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[ed. note: Lighthouse member Andrea Doray was inspired to send a writeup of this David Mason Event a while back, and she’s been incredibly patient about my actually posting it. Thanks, Andrea, for sharing this with us!]
The articulateness of poetry—an evening with David Mason
“Articulateness”—awkward-sounding word, essential concept—was the message at a recent appearance by Dave Mason, Colorado’s seventh, and current, Poet Laureate.Speaking in the historic Eisenhower Chapel as part of the Lowry Speaker Series presented by The Lowry Foundation, Dave addressed an attentive audience (that included a gaggle of us Lighthousers) about the accessibility of poetry in our everyday lives.
Starting with Mother Goose and moving through Shakespeare, Keats, Tennyson, Dickinson, Frost, e.e. cummings, and Bishop, Dave illustrated how individual experience—given accurate voice—becomes universal.
Additionally, Dave expressed his conviction that poetry is greater than just an intellectual pursuit; poetry is more visceral, instinctual:
“Poetry creates a pattern of sound and that sound has meaning.”
“Poetry is a dance that lives in the nervous system.”
Poetry is all around us…
Much of the everyday language we speak is in phrases actually found in poetry, as Dave noted with examples from pop culture such as the eulogy from the funeral in the film Four Weddings & and Funeral:
“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Private art—public function…
The private art of poetry as a public function is a truly Western phenomenon; Colorado was second only to California in establishing the role of a poet laureate. Dave said:
“Poetry speaks to us out of universal human experience. The public function is the articulateness of that experience.”
Since becoming Colorado’s Poet Laureate in 2010, one of Dave’s missions has been to dispel the myth that poets are “…alienated figures that only write about themselves.”
This was probably good news to most of us from Lighthouse who were there: members of the writing group “Six Poets Short of a Sonnet” (there are nine of us, but, as David Rothman says, we’re literary types and that’s what happens) including Martha Kalin, Jody Sorensen, Malinda Miller, Joslyn Green, Rich Uhrlaub, and yours truly, as well as Lighthouse faculty member Joy Sawyer and Lighthouse regular (and valued volunteer) Theresé Wenham.
More than—and not just about—madness…
Are there poets who have been mad? Yes, said Dave, but there are also lawyers and doctors and teachers and individuals in every other profession who have suffered madness.
Do poets live an intensely imaginative life? Yes, again. In fact, poetry is one of the roads to express how we feel as people, but it’s the feel of the poetry that resonates with others.
Poetry is also a way to share public events, as Dave has done in his verse-novel Ludlow (which won the Colorado Book Award in 2007), a 230-page story about the Ludlow coal field massacre of 1914, in which 18 men, women, and children of coal mining families were killed by the Colorado National Guard.
In Ludlow’s Author’s Note, Dave says:
“Ludlow…is a work of fiction….Our nation since its founding produced a series of experiments into the nature of individuality. What is a person? Who has the right to exist in this place? Fiction asks such questions as urgently as history does.”
“Poetry does make things happen—in human connections at least.”
Dave also talked with the audience about how poetry can take “very grave things that people are suffering”—such as the Colorado wildfires of this year, and the horrific shootings in Aurora—and can provide “a way to write about these public events.”
To allow one form to dominate is a mistake…
About the culture of verse versus the culture of prose, Dave said: “To allow one form to dominate is a mistake that we can feel in our spinal columns.”
As a poet myself, who regularly embraces form and rhyme, blank verse as well as free verse, it’s gratifying to see the success of Ludlow as a favorite of book clubs across the country and as required reading in many classrooms.
“Dave Mason has succeeded in restoring to poetry some of the territory lost over recent centuries to prose fiction.”
“His role in resurrecting the genre is his most distinguished achievement to date, and Ludlow is the peak of that achievement.”
There’s more. Dave has also written The Scarlet Libretto, text for Lori Laitman’s opera, The Scarlet Letter, based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
In his preface for the text, Dave notes that although others have adapted The Scarlet Letter to the stage, he hopes that:
“…readers will feel that the present libretto will have its own merits as a verse drama.”
“The historical sense of this libretto links it to other books of mine, including…Ludlow. Readers are welcome to see it as an idiosyncratic vision of America in verse.”
A Colorado kinship…
As a Colorado-born girl, I felt an immediate kinship with our Poet Laureate, who spent much of his life in southern Colorado where his family goes back four or five generations.
So it’s no surprise that I walked away from that September 18 evening with signed copies of both Ludlow and The Scarlet Libretto, and a renewed commitment to “articulateness” in my own work.
Thanks for this one, Andrea Doray!