Friday, May 18, 2007

DREAMSTORIES: REAL VIDEO POEMS


WELCOME TO DREAMSTORIES


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This blog is about a radically new type of video poem I call DREAMSTORIES.


What you are seeing and hearing in the opening Player at the top of this page is a Dreamstory. The soundtrack consists of a spontaneous oral poem called a speaking. You should watch and listen to it, because it will help will clarify some of the things I'm about to say.

If it interferes with the playing of other videos, or bothers your reading, and you want to turn the sound down or off through the controls.

You can see many more
Dreamstories on Video SOULSPEAK

If you like what you see, you may want to go further. I should remind you that the form is so different from contemporary written and spoken poetry that you can get confused if you don't turn off your questioning,  conscious mind and simply let it fall on you like rain.
 


Dreamstories are a contemporary version of early oral poetry, which combined music, rhythmic speech and costume/movement into one organic whole. It was spontaneous in nature and was created almost entirely from the unconscious mind. 


Dreamstories are very much like dreams: you have to feel them to get them. So stop thinking and let them enter you like waking dreams. That is how early preliterate man viewed them. 


All of these Dreamstories were created at SOULSPEAK Studio where we have the latest audio/visual software and hardware.











INTRODUCTION to Dreamstories

 I think its clear, if you've viewed my Dreamstories, that I'm not talking about videos of performance poetry as we know it today, nor do I mean taking an existing written poem and displaying it on the screen (or reciting it) in combination with an accompanying visual/musical layer, although I would be interested in seeing what others have done in this area.

 Both of those are really hybrid outgrowths or extensions of written poetry, and although I have done them in the past, they are forms I am not that crazy about because they are not created as an organic whole, i.e. they smack too much of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The end result, almost always, is that they feel stilted and artificial.




The video poetry I am talking about is based on the spontaneous spoken poetry that was practiced several thousand years ago before we learned to read and write. You might say that this older poetry gives us the means of creating a future poetry, one that is spontaneous, immediate and alive, and loaded with feeling, not ideas.



Ideas don't belong in poetry. They bring it down to the level of philosophy. As MacLeish said so well in his "Ars Poetica", "A poem should not mean/but be". I have always agreed with that; indeed  view it as an axiomatic truth.

Rembrandt's Aristotle isn't contemplating the bust of Homer because he has nothing else to do. Rather his gaze is prompted by his instinctive suspicion that the mystery of our existence can never be fully expressed through logic, but only mirrored through art.

And if there is one art that can provide an almost flawless mirror, it is the art of poetry. But not the poetry we know today, or rather the poetry prized today, which is far too conscious. We have to reach back beyond MacLeish, who was too conscious a poet by my estimate, although his intuition on the matter was quite good.

We have to reach back thousands of years to the very first form of poetry: early preliterate oral poetry, the poetry of the tribal peoples preceding Homer and his contemporaries. This poetry was based on spontaneous oral composition to simple rhythmic music. It was a poetry created without premeditation.

The preliterate poetry of Homer and is contemporary epic poets (in all cultures) was created in exactly the same way, but did not include costume and movement.

It came almost completely from the unconscious, with little if any conscious interference. Homer wasn't just clearing his throat when he said " Sing Muse and through me tell the story....". Perhaps another way of saying it is that, unlike written poetry, spontaneous oral composition can only occur if the poet surrenders completely to the directives of the unconscious, because that is where the form lies.

Despite the layers of consciousness that have all but buried that ancient form of poetry over the past 4000 years, we can still access it if our desire to do so is strong enough.

Click here for some examples of contemporary SOULSPEAK poems 
 created by spontaneous oral composition. You can select poems and play them via the SOUNDCLICK controls.



Although we think today pf poetry as an art dealing exclusively with words, it wasn't always so. The reason early preliterate oral poetry dominated those cultures to a degree we would find hard to imagine today is because it was an all-inclusive art form (speaking, music, mask, movement) that could be created with a human "consciousness" that was largely unconscious, which, is a pretty good way of describing preliterate consciousness.

It is only with the advent of writing (and our current consciousness) that we see poetry divest itself of speaking and mask and music and movement and become a written art. The audio/visual poetry I am proposing and that I have been creating for years now is a modern counterpart of that all-inclusive older poetry. 


Although it goes against almost all current thinking about poetry, I think I can safely make the general statement that preliterate oral poetry was never consciously directed, but was driven entirely by the directives of the unconscious, that is to say it had no ideas, only feelings. I include Homer's two great epics under this umbrella by the way.

All great poetry ( written or oral) is marked by the fact that it produces the ecstatic experience I like to call the poetic moment. I have separated this moment from form (written/ spoken/ sung) that carries it, because they are really two different (although inter-related) things.

After all, it is the poetic moment that courses through our bodies, not the form. I go through all this to make first of several points about spontaneous oral poetry that should reverberate with your personal experience with the unconscious, which for most people is their experience with their dreams although for some others it may extend to experiences with the psychic world when awake.

That first point is this: spontaneous oral poetry can't be forced. Not one bit. And in that lies its true poetic value. If forced, it will always fail. Completely. The mouth will simply stammer and stop. If given its head, however, it will never fail to produce the poetic moment. I speak from experience in this.

Perhaps I can make this a bit clearer by saying that creating a true spontaneous oral poem is something like having a waking dream composed entirely of rhythmic speech. It is a largely unconscious process, and because of that, there is no predicting what its shape or content will be. It simply happens.

There is no time to think or analyze or pause or re-direct the process. There is only time to speak.

