Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vancouver Art Prompts Questions

Before heading to Seattle, I checked out the Museum of Anthropology at U of BC. Here are a couple of fragmented images from the totem poles by artist Susan Point (Musqueam) who uses new colors with traditional story figures who predate Ancient Greece.

A plaque beside one of Point’s totems says one of the figures holds a “fisher,” which was a healing force with powers neither good nor bad. At that moment I thought about my poems and revision. We want all our poems to be good, but…. Sometimes I feel good while writing a poem, but reading the poem never seems to make audiences feel as good as I did while writing it (“Saturday A.M. Parade”). Sometimes I feel terrible writing a poem, but audiences respond enthusiastically to something in it (“Hymn of Enough”).

Perhaps I misperceive sculpture because it seems so steady. Sure, we can step around a sculpture and admire it from different angles, but its physical presence is grounded. Words seem like a more slippery medium. I find myself letting words into and out of poems all the time. Especially when I try to hold the poem in my memory. Sometimes it’s the sound of the word that slips; often it’s the meaning. I always hope that the poem slips towards The Good, meaning, I hope revisions make the poem more useful, more honest, more of what it needs and what audiences need from it.
As I walked around the Museum of Anthropology, I marveled at how people have appreciated and, nevertheless, revised. Revision is neither good nor bad. With Point’s sculpture, she has used new applications of color to make traditional stories more of what they are. The stories survive as people do.
I also found more artists at work at W2, a big arts & media center in downtown Vancouver. A 30-by-20-foot painting hung on one of the walls. Although flier nearby said the painting focused on “Canada’s dirtiest secret”—the tar sands of Alberta—that secret was tied to all North America. So the tar washing up on the gulf coast is not the only tar to be concerned about. Although the painting was Canadian, a Californio like me could find himself in it.
On the right side of the painting is North America with words like “prostitution” and “drug addiction” painted longitudinally across the Mexico, U.S. and Canada borders. In the Canadian news there’s a story of a double murder in Surrey related to drug smuggling. As terrible as murder is, there is another kind of killing related to our energy consumption. Initially there are plants, animals, birds and fish endangered by habitat destruction. The destruction of humans through pollution happens at a slower pace. On the flip side of the coin, taking or “securing” energy sources in other parts of the world leads to destruction through war and the costs of conducting it. I made this tour (in a Prius) because I want to be a good neighbor and carry poetry across borders, but I know poetry is not a popular product. It is often bad but seldom lethal. It was good to find distant neighbors who raised good questions. See for some answers and more details.

How can we cover our carbon footprints?
How do we divide the impact?
How aware is the poem of the tree its page came from?
How far can we trace the electrical charge that brings you to the lighted pixel at the bottom of this question mark?

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