CELEBRATING ONE YEAR OF BLACKCOFFEEPOET.COM!!!!!!!! A PATH TO FREEDOM, A KEY TO REAL BEING: A DIALOGUE BETWEEN LEE MARACLE AND RUBELISE DA CUNHA

A PATH TO FREEDOM, A KEY TO REAL BEING:

THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF POETRY AND PUBLIC READING

Lee Maracle and Rubelise da Cunha

Originally published in OPEN LETTER Fall 2008

Dear Lee,

Since you said you have very strong and passionate feelings about the importance of poetry in the lives of people, I guess we could start our conversation with this issue. From my perspective, there is always a division between the definition of poetry as the traditional, western genre, based on standards of high quality and imposed as an elitist form of art; and poetry as the expression of a people’s art and culture, which would include popular  manifestations. How do you perceive the definition of poetry in Canada? What is the importance of poetry in the lives of people? And what is the importance of poetry for the First Nations?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

This is probably an odd angle to begin, but poetry for me is the language of the heart and spirit as it comes together with the body and our place in the world, as such it is the language by which we can ‘safely, metaphorically’ come to terms with our self, “lummi” or face ourselves, our inner world in turmoil with the outside world and further, it is a safe and strengthening language from which we can reconcile with our history. Writing and Reading poetry out loud is also a powerful tool that can move people past old trauma and toward a new future. Expository language literally weakens the body and so keeps the body in a chronic state of stress, but poetry strengthens the body. A weak body, a stressed body cannot face the impact personal history and the sense of place has on the heart, mind and spirit. Through poetry we can not only express our emotions, but gauge our ability to place ourselves in our personal and social history, examine the threads that bind us to the past, snip away at the impact of social condition, personal hurt and mature beyond our original reactions

to the world. In short, poetry, its writing and its reading, allows us to find freedom in the context we inherit. One only needs to read a little of Jose Marti to be inspired, strengthened, moved and be able to face the world, both inside and outside ourselves.

Further, many “kinesiologists” in the United States are finding that the physical act of reading poetry strengthens the body and so, is a powerful tool for counselors, both liberation counselors and orthodox western based counselors. I hold that poetry is the only safe language of interaction between individuals who are experiencing any sort of conflict, personal, social or otherwise. It is the only language that can inspire emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth and transformation.

To that end, poetic style, meter, rhyme, etc. is not particularly relevant…what is important is the “imaging” of the past, present, future and the imaging of the self in their personal context.

Lee

Dear Lee,

The definition of poetry as the language of the heart and spirit is very powerful. I think there couldn’t be a better way to start talking about this topic. Since the “self” is central in poetic language, I also believe that through poetry we can come to terms with our self and with any kind of conflict faced by the individual. Poetic language is metaphorical, emotional and transformative. In this sense, it can be revolutionary.

I was just thinking about Julia Kristeva’s ideas on the revolutionary power of poetic language, which show how poetry is the most revolutionary literary form. The transformation starts from the inside, and it is exactly because the revolution starts inside the self and inside the language, that it can effectively act on the level of social transformation. We cannot change society if we don’t revolutionize the ideological aspects of language which reinforce prejudice and emptiness of values.

The act of reading poetry is also transformative. It is the moment where the self communicates directly with the audience; the idea of transformation then goes beyond the individual to the group level. When I think about storytelling, I always think about this idea of telling stories in order to come to terms with one’s past and transforming the community. Do you think there might be any level of comparison between the communal experience of storytelling and a poetry reading? Isn’t storytelling also an “imaging” of the past, present and future, in a way that it is transformative to the self and to the community?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

Writing should lead us to both freedom and good will. Poetry is self-based but ought not to be self-centered, it is the vehicle for writing from within the self, clearing the path, orienting oneself towards others and freedom. It is the emotions that require the greatest transformation in the growth and maturation process. Through poetry we come to visualize the emotions which are both treasured and fluid [change based]. We also come to visualize those emotions which anchor us to our past. Through metaphor we may reconcile our emotional selves with our past and anchor ourselves to the fluidity of ever transforming emotional growth. In this sense poetry can be personally revolutionary. It can also bring us to emotional convergence with our sense of justice and our sentiments about the state or condition in which we seek freedom and this too is revolutionary on a social scale.