The sound of that speech may change from time to time, just as the composition of our dreams may change, but it is never an acted voice. It is the voice, or persona, that the poem demands, or more correctly, that the unconscious has chosen for the poem.

The poet's major task in spontaneous oral poetry is to be sensitive to that flow from the unconscious and deliver the baby the way the baby wants to come out. If any attempt is made to influence that delivery, the birth fails.

Although I would like to think that written poetry also honors that flow, my experience with written poetry has taught me that the conscious mind and writing are so closely linked that is difficult to keep the conscious mind from having its way during composition, and having its way generally means coming up for air to examine (and perhaps change) what is being, or has been written.

After all written poetry is a thing that the eye-driven conscious mind wants to examine, i.e., it's in our genes. Oral poetry, however, whose roots lie in a less conscious part of us, puts its major compositional demands on the unconscious, so that the only thing that will normally force the poet to return to normal consciousness is a failure of nerve.





This is because the unconscious is going to go where it wants to go. Which means the oral poet must have the courage to continue feeling his way toward the true speaking of the poem, no matter what.

But, that's only half the story, because only a fool would continue without instinctively sensing that if the course is stayed, the mounting fear will always (and automatically) resolve itself into something impossibly beautiful and impossibly true, i.e., a true poem.

This highly emotional experience seems to me to be at the heart of all true poetry, but something that is particularly vivid during oral composition because it is such a physical, primal experience.

My own experience with spontaneous oral composition has led me to believe that poetry is the natural language of the unconscious, i.e., it is the way the soul, or the unconscious, speaks to us, and through us to others, and that anything else we care to tag onto that definition of poetry is mere frosting on the cake.



OTHER LINKS ABOUT JUSTIN SPRING AND HIS WORK

In addition to this BLOG on Dreamstories, Mr Spring has many other BLOGS. Two important ones are the two blogs explaining some very real therapeutic uses  of SOULSPEAK. Each of these blogs contains a series of instructive videos.

 
MOTHER/CHILD BONDING





 

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VIDEO SOULSPEAK
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TWO BOOKS BY JUSTIN SPRING ABOUT THE ANCIENT, PSYCHIC ROOTS OF POETRY

SOULSPEAK: The Outward Journey of the Soul,







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Alice Hickey:Between Worlds, A Journal











FREE DOWNLOADABLE SELECTIONS FROM ALL OF MR. SPRING’S CDs, DVDs, and POETRY BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT SOULSPEAK WEB PAGE







DREAMSTORIES, CONTINUED.




THE NATURE OF ORAL POETRY 


I can't really say what brought about my interest in this mode of composition. I could give you lots of reasons, but in the end I'd simply have to say that something was guiding me.


I should add that rediscovering this ancient mode of composition was long, and often exasperating, as there are no books on the subject from a practical point of view. The end result is that much of what is available revolves around technical matters, such as the formulaic characteristics (keeping the six stress beat) of Homer's epics, matters that have nothing to do with the essence of oral poetry.

The essence of oral poetry is spontaneous oral composition, of which scholars know absolutely nothing. The fact that Homer, and all pre-literate poets, re-spoke their spontaneous creations to audiences (which occupies most of the mistaken attention of scholars) has little to do with the essence of oral poetry, which, again, is spontaneous composition. The key to understanding that it is the essence is to understand that each re-speaking was done out of storytelling memory, not verbatim memory, and that each re-speaking was essentially a spontaneous re-creation of the poem.

You might compare this in your everyday life to a clever piece of gossip or humor that spontaneously pops out of your mouth and that you continue to spontaneously re-tell for weeks or months without any effort at all. In short, there is no thinking or verbatim remembering involved; it simply occurs out of the miracle of storytelling memory. And if you watch yourself carefully you'll find yourself tweaking it each time, just like Homer did.

That's why he could lie down and have some schnapps from time to time as he re-spoke his epics. He wasn't worried about remembering anything. That was the Muse's job. It just happened.

I believe that if Homer were alive today, he would record his best performances, perhaps giving live performances only when he wanted to do so. I may be wrong on this, as Homer was undoubtedly a giant performer who literally became his characters, and would have wanted to contiually satisfy that part of his genius. But he couldn't have been more of a giant than Richard Pryor or Ray Charles, who found both the recorded and live modes of creation to be highly satisfactory.

My citing of Pryor and Charles by the way is not whimsical. I believe if you combined the soul-baring, improvisational, narrative genius of Pryor with the rhythmic/musical genius of Charles, you wouldn't be far from the Homer's own genius (less his poetic genius of course, although Charles was no slouch in this area.)

When I say this to scholars, they usually don't quite know how to reply as their mental image of Homer is closer to Milton (with a big verbatim memory) than Pryor or Charles, but again it is because they are looking through the window of written poetry.

True oral composition is a forgotten art. The scholarship on the subject is relatively useless as a practical matter, as none of the scholars I read, and there were many, had any personal experience with the actual creation of an oral poem. So what you wind up with is a look at oral poetry though the only window available to them, that of their experience with written poetry.

Unfortunately it is a misleading window. A parallel would be trying to explain what it felt like to almost be a horse if the only experience you had was riding a bike. That's stretching it a bit, but it's a pretty fair comparison because of the dominant role the unconscious plays in true oral composition.

Let me say it again: Homer isn't just flapping his lips when he says, "Sing muse and through me tell the story…" The existing scholarship never touches on this critical point. It's what happens when you keep looking through the wrong window. Written poetry should beget a similar surrendering but, as I've said, it seldom does because writing produces a visible thing and often tempts us to return to a more conscious, examining state. This shouldn't surprise us; after all writing is inextricably linked to our post-literate, explaining consciousness.


