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Arthur Meiselman
The Dancer Into Poet

From A Conversation with Selena Zachai

Scene4 Magazine-inView

May 2012

When did you begin to write?

Early very early

And poetry?

Same. Little scribbles as a child, in notes and in letters to myself. I never sent them to anyone, they were like songs I wanted to remember. I still do that, I still have them, I keep everything I write.

But before it became a serious part of your life, you went into dance?

No, no I always write – I don't know what you mean by serious. I always write, don't you? Doesn't everyone? The private voice in the head, what we call thinking, dreaming, what Dewey called reverie. Put it on paper or a chalk board, put it on a shelf, read it again, remember it. It's called writing.
I jumped into dance, and I mean jumped because I didn't know how to move – I went into dance to find a nonverbal picture of myself and the life around me. I wanted to find a way to explore and express feelings and impressions without anticipating them. I wanted to translate other people's words and ideas and impulses and my own too by surprise by discovery. I didn't like acting, too verbal, I wanted to dance. I wanted to fly, you know that primitive cambric thing that haunts our dreams. Dance could be flying.

And was it?


Why did you stop?

I didn't. I just stopped dancing for audiences. I worked with a lot of companies and I found out that I do not collaborate very well. Most dance is about collaboration, community, and I don't do community very well. I wasn't good enough to be a solo artist and I really wasn't interested in pleasing an audience anyhow. So I stopped – the performance part.

Was your dance experience important to your writing?

You answer that! How could it not be?

So you turned to poetry – why not plays and essays and fiction?

Because they are about audiences, communication, and poetry is not. It's about the ache of impression and the come of that ache. Poetry is the most private expression next to your thoughts – poetry and songs (they are really the same) are the outer voice of your inner voice and someone comes along and just happens to hear it not because you wrote it and put it there for them to hear. You write it for you to hear and they just come upon it. Whatever all that means. Forget it. I guess your next question is about influences. Rengetsu, Rilke, Lorca (always Lorca), Durrell, Rossetti, Ravel, Poncé, Franks, Gauguin, Sebé, and more, but always Lorca. I know you have to ask that, so there you are and that's enough to answer, let's not analyze it to death.

Why "always Lorca"?

Because he took everything into his mouth and his nose and his eyes and his tongue, he is the most sensual poet of the 20th century. If he were alive when I was alive and aware, I would have smashed my way to lie with him to hear him breathe and sing. I once met a very old man who had known him both in New York and during the civil war in Spain and he talked about him not about his politics, about him and the words that he loved and the way he moved. That's one thing that struck me that I hadn't heard before – the way he moved, hot and awkward like his writing with a sudden gracefulness, "verde que te quiero verde. verde viento. verdes ramas."

Lorca was also very political and a playwright. 

So was Shakespeare.

You're not?

No, I'm not Shakespeare and I'm not Lorca. Lorca was a man of his culture, I have none. What pulls me into their poetry is the sensuality – it rises above all the useless concern and anguish about politics and commonplace life, it soars with the breath and pain and thrill and blood that flows between people, as it has from the beginning between people – it's the blood that matters.

Is that what your "Night Songs" is about?

Is that where you want to go? Is that what you want to do, analyze? I don't want to do that. Why do we have to do that? What difference does it make? A poem is a poem, it's one ear listening to one voice. The writing is what it is – that's all there is, that's all you need to know. All of the analysis and critique and academic discussion and talk and talk has nothing to do with the poetry – it gets in between the voice and the ear. True of any art. When you come to a painting by Gauguin do you need to know anything about it other than what you see and feel? Do you really have to know how and why and where about Picasso's Guernica? Does it make any difference who Shakespeare was and how he came to write Othello to breathe and feel the poetry? No. Yes, yes, it's juicy and absorbing in a voyeur's way to dig up and attach every bit of fact about an art work, to turn it over and over like a beetle in a piece of amber but – it takes away – it adds nothing to the art just decadence to the audience. I used to think that critics and scholars served an important balance to the affair between artist and audience. No, discover that they are self-serving. Scratch deep into the heart and you find mixed in the blood a pool of envy, resentment, and "there but for the grace of – it could be me!".
The same is true of music. Do you have to know one thing about Ravel to absorb and feel his music? No not one thing. Music appreciation, what an awful concept, what a terrible distorting concept. You know the Attila-the-Hun of music was Walt Disney — when he attacked the art of music with Fantasia. He raped the independence of music by selling, attaching images, visuals to it. From that terrible point on, the audience had to climb into a warm bath and imagine pastoral fields when they listened to Beethoven. Music is music, it has no visuals, it's an experience in itself, it doesn't need any other sensory accompaniment. It doesn't need talk. Jazz doesn't need it, even good movie music is in its own realm when it goes with the images on the screen – it doesn't make those images, it evokes emotion, feelings, character for the ear.

What do you think about contemporary poetry?

Most of it is crap, just as a lot of it down through the centuries has been crap – there's just more of it today. The problem is language, and the music of language. Poetry, writing has always been considered an "impure art" form because there is another aspect behind the words, the meanings of the words themselves unless you're e.e. cummings. Music and dance are "pure", as they say, or as Roger Fry said, because they don't labor like that. A note on a page doesn't mean anything and most dance movements are only that, movements, abstract, no meaning. But words are different – alone, individually they have meaning -- together they flow and that's where the "music" comes from, the music of the voice as it is shaped by words. What's happened today is a blur, a fading – they don't know the difference between active/imagistic language and reflective language, their poetry mumbles street-talk and suburban mall-talk as if it were anything more than the jingle-talk of a television commercial. They are losing. They've lost the ropes that lead them to the rich caves of language that cries and sings and laughs and thrills. When you substitute cliché and grunts for language you can no longer describe the beauty of ugliness – only the ugliness of beauty.
I wish I could figure out the meaning of the word "fuck." I think it's an icon-phrase that's used to signal: "fix-it-in-the-mix".

Would you rather be writing in the past?

No. But I'd sell my soul, if I had one, to be writing a hundred years in the future.

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©2012 Arthur Meiselman
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4.
He also directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives
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May 2012

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