Reading poetry is the spiritual connection between reader and the audience. Light arcs its way from speaker to listener, from heart to heart and the emotional connection on the purest and most social scale, binds both audience and reader together. Oneness is created through poetry, through common evocation of emotion and through the shared space of distance and closeness around subject, around language. It is as though this language were our first language, this rhythm of fluidity, of change, of transformation, was the first experience humans had and, in a sense, it is true. In the hearing of poetry, we return to the innocence, warmth and absolute good will of the womb with all of our experiential being, our knowledge and our complacency and every cell is awakened, called forward to a kind of aliveness, a determination, a dynamic we rarely feel except through poetry.

Our “oratory” is poetic. “Storytelling” is a word coined for our oratory. It is rhythmic, poetic, a metaphorical extravaganza in which the plot is subordinate to the beauty of the language, the song of it, and so it is not unlike poetry at all. [WWI in Sojourner’s & Sundogs] is a transliteration of a traditional story about the bat.

Lee

Dear Lee,

“World War I” is extremely poetic, indeed, and this process of transliteration seems to me an important strategy to bring oratory into written story. I was also thinking about your novels and how poetic they are. When we read Ravensong, we can definitely listen to song, and in Daughters are Forever we can listen to the winds, to nature calling Marilyn into transformation, and the beauty of language assumes a prominent role in the narrative.

The idea of returning to the womb in the hearing of poetry makes me think about the existence of an original language, a language that is spiritual and prior to any external influence. However, when I consider what you said in our interview in Bellingham, concerning a genetic memory that we carry with us – even when, for example, we don’t speak a language anymore, this original language also seems culturally grounded1. Do you think there is any cultural barrier that might interfere in this spiritual connection between the reader and the audience? Or the spiritual communication and understanding that prompts this emotional convergence with the sense of justice and search for freedom goes beyond any cultural difference?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

I fought so hard for the sort of poetic language that I grew up speaking in and laid to rest for a time, but it seems to come back as I journey to explore the self. “Ravensong” is the song from the depths of the sea echoing the earth’s fire rolling over – I heard it in 1988. This song signifies change and sparked the writing of “I Am Woman” and of course the deluge of writing that followed. It is time. I knew it was time. When it is time to do something you do it, whether you are ready or not, you do it. I know I have played with structure, language, poetics, oratory and story all in the context of “Ravensong”. In Daughters I worked at it. I sweated over every line and word. Can you believe that I re-worked the first line of the story 30 times until I realized that I was not letting Westwind just be. Westwind crept, broke me free from “playing monitor” in the story. Poetry does that; it sets you free. You only have to read a line or two that unlocks the doors damning you up inside and the genuine story unfolds, clear, crisp and dynamic. Poetry is like a key to real being.

Lee

Dear Lee,

As you say, poetry is inevitably connected to freedom, it is liberating, and “playing the monitor” is exactly the opposite – that is, controlling the language. So it seems that the fight and suffering to write exists whenever you are still playing the monitor, but as soon as you let the language break free, it is over, and then poetry emerges.

Poetry is freedom, a key to real being that prompts spiritual communication, but is it beyond any cultural or social barrier? Can any reader of English establish this

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1. (Footnote)

I interviewed Lee Maracle on June 4, 2004, in the Canada House at the Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, where she was a visiting professor of Women Studies and Canadian Culture. When asked if she could speak her Native language, Maracle explained that although shecould not speak, she had not lost it, since it remains in her genetic memory and is recovered in her literature. Maracle also emphasized that the connection to the ancestors is maintained through this genetic memory, which is the repository of the original language of poetry.

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spiritual connection when reading or listening to your poems? Poetry in I Am Woman,  for instance, is very much connected to political resistance. Poems such as “On Native Resistance”, “Perseverance” and “Ghosts” are very culturally and politically grounded, and it seems to me that the connection is fully established when we open ourselves to a level of knowledge that also has historical implications.

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

In “The Art of Fiction”, Henry James says that we come from a condition, a context and we have a history, writing is about storying up that history, poetry is re-presenting it in its emotional/spiritual impact of history, condition on ourselves. Poetry is transformative both for reader and author, first because it opens the door to seeing ourselves in our own context and history, and secondly because this gives us a window into the future. Controlling language is an absurd leap away from freedom in poetry, as poetry is about expression – pushing up and out.