HOW TO LISTEN TO ORAL POETRY


I go through all this in order to give you (hopefully) a good feel for the differences between written and spontaneous oral composition. Because of those differences, oral poems have to be approached somewhat differently than we approach written poems.

If you don't, and expect the oral poems to obey the same aesthetics as a written poem, you'll never get them (or be able to create them). I don't know whether the poets I've approached with examples of oral poetry don't get then because they have an aesthetic window that's too narrow, or if it's simply due to the fact that they don't want to get them. I suspect it's more of the latter, a kind of reflexive rejection of anything not written.

Oral poetry must be listened to like a Bach fugue. All the motifs have to be accepted: the voice, the performance, the music as well as the words. You can't sit there and strip everything off except the words. I've watched poets do that: strip the words off and paste them on the inside of their heads, where they seem to be eyeing the words like a very suspicious telegram.

Quite simply, you have to listen to oral poetry like you do to music; you have to let it fall on you like rain. If you do, you'll get the genius of the spontaneous SOULSPEAK oral poems you've been listening to.



After years of oral composition and seven oral poetry CDs, it is clear to me that that oral composition offers a way of creating a poetry that can reach an audience that is reading less and less, a trend by the way that is not going to stop, no matter how many book fairs we launch.

More importantly, it offers a way of creating a poetry that is more concerned with being than meaning, i.e., a poetry more concerned with emotions than ideas, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the only poetry that should really interest anyone. For sure, it's the only poetry that interests me. And, I hope, the only poetry that interests you.

I believe such poems constitute the very heart of poetry, and that they have endured because they haven't surrendered to our conscious desire to explain everything. We have other disciplines for that, such as philosophy and the sciences.

As an interesting sidelight on this, I remember slogging through one of critic David Steiner's long and impossibly polysyllabic tome on the nature of our literary arts in which he sets out to prove that ideas form the backbone of every masterpiece, only to have the honesty to admit, in the end, that the one exception was Shakespeare, and I quote, "..who had no ideas." Exactly.





WHY A MODERN ORAL POETRY? 


So what is this rambling all about? For sure it's not about turning back the clock. Insofar as some part of poetry transforming itself through oral composition, I believe that such a transition is going to eventually occur, although it will probably have to take place outside our poetry culture, which is horribly resistant to any kind of change.

I could understand that resistance if written poetry were the only kind of poetry that existed, but that simply isn't the case, is it? I also believe a similar transition to oral composition will take place in other fields such as biography, travel, dairies, and most of our political/social communication, because that's where much of our personal and artistic communication is going: towards show and tell, i.e., towards various forms of audio/visual/ computer-driven communication.

You might say we're returning to a semi-oral state because of the potential (and ease) of communicating this way. And its not far off in the future; it's already here. But that change will take care of itself, after all, you're reading this (and hopefully looking at some of my audio/visual poems) through such mediums. What seems more important, at least to me, is that oral composition gave me (and several others who shared my journey) a way of experiencing poetry in its most primal form, a form in which the physical and psychic roots of poetry become too obvious to be ignored.

We are talking about ancient roots here, perhaps genetically dormant for millennia, but entirely capable of coming back to life quite quickly. I won't pretend that what we experience is anything close to what pre-literate humans experienced. We have changed too much for that, but I can also assure you that it is strong enough to change all your ideas about poetry.




THE POETIC MOMENT 


What oral poetry led me to see very clearly is that what is essential in poetry, and most valuable, is the poetic moment a poem brings about. The form it takes (writing, singing, speaking) is relatively inconsequential; it is simply what reveals and communicates that moment.

It seems to me that this moment is what poets should really be concerned about creating (and propagating) but it is equally obvious to me that our academy-sheltered poetry culture is more interested in protecting the castle of written poetry than extending the ways in which the poetic moment can be experienced.

If there is any thing that indicates the sad state poetry is in, it is this knee-jerk defensive attitude. It is a loser's attitude. We should be on the offensive, embracing and celebrating any form of poetry that produces the poetic moment. That moment was divine for early pre-literate humans, so much so that they became totally (and communally) absorbed in making poetry. Down to the last man and woman.

There was a reason for that absorption, and it illustrates the nature of our distant ancestors, because the poetic moment, it seems to me, is one in which they became fully, and truly, human. Their cultures valued that moment. Our culture couldn't care less. I, for one, would like to live a life filled with such moments.

In Jungian terms, you might say those moments represent a special re-joining of our conscious and unconscious selves that can only be initiated by our unconscious self. That is its true value, that it comes from our feeling self, and also why any attempt to consciously create a poem always ends in failure. Something about the rhythm and closure is always wrong, or off, because that part of the poem can only be given to us by the unconscious.

I would even go so far as to say poetry is a special archetype in the collective unconscious that rises of its own accord to remind us of our true nature: that we are mysterious, unfathomable beings. Some days I would go even further and say that the poetry archetype rises of its own accord to restore us for a moment to the beings we truly are. And there are some days I would go even further and say that when a poem comes to us, we enter a state that is similar, if not identical, to the state of consciousness we enjoyed as preliterate humans.


You might say it's the remnant that won't go away, like the little piggy tails some of us are born with. I also believe we have been moving away (genetically and socially speaking) from the ability to enter that little piggy state at an alarming rate. Whether that is a temporary move, or permanent one, is the question that absorbed Jung, as it should absorb any of us who value the arts (and in particular poetry). We have what I like to refer to as " thin" arts today because they are for the most part consciously fashioned. They may be stunning, exciting, thought-provoking, but they are never comforting in the way that, say, Shakespeare's tragedies are comforting.

