Monday, March 28, 2011
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POETRY AND PROSE
OF JUSTIN SPRING
AND CONTEST WINNERS
IF YOU'RE NEW TO SOULSPEAK, YOU MAY WANT TO CHECK OUT THE GUIDE TO SOULSPEAK
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To see a detailed preview before downloading the free PDF, click on title: SOULSPEAK: The Outward Journey of the Soul
To see a detailed preview before downloading the free PDF, click on title: ALICE HICKEY: Between Worlds
To see a detailed preview before downloading the free PDF, click on title: MIRRORS
This is a short memoir of my mysterious encounter with the poetry of the Australian aborigine Eldred Van-Ooy which was published in 2011 as MIRRORS
To see a detailed preview before downloading the free PDF, click on title: 2016 REVISED EDITION: MIRRORS: THE ABORIGINE POETRY OF ELDRED VAN-OOY
2016 REVISED EDITION: MIRRORS: THE ABORIGINE POETRY OF ELDRED VAN-OOY
This is the 2016 expanded, revised version of my 2011 translation of the pidgin poetry of aborigine Eldred Van-Ooy.
In this revised version, I explore how Van-Ooy's work was instrumental not only in changing my view of the nature of poetry but also in unconsciously guiding me in the creation of a contemporary version of pre-literate oral poetry I call SOULSPEAK and a related video version of SOULSPEAK I call Dreamstories. These are two new, revolutionary forms of poetry that I believe some part of poetry will follow in the future. Like the pidgin poems themselves, the 2016 revised version will leave you in a particularly enticing garden, wondering, looking up at the leaves.
To see a detailed review before downloading click on title: RIVER MOTHER: The Face of the Sphinx
This is the story of an extraordinary Nubian female shaman/leader whose face becomes the face of the Sphinx in 6000 B.C..
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Part One lays out the new artistic, weathering and cultural evidence pointing toward a preliterate ( prior to 3200 BC) construction of the face and front limbs of the Sphinx. It also lays out new evidence on the artistic capabilities of preliterate hunter/gatherer tribes as well as the influence of the Mother Goddess cultures of these tribes.
Part Two adds more detail to the basic artistic, weathering and cultural evidence as well as new evidence on the immigration of Semitic tribes from the Levant and Nubian tribes from the south bringing about a new Proto-Egyptian culture that gave birth to the Sphinx around 6000 BC, and later to Dynastic Egypt, where the remainder of the body of the Sphinx was completed.
Part Three adds even more detail to the basic artistic, weathering and cultural evidence. It also takes a look at the strengths and weaknesses of other theories about the Sphinx and in particular the theory of Bauval and Hancock that the Sphinx was created in 10, 500 BC.
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THE POETRY OF JUSTIN SPRING
COLLECTED POEMS 1985-2014
All my published chapbooks and unpublished poems.
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POEMS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS
What are poems for if not celebrating the wonders of family and friends?
A prizewinning collection of some of my best poems.
A small collection of powerful, speech-like poems.
Academy of American Poets, Walt Whitman Finalist 1994, 1997
POEMS OF SARASOTA AND FLORIDA
My love of Sarasota and Florida is a deeply rooted one.
My love of Sarasota and Florida is a deeply rooted one.
A spirited, falling-down-the-elevator-shaft revisiting of the Nursery Rhyme Characters.
Some of my very unusual visual poems
ESSAYS BY JUSTIN SPRING
If someone had put a pistol to my head seven or eight years ago and asked me to define my poetry ("Very briefly and accurately, Mr. Spring."), I’d like to think I would have popped back: "It is a highly visual poetry of common but highly angled images; in short, it is a poetry of attitude." Whether that would have done the job or not, I don’t know, as everyone is in such a hurry these days, especially your stick-up artists.
But whether it was the pressure of the imagined handgun or merely a poet’s general ignorance of what he is doing at the time he is doing it, it seems to me now that something else was lurking beneath my work’s imagistic surface: a phrasing and idiom that reflected everyday speech. Not that I was completely unaware of those qualities. I had always admired the way Frost ran a rural idiom against the iambic to produce his remarkably rich music, but I wasn’t even slightly aware at the time that my own urge towards a speech-like diction would eventually drive me to create a truly oral poetry, a poetry created by speaking, not writing.