Lee

Dear Lee,

Henry James stresses that fiction reproduces life, and it must be totally free. In fact, what he says concerning fiction, you’re also saying about poetry: it is experience, and experience consists of impressions, and the exercise of freedom. In a sense, the discussion is about what is at the heart of art, and James says the province of art is “all life, all feeling, all observation, all vision.”2 From what we have discussed, I feel that poetry can be political, engaged, but it is always beyond that, because art should never be controlled by any external objective or imposition. Have you ever felt any pressure from the publishing houses or any other groups concerning your publications or your poetry readings? Is poetry reading a practice that you consider fundamental for you as a poet? Does it influence the poems you write?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

Poetry is always political, unless the poet is lawless. Law is the foundation of politics and some laws are foundational, i.e. human rights, and in some way, poets look at law, politics, religion, humanity and their experience of moving through the natural desire for freedom in the context they inherit. Impositions are never bowed to by poets; they are mused over, challenged and confirmed or protested. Editors are always lined up with the public and so they do exert pressure on the author, most worth their salt exert the kind of pressure that creates the best art from the author without imposing a political perspective on the artist. Political poetry however, is not seen as poetry if it is overtly left-leaning, propagandistic. Political poetry, I believe, is best “heard” and not published. Most of it sounds good but doesn’t look good on the page. With few exceptions like Mr. Mandela, most of my political poetry never meets the page. No one has ever monitored my readings, but poems that are overtly political are usually rejected. I don’t think they are any less valid as poems for that, I just believe they should be heard. Political poetry is gaining more attention and hence, greater acceptance [hip hop contributes to that as does dub poetry] and is now a field

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2. (Footnote)

In “The Art of Fiction”, Henry James points out that “no one can ever have made a seriously artistic attempt without becoming conscious of an immense increase – a kind of revelation – of freedom. One perceives in that case – by the light of a heavenly ray – that the province of art is all life, all feeling, all observation, all vision”(563).

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of creative study in Scotland at least. For me, poetry is about metaphor, about the examination of the large through the rhythmic characterization and journey through the small, like a bent box, like seeing the baby before he was a racist, like capturing a dark windowless room or a dandelion coming up through the concrete in the city, juxtaposed by men with machines trying to dig up the sidewalk on Bay Street, which is Canada’s Wall street. This kind of juxtaposed metaphorical imaging makes for good poetry a powerful dismantling of the omnipotence of capitalism, racism, sexism etc. There is little reason for writing poetry outside of the struggle for humanity.

Lee

Dear Lee,

I would like to recover some questions from the last e-mail I sent you. We talked about poetry as the exercise of freedom, but I still wonder how the external world might interfere in the process of writing. Has poetry reading influenced positively your writing process? Is it fundamental for you as a poet?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

I have been thinking about poetry, power and light. I am going to give you a very long and somewhat convoluted answer. First, we have as one of our origin stories on the West coast that “raven stole the light” to light the world we decided to inhabit when we took on physical form. We have always existed as hidden beings [heart spirit and mind] in the transformed world of light. We took on physical form in order to come to grips with consequences and story them up for the spirit world. The light raven stole sits in the sky as the sun and in the center of the earth as fire. The unfortunate side of that is that the light casts shadows and as physical beings, our sight is limited.

Our bodies, our hearts and our minds all have agendas that may or may not agree with our spirit. Living in shadow land [earth lit by sun] as we do, we experience primal fear and threatened by a finite being [birth has death as its fate] this fear creates an emotional shadow land inside that can create blind spots, torment our minds, which in turn, can twist our thinking and pervert our internal light.

Poetry is the language of our light seeking power, our light seeking being, our light seeking freedom, our light seeking light, as such it must steal the light from others and shine it back at them in their darkness, on their shadows, so naturally it challenges the dark folds of human inadequacy. I mean this as literally is it can be understood. I don’t mean that dark is itself a threat, I mean that the light [sun] hits the surface of a leaf, but underneath the leaf, is its dark side, in the crevices, the folds, is shadow and we imagine it as green, but its shadowed color frightens, so we paint it in and when we express it in words, the words must roll out poetic to capture the internal light of the being to whom we are speaking or they will remain in the shadows of their own world. Likewise, with society in its folds, lies its invisible being.

