Monday, October 22, 2012

The Poet in the Coal Mine

From Vietnam to London ... how do we get there?  

Well, first we have to bounce around my nogg'n a bit ... indulge me; I had a great weekend and am in zen for a small bit. We'll build of off URR's medium from over the weekend.

Why do we serve?

Maybe that is a bit too broad; why do you serve?

With our allies, we serve side by side. Some are from different governmental systems than ours. Some are based on what we understand as a democratic form of government based on the consent of the governed, but others are not.

That is easy to explain, as on the micro level we serve next to each other because that is what you do. At the unit level and the personal level, politics really do not mean much - nor does nationality. Just the fact that the person next to you has your back and you have hiss - that is all that matters.  

That is Warfare 101 that has been true since the Ooogaa and Boogaa clans defended a berry patch they were both used together against the Aanngaa and Baanngaa from the other valley who had no reason to be way over here near the berry patch between the Ooogaa and Boogaa clans.

No, let me project a bit. I'm an art queer (using the "q" word in the traditional sense, natch). Though 89.5% of the time my politics differ from theirs, I enjoy the company of artists.  Like I did this weekend, I will hang out in an artist's gallery with Mrs. Salamander and the wee Salamanders chatting up a storm because the artist happened to be there that afternoon. I go to museums ... my kids even enjoy it because they think it is a natural thing to do.

I love music ... and even with the stuff I don't like - I enjoy watching musicians make it. Momma Salamander was an artistic polymath from music to drawing to singing, so I get it natural; I guess. Sadly, I have it in the brain, but it never makes it out of there. I cannot play an instrument to save my life, and puberty took away what I am told was a nice voice. I cannot draw worth squat ... but I'm not that bad with a camera - that is my booby prize. I would like to blame my father, the jock, for keeping me away from that stuff, but I can't. A lot of that is genetic, and I just didn't get it from mom.  Sadly, my father was also a nationally ranked player in the sport that paid for his college - but in spite of all the opportunities I had there, I didn't quite get his gifts either.

Funny,  but in the strange calculus that makes up a person's world view - I think it is the artist in the brain, and the frustration in its inability to get to the fingertips and the eye, that led from my youthful flirtation with the Left to the right, and why though I am a man of the right, it is the libertarian right.

As discussed before, it was the 1980s Western Left's inability to talk on a factual basis on what was then a radical discussion of the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s just coming out in to the public that made me turn, there were other things that set the foundation for the turn; part of that was the treatment of artists on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

I could never understand how my artistic friends could excuse the nightmare of Communism, or for that matter even seemed to support them; especially in the music world (hypocrite of a Burton Bradstock, Dorset living Billy Bragg, call your office).

I mean, in the USA we may grump at, or even march in front of the "put a crucifix in urine" supporting museums and galleries .... but we never throw the owners or artists in jail.  However, the Communists filled their prisons and graves with artists; expecially those of the written word.

Yes, I know ... most of you who are still reading are thinking, "Sal, enough of the free therapy for you, you insufferable narcissist - get on with it!" I hear you, I'm getting there.

There is one place where I can almost understand the Communists ... next to Mimes (actually, I respect Mimes) ... I find poets bothersome. Spoken word? Child please. I just don't get most of it - but a lot of people do, so maybe it is just me.

They should really just be ignored - but no; Communists, like all totalitarians, cannot just walk away from those who do not submit.

I was reminded of that when I read in The Economist about Nguyen Chi Thien who passed recently. A poet who, it seems, was a much stronger warrior than most.
THE poems were under his shirt, 400 of them. The date was July 16th 1979, just two days—he noted it—after the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Freedom day. He ran through the gate of the British embassy in Hanoi, past the guard, demanding to see the ambassador. The guard couldn’t stop him. In the reception area, a few Vietnamese were sitting at a table. He fought them off, and crashed the table over.
In a cloakroom nearby, an English girl was doing her hair; she dropped her comb in terror. The noise brought three Englishmen out, and he thrust his sheaf of poems at one of them. Then, calm again, he let himself be arrested. Thus Nguyen Chi Thien sent his poems out of Communist Vietnam. They were published as “Flowers from Hell”, translated into half a dozen languages, and won the International Poetry Award in 1985. He heard of this, vaguely, in his various jails. In Hoa Lo, the “Hanoi Hilton”, one of his captors furiously waved a book in his face. To his delight, he saw it was his own.
... he had done several long spells in prison and labour camp. Hard rice and salt water had made him scrawny and thin-haired by his 40s. ...
The mind’s treasury was a safer place for them. It was also, for almost half his life, the only place he had. In prison he was allowed no pen, paper or books. He therefore memorised in the night quiet each one of his hundreds of poems, carefully revised it for several days, and mentally filed it away. ...
Walking out to till the fields with his fellow prisoners, many of them poets too, he would recite his poems to them and they would respond with theirs. Some of them counted the beats on their fingers to remember. He never did; memory alone served him. It saved him, too. After 1979 he spent the best part of eight years in solitary, in stocks or shackles in the dark. His poems became sobs, wheezes, bloody tubercular coughs. But in his mind he still set out fishing, and watched dawn overtake the stars. He sniffed the jasmine and hot noodle soup on a night street in Hanoi. He remembered his sister Hao teaching him French at six—what a paradise the French occupation seemed, in retrospect!—and went swashbuckling again with d’Artagnan and his crew. That way, he kept alive.
Read it all; and join me in cutting poets a little slack. After all, it is just a short jog from poetry to prose to a free press. So, the late-teen Salamander had an issue with those who throw artists in jail and that helped push him in to a uniform ... so what? ... and for what? 

Well, I thought that I was on the side of those who laughed and rolled their eyes at poets ... not throw them in jail. The great West ... those who believed in the freedom of the mind with wide lanes to let cultural creative friction work its magic. A culture secure and mature enough to take a tough word or two like an adult. 

Well ... yep. Here we are.
The Blackadder and Mr Bean star attacked the "creeping culture of censoriousness" which has resulted in the arrest of a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and even a student making a joke, it was reported. He criticised the "new intolerance" as he called for part of it the Public Order Act to be repealed, saying it was having a "chilling effect on free expression and free protest".
Mr Atkinson said: "The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult." Police and prosecutors are accused of being over-zealous in their interpretation of Section 5 of the Act, which outlaws threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour, the Daily Mail reported.
The logical path for those I rail against now - the PC police and their thought police ... they will take us to a point when the wrong world will put the police on the speaker's back; just like their serious friends of the Left, the Fascists and Communists. 

In the Mother Country. The land of George Orwell to Monty Python to Benny Hill - and here we find ourselves in the 21st Century; the insult comic or fool finds themselves with a record; when will we start putting poets in too? 

Job still isn't done, is it?

1 comment:

Tom Snyder said...

And musicians: the famed Russian composer Shostakovich took to carrying his toothbrush and underwear in a suitcase whenever he went out because he fully expected to be arrested and carted off to the gulag - or worse. After Stalin took a disliking to him, Shostakovich lost all his composing work (state sponsored / sanctioned, of course). Destitute, he composed music for the cinema (some of his most delightful work, actually). The story of his life under Communist tyranny is stunning in its desolation.