And yet despite the speech-like diction of my written poems at the time, I didn’t see it as speech, real speech. It just looked like speech, somewhat in the way Hemingway’s prose speech does, and that was good enough for me at the time. But when I attempted to speak the poems out at readings, they felt stilted enough to really bother me. Why don’t they sound like speech? I kept asking myself. The answer to my dilemma, I discovered later, was that my poems sounded false because they had been created by the act of writing, not by the act of speaking; and because of this, when I spoke them out, I was also being false, because I was, in some slight way, speaking at people, not to them; because what I was doing was reading a written document out loud to an audience, which is a different kettle of fish from speaking to them in a truly intimate way. It can be close, but it is never quite there; and both parties know it, especially those who are listening. So I had two choices: continue to commit a lie, and by doing so, dishonoring both myself and my listeners in a very essential way; or begin moving toward a poetry that would allow me to speak to my listeners in a way that would allow me to honor both them and myself, a way that would create a communion between us in the most real, immediate and intimate way possible.
What this meant, of course, although I didn’t know it at the time, was that I would have to eventually change to a poetry that was conceived by speaking it, not writing it. That change happened quite unexpectedly one night when, for some reason, I began to speak out a poem as it came to me; and as I did, it became clear to me that the poem will sound real to the listener if you speak as it comes to you. It is as simple as that. So that if someone were to put a gun to my head now with that same demand for an immediate description, I’d like to think I’d pop back: "My poetry is one that wants to be spoken, much as music wants to be played."
So, in retrospect, the answer to how to create a spoken poetry was right in front of me all the time: all I had to do was simply speak it out. And although this seems obvious to me now, it wasn’t that obvious at the time. Because for me (as for most poets) speaking out a poem was simply unthinkable: a poem has to be written out: that is its medium of creation. Period. But I was wrong. It’s only one medium of creation; and one that doesn’t really create a poetry that wants to be spoken. But oral poetry does, because the act of speaking endows it with unique properties, just as the act of writing creates a poetry with unique properties.
One of those properties is that oral poetry has the unique immediacy and directness and command that only real speech has. We never tune out real speech, that speaking off the tops of our heads we do all day, because it has that "I to YOU" quality of one human being touching another, no matter how loving or cruel or boring the message itself. It is the common gossip and gabble that make up the ever- flowing undercurrents of the sea of speech, the true, unpremeditated speech that gets to us every time and sticks with us whether we like it or not; and that is the speech, or more correctly, the helix of speech that oral poetry forms itself around.
So just how do you go about making a spoken poetry? Can you just start to speak it out? The answer, of course, is Yes and No. Yes, you can achieve a spoken poetry by speaking it out, but No because it won’t last or be worth anything unless there’s also an inner desire to speak to others publicly and openly. But how does one unlearn writing? One way, and the only way I know, is simply to obey your impulses.
In my own case, music brought it about as I tried to collaborate with an improvisational trumpet player. Unlike the guitar or keyboard, the trumpet simply refuses to yield any ground to poetry in performance. Trying to sustain whatever poetic rhythm and theme exist in a written poem in the face of that kind of power results in a deadlock. The whole enterprise limps along discordantly or grinds to a frustrating halt. At least that is what happened to me, and this with a poem that I had written especially for collaboration with brass. Only something banal scribbled out on paper by the trumpet player saved the day, because as soon as I tried his words, I knew the solution in my bones: play a duet of riffs. In effect, I had to become a trumpet. The rest is still vivid in my mind because the next night, as the poem began to form itself, I began speaking it out loud. I haven’t written any poems since that moment. I became an instant convert to spoken poetry.
As a first step toward creating a spoken poetry, I would ask you to imagine you are composing a poem that must exist in riffs in order to coexist successfully with an imagined trumpet. Then locate a repeated phrase that can take any form: I want, I need, Think about, I love, I don’t want, I have a dream, etc., as long as it’s in the form of I to YOU/first person, because that’ the way we speak. What happens after that depends on your willingness to completely unconscious as to what you are saying so as to let your natural speech mechanisms take over and handle the surge of the poem. Once that is accomplished, and I can assure you it is the simplest of tasks if you just let go of writing, the next step is never, never write the poem down unless it is absolutely finished. This applies to long as well as short poems. Thematic memory will handle that just as it enables us to retell stories and jokes. After all if it was good enough for Homer, it’s good enough for us.