Despite the insistence of our current poetry culture that the only true poetry is written poetry, it would be far better if we viewed poetry as the lingua franca of what I have referred to as our "little piggy state", a lingua franca that can take many physical forms: writing, speech, song, movement, although the latter has only survived in Asian story-telling dance.

Perhaps another way of saying that is to say that poetry has nothing to do with literature other than the fact that writing is one of the forms the ecstatic experience we call poetry can take. That moment, of course, has been described in many ways. Dickinson described it as a moment of zero to the bone, Yeats as Heaven blazing into the head. Graves reports Houseman saying it made the beard stubble on his neck stand up. But I can assure you it is not unique to written poetry. It is simply the nature of the poetic moment.

Yet, despite all the promise that oral composition potentially offers, I have been saddened, over the past years, to find that my fellow poets have had little interest in that promise, dismissing it with a kind of parochial blindness that borders on stupidity. Other art forms such as music and dance and painting have gladly embraced their primal roots and enriched their art by doing so.

But our poetry culture, like the ostrich, refuses to look. It forgets that crisis is composed of both danger and opportunity. If our scientists worked this way we'd still be dealing with oxen going round in circles. It is one thing too dismiss something as untrue or useless if you have examined it carefully, but quite another to do so without examining the matter at all.


You cannot fully understand oral poetry without the experience of using that mode of composition. And that takes some nerve, not a closed mind. After all it means meeting the Muse on very primal, almost organic terms. It seems to me that Graves wasn't far off in equating the Muse to the fearsome White Goddess, the Primal Mother.

 

I should add that the states of feeling that I go through in creating an oral poem are somewhat similar to those involved in creating a written poem, in that the resultant ecstatic moment of poetry is the same, as is the initial surrendering to the Muse, although for oral poetry, that surrender must be immediate and complete.

But what lies between those end points is not the same. It is more powerful, more physical, more psychic. It is a physical/psychic experience one might compare to being suspended in a small, floating orgasm. It might also be compared to something short of speaking in tongues.


My peers are always ready to tell me no on all these points, but I'm like Galileo when it comes to that kind of uninformed response: the bishops may tell me that there are no moons around Jupiter, but I've been looking through the lens of experience while they've been looking through the lens of imperfect knowledge.

Phillip Roth once gave an interesting analogy about the difference between writing a poem and a novel. He said that writing a poem was like riding a racehorse while writing a novel was like driving a locomotive. I'll add one more twist to that: creating an oral poem is almost like being the horse. I say that because it requires surrendering almost completely to the unconscious for the duration of the poem and letting the natural narrative machinery of the mind (and speaking) work.

At any rate, it is this ability to surrender to the archetype of poetry that is crucial. If you don't, the poems sputters, the mind rises to full conscious and the golden thread is lost. There is no going back as in written poetry, no thinking, no modifying, no saving what you have, etc.

But if you don't falter, and the process is recorded, what you actually get to hear is the moment of poetic creation: the whole nature of the voice changes. It is that sound that the psyche recognizes even if the modern conscious mind doesn't quite know what to do with it. It is that sound that produces zero at the bone. The words are just the spear-carriers in this opera.

I think that's a distinction that has to be recognized if you really want to understand the essential difference between oral and written poetry It is that sound that the psyche recognizes even if the modern conscious mind doesn't quite know what to do with it. It is that sound that produces zero at the bone. I think that's a distinction that has to be recognized if you really want to understand the essential difference between oral and written poetry.




THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORAL AND WRITTEN POETRY 



Stephen Dunn once said to me that poetry is distinguished from non-poetry by the radical accuracy of its language, and that's a pretty accurate statement if you're only talking about written poetry.

But it completely misses the boat with regard to oral poetry. Oral poetry doesn't depend upon that kind of accuracy. In fact it would strangle oral poetry. Oral poetry doesn't imitate speech, as written poetry does. It is speech. Remember that. And remember this: what makes it poetry is not so much the radical accuracy of the language used, although it will have a bit of that, but the sound of the poet's voice, a sound that is not consciously but unconsciously formed.

By sound I mean the totality of the utterance: rhythm, pace, emotion, phrasing. That is what causes zero at the bone in oral poetry . The best way to understand this difference is to get a recording of James Brown's It's a Man's World. The lyric consists (for the most part) of the hook, "This is a man's world, this is a man's world But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl" repeated as a refrain but with a slightly different sound each time.

While it is obvious that the language is hardly radically accurate, you have to be a dunce or deaf not to see that the emotional collage created by the differing sounds is the stuff of great art. I would also say it's a great oral poem, despite the ten piece band in back of Brown.

I say this because it's a good example of how close Brown could get to the spirit of the original Shout and Holler blues which, like Brown's lyric hook, consisted of three phrases: the first two identical and the third a different phrase that rhymed with the first two. Shout and Holler blues, by the way, was as close as we're likely to get to an American, popular spontaneous oral poetry, having only very primitive musical elements if any at all.

The song is also a good example of the African/American aesthetic at its purest, which is an aesthetic more concerned with how something is said than with the words themselves. As Amiri Baraka points out, West Africans used the same word for many things, and it was only the intonation, or how it was said, that determined the meaning. That tradition was continued by the slaves brought to America and remains a dominant factor in African/American speech to this day.

Concern with the actual words being used reflects an aesthetic closer to the radical accuracy of language so valued by Dunn. But it doesn't have a significant place in the African American aesthetic, which was spun out of oral traditions, not written traditions.

