Friday, March 11, 2005

I Get It. If You Break a Leg, The Show Goes on But You Don't

Just a little tension around the old homeplace tonight. Tomorrow we are hosting a poetry salon, which sounds a little pretentious. But how is sitting around reading to one another pretentious? Given how little we know, having opinions about political leaders and world affairs is pretentious. Reading a nice poem you liked in seventh grade -- or in the coffee house back in college or in the dentist's waiting room the week before last leafing through the New Yorker -- is small-c conservative, small-d democrat and small-l liberal, too.

These "salons" have been going on in one form or another for 25 years, sometimes small, sometimes medium-sized. The late great Patrick Finley -- mad, drunk, genius, destroyer of self, a capital P poet -- was at the center of them. Sometimes he would get a hundred people and collect "donations." Sometimes it was four people in a living room with a keg of sake.

I think I am remembering this right. Patrick said poetry consists of "words that sing," whatever else it includes. This means that you find the first pleasure in the sound of it all, whatever you find deeper in the sound as it resolves itself into more intellectual meaning. This is a philosophy of presentation that means if there is no pleasure for the audience, something has misfired. The point was never to intimidate the audience or play games of exclusion.

Is it ten years ago that Patrick died? The salons disappeared for a while and then came back on a very small scale: in living rooms with a nice spread of things from Costco (the big piece of jarlsberg, the frozen mini-quiches, the Just Desserts chocolate cake). Part of the reason the salons came back was the return to the Bay Area of our friend Jeffrey Pressman, who was also at the center of those Finley salons. Think of the periodic table and some of the nicer elements. There can be quite a lot in your basic nucleus, you know.

But now Jeffrey is off on another journey, and we are having .... Not a farewell salon. An au revoir salon!

Somehow -- and I know not how -- my wife and I have fallen into doing a Robert Frost poem -- "The Death of the Hired Man" -- under Jeffrey's direction. (Directing people is one of his arts.)

Jeffrey wants me to find my "darkness" to make the piece work. I believe he is afraid he is going to get Ma and Pa Kettle.

"Ma" and I are a little tense, though my wife does not need to be. She is very expressive, very much "available" to her emotions. (See how I have picked up the lingo.) She would have made a marvelous actress. When she feels something strongly she is transparent to her core. I, on the other hand, am wooden. Jeffrey says I reach for the emotion and sound like Tony Randall. Right now I am trying to channel Walter Brennan. You know, someone without teeth and a limp.

We will have 15, maybe 20, people looking on, an assortment of friends and acquaintances. (You're all welcome, too. Sometimes it's good to have regular readers as numerous as the stars in the sky, that is, as numerous as the visible stars in one of the minor constellations.)

Still, I am nervous. As Tiny Tim would have said, had he been lead drama critic for the New York Times, "Mr. Robertson's emotions ran the gamut from A to B. God help us, everyone."

1 comment:

B. Wieder said...

Poetry? Poetry?!?! Nobody said anything about poetry, for God's sake! Now I've got to go back and make everything rhyme! Jesus Horatio Bastard! Where's my meth?