I should say something about what spoken poetry sounds like without refrains, and what it sounds like is a story, i.e., a narrative-driven poem, because that is the nature of speech. Although this may put some people off who think narrative belongs only in prose, it is really the way we communicate everyday. Though stories. Endless stories. Think about it.
It should not surprise you if the ground feels a bit weak when you first step on it to make a non-refrain poem, as in addition to speaking out loud, many of the normal techniques used in writing poetry will most probably feel out of place. By this I mean any use of the second and third person will tend to feel false. Equally, the poses, abstractions and other distancing structures available and somewhat inherent in writing will tend to produce the same feeling of falseness. What you are left with, as far as my experience has shown me, is a rather bare bones posture, and you may feel uncomfortable with so little support. The way out is simply to trust your instincts and start speaking when the poem starts to form.
On the whole, it has been quite unsettling to see how quickly poems have begun to form for me, and how close to the bone they are, so much so that I feel if there is any inherent danger in speaking poems, it is they will tend toward the small rather than the grand. My approach here has been simply to discard them as small talk if they don’t meet my artistic expectations of a truly urgent speaking. Think of it this way: there’s no need for a wastebasket.
SOME THOUGHTS ON POETRY
AS SPOKEN LANGUAGE
I don't think it is any secret it is the task of each generation of poets to recast its songs of love and death in a language unique to that generation, but we are failing miserably at that task because our poetry culture is continuing to value a poetry that is increasingly out of touch with the sea of language we are all being forced to swim in: a language that wants to be spoken and heard, rather than written and read.
If you're not convinced there is a difference between a spoken and a written poetry I suggest you try this as an exercise: go up to someone you love or hate and tell them so in very specific language. Then go home and write them to the same effect.The differences in tone and structure are not superficial I can assure you. This is equally true for poems that are spoken in nature rather than written. The whole structure of the poem changes, it begins to have those qualities that have defined oral poetry since time immemorial: it is more direct in structure and tone, more narrative, less elaborate in imagery, more immediately engaging. In short, there is more of a sense of "being there". And that is precisely the kind of poetry our times are calling for.
And yet, despite this rather simple explanation of the difference between a spoken and a written poetry, I have engendered so many misconceptions that I should make it clear I am not calling for a return to the oral traditions of the past, which is impossible, because those traditions belong to those specific times and their specific language structures, but to something new.
I think part of the confusion comes from the fact that poets have come to mistake the totem for the god, ie, they have come to the point of automatically equating poetry with literature; but anyone who has had any acquaintance with oral or musical poetry knows intuitively that poetry has only something to do with literature but almost everything to do with words and music and movement, and furthermore, that anyone with even the smallest sense of history and the true nature of poetry knows equally well that an oral/musical/rythmically-moved to poetry existed for thousands and thousands of years prior to the emergence of writing.
But it was the revolution of the printing press that essentially changed poetry from a written to a spoken art and caused poetry to drop its historical alliance with music and movement and to begin its long wrestling match with an artistic prose, a match that resulted in poetry's written form rapidly dominating its oral/musical form until recently. And although we can't go back to the exact oral poetry of the past, we can allow ourselves to be pulled back to something similar to it. I would prefer to call this new oral poetry "spoken" poetry, in order to distinguish it from the oral traditions that preceded the printing press. After all, our speaking has been altered forever it's influence, but more especially in our times by the influences of the telephone and radio and the movies, and yes, let us not forget it, television.
One of the most telling remarks I've encountered in this regard was that of some European friends who told me recently that they found the English of Americans much easier to understand than that of the British because the American vocabulary was so narrow. Some years ago, I might have been appalled by that observation, but it didn't shock me at all: it is a natural outcome of the process of a language that is returning itself to a a spoken form. After all we Americans have 67 channels and the British 3 or 4, so why shouldn't we be ahead of them in returning to a spoken language.
