Monday, December 05, 2005

Monster Book Rally

Last weekend, we went to the reading of Winter Book, There is No Other Way to Speak. The annual fine press book, produced by Minnesota Center for Book Arts and edited by Bill Holm, this year featured 12 Minnesota poets. Each writer read a piece; three were represented by the audio recording of the book.

It struck me how — despite our ubiquitous multi-media-iPod-cell-phone-Netflicks-Sirius-radio-plasma-TV-bar-band surround of sound — how seldom we just sit and listen. Truly listen. Respectfully listen.

We are sucking in information and sensations at a daily rate that would have staggered Leonardo. But adding up to what?

In that Saturday night stillness, 200 of us stopped coughing long enough to listen to a poem. And then another. We waited for the next words to come along to cock our perception or knock us entirely off our perch. At times, you could hear the collective breath go "iihiiih" in surprise or whoosh out in appreciation of a shared revelation.

Leo Dangel conjures up a farmer who watches young archeologists in halter tops patiently work an excavation, then imagines another one centuries hence gently brushing the dust from his bones.

John Rezmerski pits two canny country Lutherans against proselitizing evangelicals who can't see what pork chops have to do with Christianity.

Robert Bly tells of traveling to do a memorial reading for a poet friend at small college, then discovering that the ancient nun hosting his visit has forgotten to arrange a room or tell anyone he was coming. But a poem resulted, about doing the reading in a fitness center, surrounded by exercycles.

Later, as we walked to our car, we could hear the roaring engines from the Monster Truck Rally in the Metrodome three blocks away. We had arrived early and parked on a meter, but in a nearby lot, the event parking toll was $20. You could get a copy of the There is No Other Way to Speak CD for $3 less.

If that's too much trouble, then just try to listen to something today that nobody else is playing.

And if time is short, well then, read this, the only poem I have right at hand (not from the Winter Book).

After a war come the memorials —
tanks, cutlasses, men with cigars.
If women are there they adore
and are saved, shielding their children.

For a long time people rehearse
just how it happened, and you have to learn
how important all that armament was —
and it really could happen again.

So the women and children can wait, whatever
their importance might have been, and they
come to stand around the memorials
and listen some more and be grateful, and smell the cigars.

Then, if your side has won, they explain
how the system works and if you just let it
go on it will prevail everywhere.
And they establish foundations and give
some of the money back.

— "Men" by William Stafford in Every War Has Two Losers, William Stafford on Peace and War

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