On the surface, we live in a democracy, but within the folds lies inequity that renders the democracy perverse, we need to shine a light on these folds, to broaden the sense of democracy to include greater and greater numbers and only poetry will capture the emotions, the spirit and the power of this light. It is the language of power, of light, of the spirit in collaboration with our minds in those moments when our courage to see is greater than our physical fear of consequences.

Before I tackle any subject I must poem it up so that I can see inside its folds. No one has ever interfered in my poetry readings, publishers don’t have anything to do with readings. They do interfere with publication, but not my poetry as I believe it is best spoken and am always reluctant to publish. I published “Bent Box” because G.Young Ing Theytus [Aboriginal publisher] nagged me for my poetry for some time. I don’t try to get my poetry published. I have done spoken word poetry productions, but I do not send out my poetry to publishers as a general rule. The interference, of course, would be their rejection of my work. I do believe that if I sent it out, I would likely receive a lot of rejections. I am not sure that this would necessarily be because they objected to my poetry [for its content], but because they don’t see it as the kind of poetry they can sell. Who wants a bright view of the dark folds of capitalist, imperialist shadow land?

Poetry is food for my light, poetry is the color of my spirit, the workings of my mind, the very reason for my being. It is central to who I am as I believe it is central to who we all are; whose religious incantations are not poetic, show me the absence of poetry in the Tao, The Buddha, The Christ, etc… the calls to revolution of Jose Marti? And so forth. Poetry is central to a human kind of being. If this makes no sense, let me know, it is late.

Lee

Dear Lee,

What you have just said makes a lot of sense to me. You say poetry is the language of our light seeking power, being, freedom, light, so it seems that any written form imposes limits to this freedom. It seems that poetry is prior to any kind of control or pattern imposed by the activity of putting ideas on paper, then the oral performance would be the best way to exercise and live poetry, and not by reading it when it is published. Well, maybe the publishing market is not ready to see the light over their shadows… there is so much to be said, but just few want to listen to that. I guess it is time to get back to other forms of literary expression besides published texts.

“Raven steals the light” is one of my favorite Raven stories, and reading this light not only as knowledge, but also as the kind of knowledge that poetry can bring to us, is even more fascinating. Is poetry, then, our first language, the language of our origins?

How do you see the possibilities to listen to this language and speak this language in a context of capitalism, imperialism and violence? Should we act like Raven and see that pain and violence are also part of a process of healing? Should we incorporate her subversive power to keep on illuminating and transforming society and its political leaders?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

There is some kind of seductive power inherent in capitalism. On the one hand, it creates the worst sort of atrocities and hardships for huge numbers of people; on the other hand, it creates the possibility of wealth and power hitherto unknown to humankind. In its shadowy folds hides its separation of the spirit from desire for relationships with earth, sky, stars, humans, animals and so forth. We become tricked into seeing either debilitating poverty or wealth, power and capitalist-defined social mobility, we cannot see the disconnectedness of our selves from other humans and life and that the hunger we feel is not for capitalist wealth and power but for connection with all beings. Better to illuminate the disconnection, the hunger and the possibility of reconnecting. I think Joy Harjo and her Denver band “Poetic Justice3” do this best. We need to be clear about what lies in the folds and what we can actually see. The violence is what is obvious, though I would not separate the violence from the massive spiritual hunger and the seductive chicanery of capitalism to mislead into believing that increasing our standard of living, our mobility into the class just above us as the solution, but the satisfaction of our spiritual hunger will lead us away from

the foregoing as a solution. We need to see that the seductive power of capitalism lies in its hiding the solution in its folds, in directing the mass to desire the crumbs capitalists hand out to those who are loyal, rather than challenging the very nature of society and the very spiritual hunger-producing character of capitalism. That is the challenge of poetry in exposing capitalism and imperialism.

Song is our first language, one need only listen to mothers humming to babies to know this and of course song is directly connected to poetry. The business of language structure, as a means of organizing for survival comes with the invention of tools, but the business of language communication as a means to create oneness begins as song, as poetry and story and the oneness between mother and child. This is my belief.