What I am saying is that poets should open their sensibilities to what is happening around them. Besides living in a culture that is rapidly becoming an oral one, we are also living in a profoundly musical culture, one dominated by popular song. And if some of us tend to put our nose up in the air at the mention of pop music maybe we should remind ourselves that if that form of poetry was good enough for Shakespeare, who wrote over 400 songs, then maybe we should pay some attention to it as well. Maybe not just include music in our readings as background, but as an essential element, and maybe even write a few lyrics for the blues and jazz and rock that define our times and lift the art even higher, or maybe go back to the earlier chanting/musical traditions of oral poetry and take a chance or two winging it like Homer did, but with the musical instruments and forms of our time.
With regard to composing a spoken poetry, I should say that I have grown from writing them as they come to me to speaking them out loud at the earliest possible time, while they are still forming, and I can unequivocally say that I can write and think through a lie as a poem forms, but I can't speak out loud through a lie: the tongue simply stops unless the conscious mind forces it to speak the lie, which it does very, very haltingly. I have come to favor this method of composition, although I don't know if it is unique to me. What results are poems that were truly spoken, with writing being utilized more as a recording device, much as a composer writes down the notes of a musical composition he has just finished humming. Because if you allow the poems to come to you not as if you are writing them, but as if you are speaking to your imaginary listener, AND YOU ACTUALLY SPEAK THEM, the resultant poetry will be different. I might also add the odd fact that oral composition makes the poem instantly memorable in the mind of the poet, a potent reminder of one reason why the oral bards of the past could so easily recall their work.
Surely a truly spoken poetry is a way for poetry to reclaim a good part of it's lost audience, because readings, or more correctly, speakings, can truly help save poetry from its current isolation if used correctly. In fact, I think speakings are the only way this is going to happen, but they will only fulfill their true objective when poets stop trying to use them to speak a written poetry that usually doesn't speak well. I'd drive a couple of hundred miles to hear some poets speak their poetry, but not very many. Go to a local poetry reading and count the three or four nodding heads if you doubt I'm correct. And the problem can't be ducked by saying we are living in a nation of Philistines. There may be barbarians at the gates, but there are also hundreds if not thousands of people in every town of any size who are attending opera and ballet and theatre and art exhibits on a regular basis. So why aren't they crossing the street to hear us? That's the real question poets should be honestly asking themselves.
On the other hand, we at the Sarasota Poetry Theatre pack a local cafe four times a month with a poetry audience of ALL ages whose size and attentiveness have astounded visiting poets. The trick is a simple one: we perform only those poems from the past and present that fall into what I have defined as a spoken poetry. And when it makes sense, we collaborate with dancers, musicians, singers, translators and actors to emphasize and reintroduce the rhythmic and musical components of poetry it has been divorced from for so long. This goes for both classic and contemporary poetry. The result is somewhat tribal: very full-blooded, highly electric, and right on the money. I'd say it's quite close to what goes on in the poet at the moment of conception but it's been given public face: a face that is updated but quite close, I believe, to that which it had prior to the printing press. To put it more simply, we are doing what poets did for thousands of years before Gutenberg helped turn poetry in on itself.
IS POETRY RELEVANT ANYMORE?
Just the question is enough to put you off. How many times over the past twenty or thirty years have we heard that same question asked, by poets and critics alike, as if the asking itself might somehow prevent poetry from slipping completely beneath the horizon of our consciousness. But let's face it, poetry is irrelevant. Nobody cares. Listen, if you haven't heard, everybody's too busy going to the movies or watching television or listening to Top 40. Poetry is getting killed at the box-office, as they say.
And yet poetry keeps hanging on inside us. Everyone, at some time in their life, has had a poem bubble up out of them quite unexpectedly. Sometimes more. Hey, we're not talking about quality here, just the fact that poetry occurs, because that's the really significant thing: that it keeps on happening. And because it keeps on happening, you could almost say poetry is our most universal art, despite its rather low position on our current billboard of what's at the circus. There may be many reasons for poetry's odd staying power, but they all eventually have something to do with the fact that poetry is, in some very essential way, our most human art. To speak, to name things, to tell stories, is coterminous with being human, that is, the first moment of human awareness must have occurred when someone first uttered a name for something. And it was the first story, or poem if you will, albeit a very small one. But it must have been a momentous speaking. Heaven blazing in to the head, as Yeats once said. It's easy to see why we've never gotten over it.
