Poetry & Technology

Calliope

Poetpalooza 2014 ● by Richard Taylor

[Village Lights Bookstore in Madison, Indiana, will host Poetpalooza 2014: A Tri-State Poetry Summit, Friday and Saturday, April 11th and 12th, with hourly readings and signings by a score of nationally and regionally acclaimed poets. The poets laureate from Indiana and Kentucky are scheduled to appear. Featured independent publishers will be Dos Madres Press, of Ohio, and Broadstone Books, of Kentucky. Book launches by Ohio poet Michael Henson and Kentucky Poet Laureate emeritus Richard Taylor. Live music Friday evening and Saturday morning. Gallery exhibit of artworks by Richard Taylor. Community open mic poetry slam Saturday evening. 812-265-1800 or the Village Lights website for schedule and more information.]

Most poets have few illusions about what they do and don’t do. They are not, as Shelley once imagined, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” because even the poetry that is most moving does not mobilize us into collective social action. But the best poets are witnesses to the daily phenomena we all experience and often ignore. They provide us with insights — a first step toward wisdom — that we seldom get elsewhere. The level at which poetry functions best is individuals speaking to individuals about common interests, about the condition of the spirit, the mystery of our being, the unspoken dialogue that goes on between each of us and the world. T.S. Eliot raised provocative questions about the levels of communication that each of us encounter daily: “How much knowledge is lost in mere information? How much wisdom is lost in mere knowledge?” Most of us have neglected these higher regions of communication. Instead, we are bombarded with data, with often irrelevant facts, with news that is news only for moments. If we tuned in only to wisdom, there would be little on television and the world-wide web to hold our attention.

[Image at the top of this post: Calliope — Greek muse of epic poetry.]

We live in three worlds — the natural world, the man-made world, and the world of mind and imagination. The natural world we know is a landscape of rivers and valleys, farmland and mountain hollows with areas of mixed deciduous hardwood forests that are among the wonders of eastern North America. Increasingly, this primal world, the necessary condition of our existence, is being replaced by our man-made world of shopping malls, urban sprawl, and asphalt. These changes have been made possible by an unprecedented application of technology — through computers, through gigantic earthmovers, and through internal combustion engines that permit us to live farther and farther from the places where we work and more and more dissociated from the places where we live. In the process, we are rapidly erasing the old divisions between town and country, the natural and synthetic, the “developed” and the wild. Increasingly, the world we witness is a secondhand world presented to us over satellite dishes and the world-wide web.

The word “technology” derives from the Greek word techne, which means “skill” or “art.” The word “poet” derives from another Greek word, poeta, meaning “maker,” and by extension, creator. Technology demonstrates our skills, our mastery of techniques to alter the physical world for human purpose, but it provides little nourishment for the spirit. Art, as Lexington, Kentucky writer Guy Davenport has said, is “the replacement of indifference with attention.” Art, or artifice, provides us with the means to reshape the world in our minds and hearts, to reconnect ourselves with not just the surfaces of the natural world but the pulse, the mysteries of life itself. At its best, poetry reclaims the natural world for us. It focuses our attention from our distracted lives and, at its best, transforms our sight to vision. It offers a means of interpreting both worlds, and often it imparts a wisdom that we won’t pick up on CNN or the evening news. As the poet Ezra Pound memorably said, “Poetry is news that stays news.”

Poetry and other expressions of the imagination — fiction, the visual arts, drama, music, and dance — are one means by which we can re-connect ourselves with the natural world, the rhythms of the live around us. They are the means to reestablish linkages between the man-made world and the domain of wildlife and natural cycles that exists in precarious counterbalance with our own human destinies. The arts are one means to reunite us with our best selves in a more thoughtful relationship with the natural world. The third world of mind and imagination is in part the healthful connection all of us can make with the world of nature and the world we have made and are making, a world that is rapidly altering the balance between the human and the non-human, the subdivision and the ecosystems to which we are inextricably tied.

[Richard Taylor, Kentucky Poet Laureate (1999-2001) lives in Frankfort, Kentucky and owns Poor Richard’s Books. Author of eight collections of poetry, two novels, and several books relating to Kentucky history, he currently teaches creative writing at Transylvania University in Lexington. His latest book of poetry, Rain Shadow will have its launch on April 11th at Poetpalooza 2014.]

The Ryder ● March 2014