I would say Spring is really here in Moncton, after being surprised that the thermometer in my car read 15 degrees C (about 62 F or so). Walking is easier and sweatier. People are milling about downtown as if for the first time in their lives. This is my first spring in a winter city.
I have a project for this week before the Northrop Frye Festival: figure out how to make poetry thrilling for high school students. You heard right--this coming Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I will be giving lectures and workshops at Moncton's premier English high schools. I have anywhere between one and two and a half hours to stand before twenty to thirty 17 year olds and state my case. In the words of the early nineties: gag me with a spoon!
Seriously, this is a good opportunity to reach lots of people, continue (at least on a small scale) the influence of poetry, which as you know is waning about as fast as Louisiana's coastline. So this weekend I am rereading old favorites and my own catalog to find the most compelling poems for young adults (that won't get me thrown out of Atlantic Canada).
As I was talking to my friend Kimberly about this over lunch, she and I were discussing which poems teenagers would be interested in, to which I suggested, "Only ones with the word ipod in the title." She said, "Or cellphones." While this was all sort of a joke, there is an inherent truth to the changing of the guards in art--and not only in thematic.
Weirdly enough, some of the best art that I've seen recently have been advertisement campaigns (especially billboards in the Paris metro). Movies have certainly replaced live theatre (sorry). And even pop music, those bastards who stole not only the fields of music but also of poetry (kidding, I listen to pop music), is not so much on the decline so much as relegated to another consumable that people can use to "identify" themselves to others with similar "tastes."
I read an article recently on a student at Yale who's senior art thesis is video tapes of her inducing miscarriages, which she obtained through artificial insemination and then herbal arbotificants, and then smearing the blood from these episodes in vaseline coated plastic wrap. Needless to say, this is ghastly and shocking to most people (who are human), regardless of what side of the abortion debate they're on. But consider, in 1863 at the salon in Paris, Edouard Manet unveiled the Olympia, which scandalized art viewers and critics by showing for the first time an unadorned and average nude whore, staring directly at the observer. But now, what it takes to shock us needs no subtlety: we are the shock and awe culture, we've seen it before.
Recently I saw the acclaimed film No Country for Old Man, something that everyone considers hyper-violent and not in a Kill Bill/300 kind of way. But for me the most shocking thing was not the gore or the captive bolt pistol or even the ultra-menacing Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, it was how human I felt after I watched the film, how much I appreciated life, and how much I felt like we were all "in it together." Out of violence, there grew empathy.
And maybe this is the solution to both finding something to move children who live in seven minute periods between commercials and to the lack of soul in art today. Much writing, art, film, music, etc has nothing to do with a real connection with the Other, and its only communicative intent is to impress and sell. Great art now must shock you out of the consumerist loop, it must return you to a primal state wherein people are capable of caring for one another. And this extends well beyond the petty trappings of culture, demographic, writing movement, and any other dimension. This is why at least I do art. It is another ambition question, but one that holds an ultimatum: are you in with us humans or are you out?