And it’s 1, 2, 3, What Are We Writing For?
I’ve been taking a poetry class with Catherine Smith (see Links page), called Pushing the Boundaries. I wanted to get to know one of the characters better in my new novel Under the Bed – she’s a 25 year-old poet in the East Village in 1969. A not very good poet, so I figured she wouldn’t be too hard for me to emulate. I’ve also been a bit poetry phobic so I thought it would kill two birds with one stone. I’ve loved learning the value of brevity, which can only be a good thing for a prose writer.
This week we did a Ghazal, which comes from a musical tradition of Urdu poetry, going back to the 14th century. A ghazal is made up of several couplets, which traditionally would have been set to music, sung and performed. When sung, the music provides an interlude for the audience between each couplet allowing them to resonate. An important aspect of the couplet is that each should stand on its own as an aphorism. The couplets have been compared to a ‘stone from a necklace’, each with a value of its own. Once put together it’s part of a whole. I’ve included here the ghazal I wrote as “Izzie”.
Ghazal: When is a War not a War?
By “Izzie” 1969
No poem or painting is finished without our eyes to see.
We decide what it means. Dare to say what we see.
Are the mix of hues and colors still on the canvas
when they’re left in a darkened room, too dark to see?
Have all the colors in the world disappeared when
the sun is blazing white, so bright we cannot see?
Where have the other colors run to, in a land where sun burns
crimson, earth and rivers reflect blood red for all to see?
What is more real? What we think we see, what we’re told
to think, or what is shot in front of the whole world to see?
TV images of the War up Close – visual bombardment more real
than any reality in the commonplace we live and see.
Izzie’s paintings are finished by the viewer’s eyes. Can we
finish the War by what we dare to think and say and see?
The ghazal I’ve written asks more questions than I answer, which is symptomatic of the times (1969) and how a 25 yr. might have viewed them. By coincidence, after I’d written the ghazal, I came across a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin on twitter this week, which I thought was apropos:
“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live … “
In the critique part of Catherine’s poetry class, I talked about the fact that the Vietnam War was really the first war recorded live on television. We also referenced the iconic satirical protest song ‘Fixing To Die’ by Country Joe McDonald *
The refrain says it all: –
And it’s 1,2,3, what are we fighting for,
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
The next stop is Vietnam,
And it 5,6,7 open up the pearly gates,
There ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee we’re all gonna die
To most people in the UK ‘during the war’ refers to WWII. When I first went to live in San Francisco in the early 80s, when people talked about ‘the war’ everyone was referring to Vietnam. I think it’s hard for people in the UK to fully understand the enormity of the effect the Vietnam War had on an entire generation of Americans.
So in the spirit of my ghazal, mixed with Country Joe’s humor, I’m going to leave you with the question:
What are we writing for?
Click on Comments at the bottom of this post and let me know.
* Here’s a link to Country Joe’s performance of ‘Fixing to Die’ at Woodstock, August 1969.
Country Joe @ Woodstock
Sun, 22 Jan 2012 02:34:23
what are we writing for? To stay alive, to be alive, to be able to say all the things we can’t speak aloud ourselves and to see how all these things look through other people’s eyes.
Sun, 22 Jan 2012 03:02:07
Thanks for getting the ball rolling Jess. I have to agree with you, especially the part about seeing how things look through other people’s eyes. To actually get inside their minds is pretty amazing. I think it helps us understand other peoples motivation too.
Sun, 22 Jan 2012 04:48:54
I agree with both of you – and writing reminds me I want to keep asking questions.I want to find out what I belive, what is important to me. I don’t always find the answers, but asking the questions still feels essential. Love your blog, Kathy! 😉
Sun, 22 Jan 2012 08:05:10
Thanks Catherine. And you’re right The questions always take the lead.