Utilitarian language of social organization conflicts and restricts our poetic sensibility, but the patterns of words themselves are not necessarily what limit our freedom. Freedom is so attached to the critical illusion that time is, by that I mean we must  have the luxury of pondering life, understanding being, wondering about meaning in a non-hostage and relaxed state of concentration, which means we need time to think about the world, our being, our relationship to it to discover our poetics, our poetry inside. Under capitalism, this freedom is limited to a precious few, some of whom are capitalists or imperialists and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, some of whom are middle class and although it is not in their interests to be loyal to capitalism, they fear falling into the ranks of the working class and so inadvertently uphold the status quo. It is those disaffected and unable to rise above their station and yet who have managed to secure time to reflect, to study, to see to ponder their station, who are best able to articulate the freedom, steal some light and shine it on the shadows we all are consigned to. I have always traded off the time to reflect, with my sense of obligation to family. On the one hand, I wrote poetry while I raised my children, but I was the consummate mother who was never there even when I was there, that is I stole time and light from my children and wrote in those spaces created from their neglect. Although I have gained freedom, recognition and light from the life I chose, I have not managed to secure middle class privilege and so remain disaffected. I think there are a lot of poets like me.

For sure our lives are about growth and transformation, or they are about stagnation. Stagnation is by nature toxic. In North America, we have a toxic population that suffers from its own stagnation, so for sure we need to use our ability to steal the light and shine it on the underbelly of things in order to grow and transform.

Lee

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3. (Footnote)

Joy Harjo explains that the term poetic justice is a term of grace, expressing how justice can appear in the world despite forces of confusion and destruction, and her band takes its name from this term because all of them have worked for justice in their lives, through any means possible and through music.

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Dear Lee,

I understand your conflict when you have to divide your time between exercising the freedom to shine some light on society and taking care of your family. I feel you see both as a mission you have in life, don’t you? In a sense, transforming society is also a way to care for one’s family, since we want to leave a better world for our descendants.

I agree with you that the worst effects of capitalism are stagnation and a hunger for connection with all beings, and literature and cinema have focused on this subject quite a lot. Capitalism stresses the triumph of the material over the spiritual, and it has caused a feeling of emptiness. Do you think poetry readings can be a moment to shine some light on people and connect them? Have you perceived this transformation in your audience? Can a published literary text – novel, short story, poetry – have asimilar effect?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

I believe that novels and stories, plays and even some movies can teach us about human beings and the connection between being and our conduct, but poetry is far more immediate, its prayerful language has the capacity to create oneness at the emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical level upon hearing it. This oneness ignites our internal light and, if the author is able to “shine a light on a subject” that hitherto was not considered, then growth and transformation can occur. I think poetry has a powerful transformative connection, while other written arts are transformative over time.

Lee

Dear Lee,

Poetic experience is more immediate and at the same time more complex. It is definitely powerful. Since I’m speaking from a Brazilian context, it is inevitable to think about the conditions of access to culture in our country when we speak about poetry reading as part of the public sphere. We talk about poetry as a vehicle that gives us freedom and then poetry reading seems a very democratic experience.

However, most Brazilians don’t have much access to school, books, theatre, or poetry. What we identify here is a strong division between “high culture” and “popular culture”. Popular culture emerges even in poor communities and their poetry usually recovers local folklore. The academy has paid special attention to this cultural production especially from the second half of the 20th century on, but I would say that poetry reading in bookstores, universities or pubs is not a very popular activity here in Brazil.

My experience teaching literature at Fundação Universidade Federal do Rio Grande has shown me that we need to shorten this gap between what we call “culture” and our communities’ cultural experiences, or maybe it is time to question ourselves to what extent poetry can effectively transform society and promote freedom. We need to provide our people with better living conditions so that they can enjoy the transformative power of poetry, instead of working full time just to feed their families. Fortunately, it seems that the language of poetry transforms itself according to the context. It explains the amount of popular poetry produced in Brazil, which shines some light on the hardships the inhabitants of the Northeast face every year with the drought, shows the violence in the slums and big cities, but also opens a space for the celebration of cultural heritage, spiritual experience and imagination.

