Monday, March 14, 2011

Life Need Not be Lived Entirely in Prose

I was invited, this past weekend, to a gathering of folks working in and around the federal government who meet once a month to share good food and read poetry to each other. It was one of the nicest evenings I've spent in a long time.

The group has been meeting every month, in one form or another, for close to 40 years. They work in various branches of government--some more tangentially than others. Several of them work for Department of Defense. By day you might mistake them for policy wonks or academics focused on military history. And yet, once a month, they bring potluck food to someone's apartment or house, open up well-loved and dog-eared volumes of poetry, and read to each other.

It's not an intellectual exercise. They don't come to analyze the poems or deconstruct them. They come to appreciate them. They come for the sheer, sensual, visceral pleasure of hearing good poems read aloud. Occasionally, on the night I attended, there was some commentary, as when someone noticed an accidental motif appearing across several poems. But more often, there were just oohs and aahs and mmms of appreciation.

We allow ourselves to think, far too often, that only certain kinds of people are supposed to enjoy certain kinds of things. We accept stereotypes about ourselves and others in art that we would never put up with in other aspects of life. Black kids in the inner city aren't supposed to like, or even understand, classical music. New Yorkers aren't supposed to enjoy country music. Farmers aren't supposed to read the classics. Factory workers aren't supposed to go to the theatre. Poetry...well, poetry apprently is for no one, anymore, except academics and magazine editors.

But it isn't so. It just isn't so. The lives we lead are infintitely more complex and genre-shattering than we give ourselves credit for...or see portrayed in our media. Our ability to appreciate and enjoy does not come predetermined or color-coded for convenience. And the more we adventure and explore beyond the obvious and the comfortable in art, the more we are nourished.

As my friend said--the one who invited me to the gathering, "Every so often, I just need to remind myself that life doesn't have to be lived entirely in prose."

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