These startling messages from the soul that began by naming things, and which in time grew into still longer, more intricate stories, are still with us today. We call these messages the same thing we did in ancient times: poetry, which is itself derived from the ancient Greek root, poiein: "to make". Not to write lines, meter, rhymes, stanzas, but simply to make something where there was nothing before. Indeed those momentous speakings, or poems, still have somewhat the same effect upon us today, even if they don't bubble up quite as easily as they did in the past, when everything was poetry. Yet, when they do come to us, we instinctively know that something profound has occurred. Indeed, despite the fact that everyone knows poetry is dead, when our own poems come to us, we treat them as sacred events. No one has to tell us to do that, we automatically do it, because every fiber of our being knows we have received something akin to grace, that the soul itself has spoken to us, and for us.
This is why poets will climb all over each other if you ask them to speak their poems. Even if it means boring you to death for hours. To do less would be a sacrilege: after all, the speaking must be passed on. W.H. Auden's take on all this was his rather arch reminder that bad poetry is always sincere, as if we needed reminding. He could be nasty, that one. But there is a truth imbedded in Auden's wit, for even if the soul, in speaking to us, alters us in imaginable, and unimaginable, ways, there is no guarantee we're going to pass that speaking on correctly. This is why producing poetry has always been a very tricky proposition: like Moses coming down from the mountain but with only two and a half commandments and those barely legible. Audiences can be pretty fickle at times like that, and really, who's to blame them. This is why poets should maybe take a little time and look at the tablets before rushing down the mountain.
With all that said, we can begin to answer the question about poetry's relevancy. Well, here's the first half of the answer: poetry is always relevant to the poet; andhere's the second half: it is usually irrelevant to others unless it is true to its time both in form and content. Unfortunately, while the content of our contemporary poetry may be true to our time, its form, in some very real sense, is completely out of touch with it. I say this not as a Yahoo, but as a poet who has spent a major part of his life writing and publishing poetry; because the inescapable fact is that poetry, in its traditional written form, is out of tune with our time, a time where it has to compete with audio/visual forms unimaginable in Homer's time, or if you really want to know, in any other time. But just as Homer had to fit his divinely-inspired song into the vocabulary and dactyl- hexameter rhythmic/musical measure of ancient bardic Greek, and just as Shakespeare had to shake off the academic theatrical forms of his age in order to create a dramatic poetry truer to his time, so we must find a form that will make poetry come alive for our time. Of course, this is only important if the poet wants his work to be meaningful to others. It's every poet's choice, really, and who is to say that the making of the poem is not enough for some of us?
Yet, for those of us who see poetry as a communicative process, that is, one that seeks and completes itself through an audience, irrelevancy is not an option. We must find a way to make poetry relevant, in the same way that contemporary music and the movies are relevant. It's not impossible, it just takes courage, because our current form of written poetry is no longer capable of competing for the attention of those who are ravenously supporting dance, visual arts, movies, theatre, music, need I go on. In fact, our contemporary poetry is dangerously close to becoming a court poetry. As far as the public is concerned, written poetry has taken a distant back seat to contemporary musical poetry, having been first challenged in the fifties by the nasty nursery rhymes of black R&B and then severely trounced in the sixties and later by musical poets such as Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, James Taylor, I could go on forever. That troubadour tradition has existed in poetry since time immemorial, but the ascendance of written poetry starting in the 17th century, which was made possible by the emergence of the printing press, eventually caused the troubadour tradition to transform itself into what we call song and to find a home in the English ballads that eventually crossed the Atlantic and became what we call folk music that in turn produced Woodie Guthrie who in turn begat Dylan who in his own time begat everybody. If I had musical talents, I would probably be making musical poetry today, that's how powerful that branch of poetry has become. And it's attracting incredibly gifted poets who are somehow surviving the utter commercialization of the music industry. So that branch of poetry is taking care of itself. We don't have to worry about it at all.