I just wonder how you perceive poetry reading in Canada.

Should we consider just formal poetry readings or any poetic experiences performed in small communities?

Do you think social and economical problems also interfere in the access to culture and in the production and reception of poetry in Canada?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

One of the things I know is that when I was young, so many of us wrote poetry. Poverty plagued us and poetry strengthened us. The teaching of literature is something we direct not at the poor, but at those who are privileged by time, which is nearly always sponsored by money. The poor invariably appreciate poetry, but the study of it requires time, that is the business of teaching literature or poetry…that is, anyone who wants to learn to critique poetry rather than simply appreciate it must have the time to ponder it, analyze it, find something significant about it, this is a long step away from simple appreciation. Everyone understands poetry that speaks to them, includes them, addresses them.

The place of poets in the poetic spectrum appeals to an audience. Mine is Aboriginal people, I confine my poetics to the language my audience speaks and at the same time, not assume they are simple, but rather, draft my metaphors from their language, their condition and their history. That is not same as studying. It has been my experience that the Aboriginal people, educated or not, appreciate poetry, but they lack opportunity and, therefore, time to study it. The wealthy have time, but often lack the investment required to plunge into its study. Unfortunately, they are the only ones with the time. Formal or informal has nothing to do with it. I have done readings on Skid Rows in Canada and at exclusive writing festivals: readings exclude the poor. Economic conditions do not dictate reception, but they do limit access.

Lee

Dear Lee,

I think you have shined the light on something that answers my original question: reception. I agree with you that writing and appreciating poetry is very different from studying it. That’s why many poets do not appreciate the studying of poetry.

Sometimes it seems that we cannot grasp the whole dimension of poetry if we start to analyze and classify it, because there is the danger of transforming this activity into a kind of scientific experiment. “Living” poetry is something completely different.

What you have just said explains how poetry emerges in different contexts in Brazil and how the study of it can be sometimes restricted to certain groups. I understand that the aboriginal audience is the one that best identifies with the language and the history recovered in your poetry, and poverty is not an obstacle, on the contrary. In this sense, poetry is definitely freedom and power, and your history as a writer exemplifies it pretty well. I wonder how you acknowledge the reception of your poetry by non-Aboriginal audiences. Do you think poetic experience can be as powerful as it is for Aboriginal people?

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

First, I have had a lot of voice training, and I write for sound. I am listening to the sound of freedom in the ocean’s waves as I write. I read with the depth of the sea in mind and seek to touch the spirit of all those who listen. This is completely different from having some notion of anyone actively understanding or being influenced by my words. It is not the point. The point is for our voices and the waves of sound to become one in the physical/emotional and spiritual world, not necessarily to alter our thoughts or change our minds about anything, but for just this one moment, suspend all attitudes and experience some kind of communion with one another, and I read with this in mind. When people hear me, they experience this. When they read and study me, they may experience some of what you speak, but the communion of the soul occurs in the above conditions.

The above is my goal when I read. When I write, I am seeking influence of some sort, some sort of movement, transformative thoughtfulness from the reader, so I choose words with care, words that might articulate the broadest sense of life, the longest sense of longevity and the greatest sense of inclusiveness. These two goals are at times at cross purposes with one another, so sometimes as ‘leaked language’ the text is layered and many meanings can be pulled from it, but the sound, the sound I make when I read it, brings me together with the listener. The last thing I try to achieve when I write is to leave plenty of wiggle room for the reader to choose some sort of direction from the paths open to them. Not so when I read, not that I am limiting choices when I read, when I read it is the sound, the spirit of myself in communion with my work that I am sharing, not the poem per se. Hearing poetry and reading it are then different things as well.

Lee

Dear Lee,

When you talk about poetry reading, I just feel like flying to Canada to have the chance to participate in one of your poetic performances. I do think it is a unique moment. It is when poetry can be fully experienced, which means much more than ‘understood’, since it involves not only a physical level, but also a spiritual one. The difference you mention between reading and writing poetry, and between reading a published text and experiencing a poetry reading, reminds me of the difference between storytelling and the Western notion of Literature. It seems that the storytelling performance can maintain the communion of sound and spirit, while the reading of a published text can be a very solitary activity in which the reader may choose some direction for his/her interpretation or understanding. There is a strong connection between the reader of poetry and the audience. Do you think it can also be a space for the production and sharing of knowledge, or is it more connected to what happens when we listen to traditional songs? I know it is difficult to compare the notion of storytelling with the literary experience today, but I believe that literary genres which demand a communion, a collective experience – such as a poetry reading or a theatrical performance – may be a more appropriate medium to achieve the dimension involved in storytelling, which is not only literary, but sacred, philosophical and ontological.

