Friday, September 28, 2007

The Party of Priviledge and Mint Juleps

The Republican presidential candidates were invited to attend a debate/discussion on race issues at Howard University last night. The four frontrunners, Rudy G., Fred T, Mitch, and John declined to attend because of “scheduling conflicts.” After Katrina and some well staged photo-ops, King W., promised the federal government would help rebuild the South and he would join Trent Lott at his rebuilt home (mansion) on the gulf to sip mint juleps. It appears the fab four front runners are in lock step with King George and the former party of Lincoln is the part of privileged and mint juleps.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ed Rawn

Ed Rawn passed away two summers ago. He was remarkable. He was a giant in size and in spirit. Every Saturday, we would all meet. He would sit and listen giving everyone his full attention. Occasionally, he would add a few words in the richest baritone. His voice was music.

Ed was many things: a scholar, an educator, a mentor, a friend, a counselor, a minister, and a giant. He joked that when he went he wanted not to be buried, but he wanted the big burn. Let the earth have his ashes.

Ed was the kindest and wisest man I ever knew. I wrote these words about him:


Giant heart anticipated the big burn
Sitting subtle giving deft philosophy
In cello baritone

In sparse words Giant Heart
Specifics wisdom and smiles
In warm waves toward everyone

As conversation flows from smile
To smile he listens nodding
The comfort of friends

Giant Heart
Improved all he knew
In word caresses as brilliant as flowers
Ideas the sublime of sunset

The good doctor, the giant man
From dust to ash, opened many lives
A space we can never fill.

God's Wife

God’s Wife

I met God’s wife
Or so she said
Reading some magazine with muscles
And drinking coffee at Borders
I believe a latte
A nice enough woman
Pretty, with brown hair and eyes
Looking like any one of thousands
Of women you see in a month
No prettier
Her husband is omnipotent
I don’t believe she is
At least she did nothing to make me believe
She added sugar to her coffee
And had to wipe crumbs from the corner of her mouth with a napkin
Which fell and lingered on her blouse between her breasts
And I noticed she had a run in her stocking
When she stood to go to the restroom.
But she said she was God’s wife
Not his first
They had met in 1542
On a dirt path in Spain
Near some pastures
On the southern coast
God was sitting on a boulder
Wearing the robe and the sandals
With wild white hair and a wizard’s beard
The whole God-thing ensemble
Just sitting there
Head on his hands watching a sheep
Maybe wondering if he had goofed
He looked pensive with pursed lips
And maybe a little sad
God’s Wife knew he was God
Somehow she knew
She watched him for awhile
Out of his line of sight
But she knew
He knew she was there
So she asked?
-Why are you so sad?-
-I messed up sheep-
-So now, well...
-they're sheep-
-Yes, but why else are you sad?-
-My wife died last night-
-Oh I’m sorry-
Well God’s wife
Talked to God
That day, and the next, and the next
Without sleep or eating or drinking
He had so much to talk about
And when she talked to him
She had so much to say
About things she never knew she knew
She fell in love with his wild eyes
Which changed color with his moods:
Yellows and greens and crimson cobalt and
Deepest black and the white of pure light when he grew livid
And she fell in love with his mane
Of white which danced as he spoke
Punctuating his sentences with floating and flying
God’s wife - just a butcher’s daughter
Not even sixteen
Knew she was pretty, but others were prettier
And she was lithe and wore herself with assuredness
They were married in the town’s little Gothic church
With father Dominic presiding
God’s wife’s family was there
As well as everyone in the little Spanish town
And everyone from the area
Most sat on her side
How could some decide?
To sit on his side?
The priests and monks and nuns
Even though they were family
Thought sitting on his side
Still some did
To be polite
And were uncomfortable
Along with the crazy man
Who talks to himself
Who God welcomed by name
And a funny crow who cawed
At the right times
And some odd men in strange clothes
Who sat in the back
And talked to no one
But themselves
The ceremony was short
And the priest was uncomfortable
With the vows
-In God’s name, I mean your name-
Everyone congratulated the couple
And they walked off to the east
Arm in arm
God’s wife
She returned home frequently
Never missing a birthday
Nor an anniversary
But as time passed and
She barely aged
Since she lived in a different time zone
Her family and friends all
Grew old and passed on so
She made new friends in
Bern, then Salzberg, then Moscow,
London, Paris, San Francisco,
Havana and Lima and
Now her friends in New York have passed on
Like the others before
So she sips a coffee and talked to
Me and gave me her cell phone number
It has 112 numbers all twos
And now I am her friend.

God's Wife was written about five years ago. It was published in Tales From the
Telling Tree: Pat Berge and Nancy North, editors.

Quality and what is great art?

I am intrigued by the nature of quality. What makes art art and how do we recognize it? In a graduate school seminar years ago, we spent several days on the topic. One of the arguments is that great art has an innate quality about it that is recognizable and timeless. For instance, the Venus of Willendorf, though thousands of years old and created by a member of a culture long gone, is viewed as great art because it has that quality. By this argument, all great work is recognizable regardless of time or culture.

I then have to ask: was the Venus of Willendorf even considered great in its time? Is it only considered great because it survived?

In contrast, I look at Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which caused near riots when it debuted at the beginning of the century and many experts regarded as garbage. When the ballet was performed just a year later, it was regarded as a masterpiece. Cezanne’s paintings were perceived by his contemporaries as horrible. Only Pissarro recognized his genius. As time passed, Cezanne’s genius was recognized and the quality of his work is now never questioned.

My wife and I even have this discussion when it comes to popular music. She appreciates and accepts as quality work those done by the finest vocalists and works with fine melodies. I, in contrast, care less for the quality of the vocals. For instance, as my wife puts it, Neil Young and Bob Dylan are great songwriters, but someone else should sing the songs. I see the quality of the songs and appreciate the visceralness (not a word) of their expression. Their voices, though far from perfect, bring something to their music.

By my wife’s definition, presentation is the most important aspect of quality. The elements, for instance line, form and color in painting, when done well, represent quality. I place a higher value in content and expressiveness. For instance, a local big fish in a small pond academic poet, Robert Stewart at UMKC, composes technically perfect poetry with precise meter and word choice. I find his work, however, as expressive as cardboard.

Which brings me back to the nature of quality. What work is great and what about it makes it great? The only answer that has carried through time is the great works are the ones that critics and experts (mostly males of Northern European descent) have placed in the canon. The other catch all measure of quality is the Strom Thurman “I may not know art, but I know what is good,“ argument. If I don’t like it then it can’t be good.

On a personal note, I ponder my own work. I look at each work and wonder about the. I hope to produce quality work, but am I? I recognize some of the works are weaker. Still, is my work any good? And does it matter? As I post my work, I will revisit this inanswerable question from time to time.