If you understand this essential difference, something Brown's song makes self-evident, you're a good way towards understanding the aesthetic of oral poetry. I might add that oral poetry is almost completely divorced from ideas because it is almost completely divorced from conscious interference.

By that I mean those of us who use this mode of composition start with absolutely no idea what we're going to do and then let ourselves surrender to wherever the Muse wants to go. There is no time to think, just do. There is no other way. I might also add that it takes a good bit of nerve, as the process allows none of the privacy that writing does for the simple fact that, in practice, the speaking of the poem takes place in a collaborative setting.

What you wind up with in spontaneous oral composition, if you pursue it to its natural end, is a small dedicated group of artists (oral poets, musicians, singers and sometimes visual artists) who don't care how revealing the collaborative process is, only that it produces something incredibly beautiful. I'm not just talking about the resultant poem, but the process as well.

I remember reading many years ago Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman and being overwhelmed when the restless heroine eventually finds a life and a home within a community of artists who were living their art. That community felt like Paradise to me. This was years before I even dreamed of oral poetry, but I realize now that some part of me knew where I was headed.

I can't say enough about this communal aspect of oral composition. It is a profound, enduring experience. Because I have wanted to keep things in a comfortable frame of reference, I haven't mentioned this communal aspect until now. In theory, spontaneous oral composition can take place in a solitary state if you are capable of "strumming the lyre", i.e. producing your own music, or even without music. I have done both, and it can produce a very good poem, but I have found that communal creation (collaboration) generally yields a much richer poem.

I should add that spontaneous oral composition (as I generally practice it) is not only collaborative but also antiphonal in nature. Thus, there are usually two poets, a musician and often a singer and everybody gets to have the small orgasm at the same time.

It's something like dreaming together, which musicians know something about but poets very little, as writing doesn't allow it. It's what made tribal poetry so overwhelming. We only get a wee taste of it, but I can assure you it's still a very heady brew.

I go through all this in the hope you'll intuitively sense that I'm not whistling Dixie about oral composition. I know what I'm talking about. And I've written enough good poems to know what the moment of poetry feels like and what the differences are between the two modes of composition.

You can hear some more of my orally composed poems by going to my web page. The CDs can be heard there at your leisure. Most of the poems are short, lyric poems, but there is also a long narrative poem, Ray's Barbeque, which is as long as one of Homer's books, which, by the way, took approximately ½ hour to speak.

The shorter poems are antiphonal, as that is the first form that intuitively came to us. It makes sense since it is the very first form of poetry, the one we used when in a tribal state. An oral scholar once said to me that what we were doing was not oral poetry, as though he expected us to speak in the single-voiced dactyl hexameter phrases of Homer, which is a very late oral form specifically linked to the Greek language.

But if Homer were alive today in America, his phrasing and rhythms would be very much like ours. In fact I believe he would high-five me. I also suspect that if Homer were to come back today and sing his blind miraculous songs, most of our poets would give him a tin cup and some pencils and lead him to the nearest street corner.


Their problem, of course, is that they can't see the forest for the trees. They have become so tuned to the poetic moment being revealed through their left-brained reading eyes that they have mistakenly (and blindly) equated that mode of revelation with the actual poetic moment, which is a mistaken equation, as it is but one mode of revelation. It can also be done through song, as in some of Bob Dylan's work, and it can be done through performed theatre as in the case of Shakespeare, and it can be done through oral poetry as in the case of Homer and his contemporaries.

I might add that in all of these other forms, the poetic moment is revealed solely through the ears, except Shakespeare's where it is also revealed through the dramatic (non-reading) eyes of the audience, and involves much more of the right brain, as all these modes are closer to music than literature. Seamus Heaney seemed to understand this when his Celtic ears picked up the fact that some of what the rapper Eminem is doing is actually poetry, something I've felt for a long time.

Let me add that what I am really writing about is not returning to the past, as that is not only impossible but highly undesirable. Nor am I writing you about the future of poetry as that will take care of itself. Poets belong smack on the cusp of becoming. It is their true home. What this BLOG is all about is what happens sometimes when you stand on that cusp: a new way of responding to the world appears.

Opening yourself to a new way of responding seldom results in an easy journey. I have come so far from the center of poetry that some days I feel like Joseph Cornell, who sat in his flat in Queens for I don't know how many years waiting for someone to understand the art he was creating. What he was doing, of course, was creating a new way of visually responding to the world. What stymied so many early observers of his work was the fact he was using an Old Way, the compartmented curio box, to make that statement. After all, who needs old lady folk art? But the real problem was the critics were looking at the wrong thing. It was the content and arrangement of the compartments that was important, not the fact that such curio boxes were in every spinster's parlor.

The fact of the matter was that the association with an old lady's parlor only deepened the texture of the response, because the contents were anything but that. They were as close to the stuff of dreams as any of Kafka's novels. Sometimes I think of my Audio/Visual poems as Cornell Boxes.




THE RELATIONSHIP OF ORAL POEMS AND AUDIO/VISUAL POEMS (DREAMSTORIES


My Dreamstories evolved a few years ago directly out of my oral poetry and the fact that today's audiences seem to have lost their ability to sit back and simply listen for any length of time. Our modern eyes are much too restless. I had found that my early CDs were hard for most people to listen to, as they were hungering for words they could see.

Musicians and some visual artists, creative types used to dealing with more fluid mediums than the written word were the first to pick the particular genius of these contemporary versions of ancient oral poetry.

It soon became evident to me , however, that the same principles of spontaneous composition could be applied to making audio/visual poems. When I added that final layer, almost everyone was able to get them. They had something to hold on to.