Rubelise

Dear Rubelise,

I am not sure how you are separating story from literature. Story is dramatic, to be understood, it must be studied and heard. I don’t think it is different from poetry in that way, the problem is, we do not have the means to create rememberers who can remember story on the first pass, reading has supplanted the orality of the student. The addition of the voice in poetry does not preclude the ability to understand or not understand, it adds to the enjoyment, becomes entertainment and spirit-to-spirit connection [joy]. It brings out the spiritual binding agents in all of us. Hearing story is not quite the same. I think of story as a much larger storehouse than poetry, which is likely why it is called story. Imagine sitting and listening to a novel. The full experience is not the same as study. In our societies we heard the stories in the winter, then discussed over the summer. Meaning was drawn through the re-looking or study process which was collective as well. Each individual offered up how they saw the story, its connection to past and future, what obstacles lay on the path today and so forth. This was an intellectual exercise, not an experiential one. Listening to poetry, I believe, opens you up to studying it, I don’t think it necessarily fuller or richer.

The next problem is that education doesn’t have room for the experiencing of story. Reading out loud is discouraged. Students do not know how to read out loud after 6th grade and so do not have a physical/spiritual way to enter the process of the study of story. Further, the notion of study is disconnected from the individual, the collective, the story, etc. Criticism is what they teach, not study. In this way, criticism has supplanted study. We cannot understand poetry/story without hearing it, experiencing it and studying it, but Euro-culture doesn’t have a theoretical clue about how to do that. The creation of oratory, the study of oratory and the appreciation of it, is a collective and oral process for First Nation’s people. The transmission of the process to public school would not be a difficult one and it need not exclude writing…writing does not have to be an isolating act either.

Lee

Dear Lee,

When I mentioned “story” and “literature”, I was just trying to separate the notion of storytelling performance from the Western concept of written literature, but I guess you made it very clear in your explanation of story in relation to poetry. So, in a certain sense, poetry reading is an oral and collective experience that Euro-Culture has preserved. Poetry reading may be encouraged even inside classrooms, whereas the experiencing of a story might not. When I bring poems to the classroom, I feel it is impossible to talk about them without having the experience of reading and listening to the voice, to the sounds. Students need to read and listen to the poems so that they enjoy poetry. I am facing this situation right now in the classroom, and the change in our approach has made a great difference.

We are reading the Metaphysical poets (early 17th century poetry). We sit in a circle and students read poems and then present their feelings about them, their questions, and their critical reading. I know the University context can not be compared to a poetry reading outside the classroom, but what I see right now is that we can have a better connection as a group and students become much more engaged in what we are doing.

Poetry is meaningful for them, not just an object of study in the academy. I cannot say the same thing about stories, since we usually encourage analysis, but not their reading in the classroom.

The situation at the university just reflects what is happening inside public schools, and it promotes the continuation of this model, since our university students will be teachers in the future. Maybe it is time to introduce the reading of stories inside the classroom.

Rubelise

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Works Cited

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” Nina Baym (ed.). The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. C. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 553-567.

Kristeva, Julia. La révolution du langage poétique: l’avant-garde à la fin du XIXe siècle: Lautréamont et Mallarmé. Paris: Seuil, 1974.

Maracle, Lee. Bent Box. Penticton: Theytus, 2000.

_____. Daughters are Forever. Vancouver: Polestar, 2002.

_____. I am Woman: a Native perspective on sociology and feminism. Vancouver:

Press Gang Publishers, 1996.

_____. Ravensong: a novel. Vancouver: Press Gang, 1993.

_____. “World War I.” Sojourners and Sundogs.

Tune into BlackCoffeePoet.com Friday September 16, 2011 for a video of Lee Maracle reading a poem and a short story.

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About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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