Monday, November 30, 2009

pop and poetry pt. i

This is the first post in a series where I’ll attempt in the smallest of ways to bridge the distance between those of us who are enthusiasts of poetry with those of us who are either passively or actively disinterested in the whole rigmarole.

One of the arguments about poetry, and even poets wrestle with this, is determining whether it has a function outside of itself. Sure, there are plenty of ways of going about answering this, and it has definitely generated plenums of scholarly literature. For me, one of the greatest functions poetry offers is its ability to enable and/or facilitate the creation of other forms of art, and in tonight’s post, we will look at LADY GAGA (I put her name in caps for emphasis and as a homage to the greatness that is her legacy to come).

As I was wikipedia-ing the other night, as one does to avoid doing actual schoolwork at the computer, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s auxiliary tracks on the re-release of her breakout/breakthrough CD The Fame, entitle The Fame Monster. It’s an interesting read about a young unattractive quirky singer/songwriter who passes on Julliard to sing in underground New York cabarets, gets signed on to various record labels as a writer then becomes an international phenomenon within a year of releasing her own debut album. But all that exposition has little immediate concern: what struck me were her influences.

She cites, of course, glam rock as one of her main influences. You can see that in her styling, fashion, and over-the-top spectacular performances. Musically, you can definitely hear it in her recent ballad about convincing her father to get surgery, “Speechless”. Here is a side-by-side comparison of a Shudder to Think song, “Ballad of Maxwell Demon”, with “Speechless”. I believe they’re in the same key, share similar melodic moves, and stylistically glamorize Victorian fashion with science-fictional surrealism.

The influence, however, that really took me aback was that of Rainer Maria Rilke, an early 20th Century German poet. Rilke is interesting to me in his usage of Apollo, Hermes and—most prominently—Orpheus as reoccurring figures in his poetry. It would make sense that Gaga and her art would resonate with Rilke’s; after all, Orpheus was an integral figure to musicians and poets. She states in an interview on a German talk show:

Well, Rilke for me has been sort of my bible. Actually I have a Rilke tattoo on my arm. I got this in Osaka, Japan. “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?”

I find this connection inspiring on many levels. For one, it gives artistic credence to an emerging pop icon whose talent I feel is continuously discredited solely by virtue of her success. Secondly, it contemporizes and makes relevant poetry to a generation of listeners of music and spectators of popular culture. Thirdly, the quotation is a sage, motivational prescription. I would die.

thanking in prose

At both of the dining tables to which I was privileged to have been invited this past Thanksgiving, toward the beginning of the meals, the usual suggestion was made of sharing for what each one of us was most thankful. Naturally, there was a collective grumble from the more pragmatic dinner guests. I too shrank away from participating in this activity, though not because I am resistant against such opportunities that serve as un-trafficked avenues for maudlin confessions that inevitably devolve into primetime-TV-esque saccharinities of friendship and love—quite the contrary, I welcome and enable them—but at the moment, I could only think about my recent job loss and, in turn, the confrontation with reality that is my failed adulthood. This hardly put me in the mood to entertain such holidayisms, so I diffused the activity at each dinner with my prudence and humor. I’m resolved to keep that act of diffusion vague to get into the meat, the reason for this blog post.

It wasn’t until later, a day later perhaps, that I realized that I was thankful for many things. My mother of course is one of them. What that poor woman has to put up with with me I can never gesture toward understanding. My friends and the network of support I’ve managed to fashion myself here in the Bay Area, however inconsistent the support seems to be. I am thankful for it. I am thankful that I attended Berkeley as it gets proven to me daily that the quality of my education there has put me ahead of a large percentage of the waking world, and that it is an asset that feels like a curse but is mostly an asset. I am thankful that I lost 30 pounds and managed to keep it off. I am thankful for modern medicine; more specifically, I am thankful for Propecia. I am even thankful that I am gay and that I am Asian and that I am brown. If I weren’t I don’t think I’d be as strong as a person, as eloquent, as educated, as fashionable, as tasteful, as cultured, or as special of a person. And I am thankful that there are enough politically driven people out there to fight for my rights so that I can focus on art, which brings me to a new thing this year, for which I am thankful, because I’m always thankful for these aforementioned things.

I am thankful to have poetry in my life. I am happy, and couldn’t be happier (the accuracy of this bromide deems it unavoidable), that I have decided to subscribe to a life of reading and writing poetry. I feel lucky to have fallen down the rabbit hole of this art form that most individuals only experience partially through the miscellany of audio and visual culture, or overtly and obsequiously at weddings and funerals, and that I get to—because I allow myself to—take it in in all of its awesome distillations. Even now, I am thinking in poetry.