I have won numerous prizes and awards for them as art, but they are indeed poems. By that I mean they produce the same ecstatic poetic moment but go about it a different way. It is possible to create a Dreamstory, an Audio/Visual poem, very easily on a computer. It is no more difficult that oral or written composition.

As an aside, as if you needed any reminding of how far our much-too-conscious, idea-driven poetry has fallen in the public estimate and how much it needs an infusion of new methodologies and a return to being, I found that the term Dreamstory came to me as a way of explaining them to a public turned off by the very mention of poetry.

That seems to do the trick: their guard comes down and they get the poem. I should add that these Dreamstories, these Audio/Visual poems, are created from the same no mind state as an oral poem, meaning I have no idea what each layer will be. The nearest equivalent would be composing a musical fugue. It is done entirely by intuition, by feeling my way.

Basically, the poem is created in layers, or motifs, starting with the visual layer. To paraphrase Castenada, each layer is created by beckoning the Muse, with a cooperating Muse first providing the visual layer which in turn is used to beckon the oral/musical layers, and finally, possibly, a written/effects layer.

No thinking is involved in any of the stages. It is all done very quickly on a computer. At a later stage the titles and credit are added, which takes more time than all of the other stages combined. There is never more than one take on any of the layers, especially the oral/musical layer. I sometimes go back and tighten up the visual layer as it is initially created as rough collage that I sense has the potential to pull a poem out of me, although I have no idea what that poem will be.

I have included a separate description of the process that may or may not be of interest. It seems to me that in an age where we are reading less and less, and where great poetry goes essentially unrecognized, our poetry culture should really begin to get with it and start thinking about maybe not working on Maggie's Farm no more.

The Dreamstory form is a form which is not only powerful but one that can reach today's audience. What's more, it has a pedigree: it is a direct descendent of ancient oral poetry.

If you are willing, as is necessary in all poetry, to meet the poem half way, it's difficult not to get it.. In fact, you can't not get it. It will go right through your pores.

I say this because I know what real poetry is and this is real poetry, a poetry that by its very nature bypasses the thinking, idea-possessed mind and goes directly to the feeling self, the source and target of all poetry worth talking about. I might also add that it is a relatively easy methodology to learn, especially for the computer-literate young, the only real stumbling block being the nerve required to surrender to the unconscious for the duration of the poem. And it is considerable, I can assure you. The up-tight need not apply.

Although it seems quite unpopular today to take the stance that Homer did: "I speak to the gods and to men," the real fact of the matter is that poetry is the way the soul, or the unconscious( if that makes you more comfortable) speaks to us and through us to others. Poetry is meant to communicate. But it is only living half a life if it never gets out of the barn.

If Shakespeare or Homer were alive today they'd be doing exactly what I'm doing but better. Imagine the audience poetry could reach if it didn't have to rely solely on books to communicate, that is to say if the moment passing through your soul could be revealed and communicated in another way. It's worth thinking about, isn't it? All it takes is desire and some nerve. The rest takes care of itself. 


I close with some recent written poems belonging to collection I've just published called Poems for Family and Friends. It will give you some idea of the texture of my written poetry. The only poetry I write nowadays is in celebration of the births deaths and marriages of family and friends. It seems for occasions like these, people like to receive something they can frame and hang on the wall, so I supply the frame as well.

 

One of the poems is for my vivacious Panamanian niece, Anastasia Typaldos, on her wedding day; and one my Uncle, Father Joe Drohan, the youngest and last to die of my mother's brothers and sisters, and a man who never failed to have something kind and funny to say to his apostate nephew. I also enclose a poem I wrote many years ago, just as I was on the cusp of discovering oral composition. It's called Snow Angels. It seemed appropriate to include it.

Justin Spring




SOME RECENT WRITTEN POEMS


Snow Angels

I was six. No, five, I was five: my first snow.
I remember the angel suddenly coming together
and then bleeding out underneath me
like I was turning myself inside out,
and then I remember awakening
to a white field, because the angels
were always a surprise to me,
the way they kept falling
in such peculiar positions,
like someone dreaming, or dying.
Like the wings. Friends would take me aside,
tell me the wings were a bit too much:
Like a Babylonian lion's, really.
Those wings, they'd say.
They were right of course,
but what could I say to them except
I couldn't help it, that my arms
always moved up and down like that
whenever I fell out of heaven.
                                                   Sometimes
I felt like telling them
maybe it would help
if they thought of the angels
as small relief-maps of my soul,
sudden, uncontrolled curdlings
that occurred whenever I stopped,
opened myself to the sun, or the moon.
And then there were times
I didn't know what to say, except
maybe they should think of the angels
as detailed descriptions of another life.
A life I was living but knew nothing about.




Anastasia's Getting Married
For Anastasia and Raul

Imagine this, Anastasia. We are together, lost
in a forest of light: two small shadows
slipping along the floor of heaven,
trying to find our way home.
I whisper: "Our bodies are like empty rooms."
You say, "Listen to me Tio, that is because
we have nowhere to go. Imagine
we're not lost. Imagine we're in a garden
where no one gets lost except God: nobody Tio, not even you.
Now, imagine the shrubs are trimmed
like little geese and little fishes
and that the garden is in Gamboa
and it's Saturday, January the Eighth
in the year of Our Lord Twenty-Two Hundred and Five
and I'm standing at the altar
of La Iglesia Nuestro Senora del Buen Consejo
marrying the dashingly handsome Raul Cochez Maduro
against the desperate wishes
of His Majesty the King of Spain
and the Seven Sorrowful Sisters of Doom,
who are on every street corner,
watching me like flies.
Imagine that if you will".
So I did. I imagined it.
Then I had somewhere to go, Anastasia.
And so did you.