But no matter how powerful it is, musical poetry does have its limitations, and what is needed as a complement is a public, spoken poetry that can truly reach out to the audience struggling to find it. Many of our poets feel this can happen through poetry readings, but we are in a bit of a dilemma here, because most of our poetry has become so dense and introverted that it has completely lost its sense of song, or for that matter, its ability to communicate except when read silently by the most persistent and dedicated of readers. And as written poetry hasn't had a true, public (read non-academic) audience since the fifties, any attempt to speak it aloud usually results in something not only incredibly boring but incomprehensible as well. The almost non-existent attendance at readings is a good indication of how poor they are as a solution to the problem, and even the wiser heads among us have pretty much stuck their heads in the sand about this, having come to the inescapable conclusion that contemporary poetry, with some exceptions, simply doesn't speak that well. At all. And our academic poetry culture, which by its very nature is always fighting a rear guard action, doesn't seem at all capable of encouraging the necessary changes.
What is required, of course, is a poetry that is truly speakable, because we are living in a time where the major part of our artistic, social and political communication is being accomplished by speaking rather than by writing. It is what we expect and desire. Indeed the language itself is changing to a more oral form. Is it any wonder then that what we need is a poetry composed not by the act of writing but the act of speaking? Isn't it clear to even the most dense of us that what we need in order to communicate is a new form of oral poetry ? And yet rather than take this step, our academic poetry culture will do what it has always done in times of danger and confusion, pull up the drawbridges and settle down to passing around manuscripts among themselves.
Except these aren't the Dark Ages, and it's no time to start emulating them. Where we are today is at the beginning of a new semi-oral age, but one slightly different from the semi-oral age that preceded the printing press, because this time not only can everyone read and write but we also have other options made possible by our electronically-connected culture. In short, people are able to speak to one another, artistically, socially and politically, in ways they never could before. Think of it: the telephone, radio, movies and yes, television, the bˆte noir of our times, all enable us to communicate effortlessly by speaking and listening. And, hey, people like it: after all, it is our most natural form of communication. And, lest we forget it, our most divine.
One way then to make poetry relevant is to make our written poetry more speech-like, i.e., make a poetry that honors the qualities of speech. But this is only a partial solution, because what is required is a truly hearable speech, and the only thing that can really produce that is a poetry composed by the act of speaking. And besides, written poetry may not change in the least; it really depends on how open to change our academic poetry culture is. If the past is prologue, however, it doesn't look at all promising.
The other approach, and one that perhaps makes more sense, at least to me, is to re-invent an oral poetry for our times. Even if this approach seems radical at first glance, oral poetry is undeniably the true form for our times, and the only one that will truly fulfill the need for a poetry that can be spoken and heard. Rap is a pretty good example of an ancient oral poetry form reappearing right under the noses of our academies. Millions listen to it. If you know anything about ancient oral poetry you have to come to the conclusion that rap, in almost every way, is a true oral poetry. But it is a young poetry still at the stage of a satirical, or message poetry, a poetry more concerned with the self speaking than the soul speaking, and for the most part, the commercial end of it is headed toward becoming another form of musical poetry. But I also feel that some part of rap will become more intimate and self-revealing, that is, some part of it will develop into a true, contemporary oral poetry.
There are, of course, other forms of oral poetry than rap. SOULSPEAK, a multi-voiced, adaptation of ancient, oral tribal poetry, is a form that I and several others have developed over the past 3 or 4 years or so. It is what I would call a true oral poetry, that is, a musically-driven poetry that is formed around the matrix of spontaneous, narrative speech rather than the matrix of writing. In short, it is never written down, and honors the same principles that governed the composition of ancient, preliterate oral poetry. And there are other forms of oral waiting to be re- invented. All we need is the courage to open our mouths. Let me put it to you this way: POETRY CAN BE RELEVANT TO OTHERS IF WE WANT IT TO BE.
To Contact Justin Spring:
PO 5932 Sarasota FL 34277
941 306 1119
PO 5932 Sarasota FL 34277
941 306 1119