that it would literally kill your soul, explode it into a thousand little pieces across your inner landscape, and ultimately be the nuclear holocaust that annihilated your interior life? Or that's how it is for me, which, of course, is hyperbole. And not.

I could go on, but maybe it's time for others to speak.


Just reading through James Schuyler's Collected Poems and found this quote from Wallace Stevens: "The intelligence is part of the comedy of life."

And Schuyler himself says in The Morning of the Poem, "the truth, the absolute / Of feeling, of knowing what you know, that is / the poem"

Make of it what you will (or won't) regarding the above, or anything else.


I think Schuyler's point about knowing what you know being the poem is a good one. Sometimes, with regard to intelligence, I think poets are like baseball players. Baseball players are athletes, sure...but I'm thinking of John Kruk or Steve Balboni or Bob Horner or Cecil Fielder...real fatties. Still terrific players, but would you call them athletic? Prolly not. They certainly joked about not being athletes. What made them good, however, was knowing what they knew...being good at what they were good at...hitting a baseball. They couldn't track down a long fly ball, or steal a base, and my guess is that they couldn't easily transition into other sports...I'd be willing to bet I could take either of them in a game of one-on-one.

Sure there are poets out there who are excellent academics as well, clear concise prose writers, prolly excellent teachers, terrific spouses and parents, etc. But there are also poets out there who have trouble remembering to hydrate themselves properly (ahem...Justin...drink up sweetie), and all they can do right is write poems. So I'm not sure how that fits into the intelligent/creative copy writer/poet dichotomy except that they are very specific activities and one can be good at them and not be intelligent or creative with regard to anything else.

--Chris "Smart Water" Tonelli

I remember reading about the triarchic theory of intelligence in some undergrad class that I thought I was too smart for & it's stuck with me.

But it seems to me that the working definition of intelligence comes up short in attempting to apply it to both a job & an artistic vocation. Do we define intelligence as "good at performing tasks well," like hitting baseballs, pleasing clients with appropriate texts? Then we would have to assume the these tasks set out are those that are socially accepted to be useful, productive tasks. We don't praise the guy who is incredibly intelligent in tying floss into bows.

I agree with jm that there is a pointlessness to art, a willful pointlessness. In that respect it is not a task that intelligence necessarily makes one good at performing, it's a non-productive task. But then again art also (get out your neg-cap goggles for this one, friends) is not pointless. However off the radar poetry might be we participate in a community in which writing awesome poems commands respect & sometimes even a little bit of money. (Sometimes.) Unless one goes all Darger & never publicly shows ones work there is always at the very least a pursuit of social cache in art in addition to the need to satisfy one's own "pointless" aesthetic desires. So there is a task, a task that one can be particularly suited to & therefore intelligent at. Similarly, poetry typically does require a level of linguistic facility, or intelligence, because it retains its rhetorical elements in relation to its aesthetic ones.