You Have To Change Your Eyes
For Father Joe Drohan, d. April 22, 2005

Tonight, Joe, I am standing with you at the Gates of Heaven.
Your mother and brothers and sisters are all on the other side,
standing perfectly still, like actors in a play.
You are holding a rosary and a pair of brown shoes
to show your mother you did not forget her.
There is
a man standing next to her. He looks

exactly like you, but dimmer.   
Your eyes are shining as you begin 
to cross over. You tell me
when you finally do, the one who looks like you

will become brighter, and then the two of you
will become one person, forever, again.
You say to me: "I know you think I'm imagining  this,
but I'm not imagining anything.
All of this is real.
Love makes it real.
Love makes everything real, Justin.
Everything.
Even this.
You have to change your eyes."







Audio/Visual Composition of Poems-A Brief Introduction to Dreamstory Creation

Audio/Visual Composition represents a new/old way of creating poems. It is a creative jump similar to that taken some 3000 years ago when we first switched from oral to written composition.

Audio/Visual Composition has nothing to do with the practice of taking an existing written poem and speaking it or placing it as text over a video and perhaps adding music to it. That is a form of after the fact collage that seldom really works as an independent work of art.

Audio/Visual Composition, because of its multi-level nature, borrows more from spontaneous preliterate oral composition than it does from written composition. Audio Visual Poems are spontaneously composed in layers, with each layer acting as a catalyst for the spontaneous formation of the next.


The final poem consists of the totality of the layers: visual, speech, music, text, sounds, effects, much as a Bach Fugue consists of the totality of its motifs.

You might say that Audio/Visual Poems are a contemporary version of pre-literate communal poetry, or tribal poetry, which was a participatory, communal art in which oral antiphonal poetry, mime, movement, music and song were spontaneously combined into one fluid art form.


This earliest form of poetry represented a total human artistic response to the poetic instinct. That response grew narrower with time until today all we are left with are the words.

This new audio/visual form is made possible (and easy) through the advent of PCs and cheap, easy-to-use digital cameras and sound recording devices. This is in turn aided by the advent of free web-based uploading and distribution systems such as youtube that allow videos to be easily uploaded, distributed and seen by others.

I believe that by the next generation we will see serious poetry being composed and distributed in this manner, mostly by younger poets open to this technology. Other arts such as music and dance and biography are already well on their way.

As far as poetry is concerned, the key to successful Audio/Visual Composition, at least from my experience, lies in mastering reflexive, spontaneous oral composition. I have found spontaneous written composition to be too slow and much too conscious to result in a poem that is an independent yet related leitmotif. Oral composition, on the other hand, allows for the creation of a poetry soundtrack for the video that has an immediacy and relationship with the visual layer that is nothing short of stunning.

Once this mode of composition is mastered, a poem can be created directly from the unconscious with little if any conscious interference, exactly as was done by preliterate poets, but in this case it provides a spontaneous poem/soundtrack. It all happens in one fell swoop. No re-thinking, no re-writing. Just load and go.

Techniques for spontaneous oral composition can be found in my book: SOULSPEAK: The Outward Journey of the Soul, which can be downloaded free.





This Is How Dreamstories Are Created:


1) A video of stills or motion is created from life or from photos or paintings or sculpture that interests you on a deep level. Your interest in the subject should be unconscious and strong. Like love. Or hate. No thinking is allowed. If you allow the unconscious to direct your picture taking, the result will be a simple story. That is how your unconscious interest works. The story will something like: I walk through a strange town, I pick flowers. I watch a woman and her child.

They don't have to be masterpieces. They should be shot freely and be a record of your instinctive interest in whatever is happening. You should have no poem in mind as you do it. Nothing. Just an unconsciously directed interest in what is happening. The important thing is to let the unconscious direct the picture taking.

Then load the visuals onto a PC and rearrange/edit the images (if necessary) until something about the sequence starts to summon the Muse. It may be minutes or months or even years before the Muse arrives. But it will happen if the pictures were taken instinctively. When the Muse does arrive, it's time for the next layer.


2) Play the rearranged video back and record the oral poem on the spot, using the visual story as a catalyst. You have to stay very loose. The idea is not to mimic the visual story but use it to pull an unpremeditated, narrative oral poem out of your unconscious, just as life does. If you try to form other than a narrative poem, nothing will happen, because that is the only form that spontaneous oral poetry will take. I speak from experience in this matter.

 

3) You can play pre-recorded music at the same time or have a musician respond to what you are saying by creating improvisational music. The second option is always better, but the musician has to be highly intuitive. Either way, the music will act as an additional catalyst for the poem. The combined poem/music forms the second and third layer. It should be simple music, 60-90 BPM. No symphonies. It has to be skinny.

4) As you've probably surmised, this is usually a communal project. I like not only to work with a highly intuitive musician but also (if possible) with a responding poet of the same nature who simultaneously composes an additional responding, oral fourth layer that makes the poem antiphonal in nature. This resultant antiphonal energy is unmistakable and powerful.

5) All this is easily accomplished within a few minutes because of the ease of use of today's computer technology. There is no retake, no editing. One take. It either works or it doesn't. Additional layers such as sound effects and a small written poem (as text) can be added if your instincts tell you they are required, but they usually aren't. This can create a fifth and sixth layer.

These additional layers, again, are created very quickly on a computer. No thinking. Just doing. In every aspect of this composition, success depends on the poet's ability to surrender almost totally to the unconscious in creating each layer.

As an aside, I should add that the poem/soundtrack can be created without music or a responding poet but the results generally aren't as beautiful.

I might also add that Audio/Visual Poems can be created with written composition if oral composition is impossible for you. But as I've said before, the poem probably won't work as well, if at all. Yet if you insist, you must follow this advice: the poem must be narrative if it is to be created as a spontaneous response to the video layer. It won't work any other way. And it should be composed using the methodology I've outlined in my book, SOULSPEAK: The Outward Journey of the Soul. The methodology is the same but you write the poem out as if you were speaking it.

With all this said, I must suggest that if you are so uptight as to be unable to let go, which is what oral composition demands, you're probably wasting your time trying to create a true audio/visual poem. No matter how good your written poems may be, the semi-conscious nature of written composition, and the inherent slowness of writing will conspire against the poem achieving the immediacy and subtle interaction with the visual track that can be achieved with oral composition, which can turn on a dime, something I might add that Goethe noticed about Homer's narrative as compared to Virgil's. In addition, written poetry seldom speaks as well as oral poetry, so the final auditory track often sounds stilted. I speak from experience in this matter.



BIOGRAPHY: About Justin Spring

Justin Spring was educated at Columbia College. He is a prize-winning poet and video maker. He is also the founder of SOULSPEAK/SOULMOVES, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing poetry and art back into the everyday lives of everyday people. Mr. Spring’s written poetry has been published in such distinguished periodicals as American Poetry Review as well as in numerous anthologies. He is one of a handful of poets who work not only in the written mode of composition but also in the ancient mode of spontaneous oral composition, and a new, revolutionary form called spontaneous audio/visual composition. His work in the oral and audio/visual area is pioneering and he is considered by many to be the father of contemporary oral poetry.


Among the recent poetry prizes and honors he has received are the 1997 State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship for his written poetry, the 2003 Images and Voices of Hope Award; 2003 Point of Life Award for Excellence for his therapeutic poetry programs, and the 2005 John Ringling Individual Artist Fellowship, the 2006 State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and the 2006 State of Florida Individual Artist Enhancement award for his work in audio/visual poetry.

Other Poetry Grants and Honors. Finalist, 1987 State St. Contest (Donald Justice, Judge); First Prize, 1987 Published Poet, U of Florida Sigma Tau Delta; Finalist, 1989 FCCJ National Poetry Contest (Phillip Levine, Judge); Commendation, 1989 Chester H. Jones Foundation; Homer Award for Spoken Poetry, Tampa Bay Poetry Council, 1993; Finalist 1994 Walt Whitman National Contest (Academy of American Poets); Hall of Fame Award, Poetica 1995; Honorable Mention, 1995 Billie Murray Denny National Poetry Contest; Finalist, 1995 Carnegie-Mellon Poetry Series; First Prize, 1995 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Contest; Finalist, 1995 Akron Poetry Prize, Honorable Mention, 1996 Chester H. Jones National Poetry Competition; Finalist, 1996 Akron Poetry Prize, Finalist, 1997 Walt Whitman National Contest (Academy of American Poets); Honorable Mention, 1997 Chester H. Jones National Poetry Competition; Third Place, 1997 Billie Murray Denny National Poetry Contest; Honorable Mention, 1997 Akron Poetry Prize; Winner, State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, 1998; First Place, 1998 Chester H. Jones National Poetry Competition; Finalist, Akron Poetry Prize; Honorable Mention, 1999 Billie Murray Denny National Poetry Contest.; Grants received for programs directed by Justin Spring for SOULSPEAK/Sarasota Poetry Theatre, Inc. from: Bates Foundation; Beattie Foundation; Community Foundation of Sarasota County; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice; Kates Foundation; Knight Foundation; Bank of America; Sarasota County Foundation; Sarasota County Tourist Development Council; Selby Foundation; Selby Partnership; Southwest Florida Community Foundation; State of Florida Interdisciplinary; State of Florida Arts in Education; VSA Arts; Woman’s Exchange; Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice.

Mr. Spring is the author of six collections of written poetry: Polaroid Poems, Other Dancers, Talkies, Nursery Raps, and Mirror and Poems for Family and Friends. Free download selections from all of these books are available at:
http://www.soulspeak.org/Many_Voices/ManyVoices.htm

In his role as lead poet and director of the nationally known, multi-voiced performance-poetry group, Many Voices of SOULSPEAK, Mr. Spring has also recorded seven CD collections of oral poetry: Gathering, Smoke, Nursery Raps, Speakings, In Your Mind, Witnesses Log, I’m Talking to You Oprah, and Barbeque. Free download selections from all of these CDs are available at:
http://www.soulspeak.org/Many_Voices/ManyVoices.htm

Mr. Spring’s videos range from documentaries on poetry to groundbreaking art videos that combine oral, written and musical poetry in a new video form Mr. Spring calls Dreamstories.. Among the nearly 200 documentaries and Dreamstories are : Spirit of Life Speaking Across the Generations, SOULMASK, and Soul Exposures, Poetry in Three Dimensions, More Poetry in Three Dimensions, A Different Mexico, Painters and Poetry Paint Poetry, Fractal Poetry, and The Witnesses Log, Audio/Visual Poems, Soul Journeys 2004-2005.

All documentaries and tutorials are available for free viewing in their entirety or purchase at SOULSPEAK WEB PAGE.






PAINTINGS OF ALAMOS PLAZA Copyright 2007 CERVANDO PEREZ MARQUEZ, PHOTOGRAPHS OF JUSTIN SPRING IN MEXICO Copyright 2007, LA ROBINA. PROFILE PHOTOGRAPH, ADORA

soulspeakspringjustin@g ss1