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november 2008

Hope.....Is Art

As I write this in mid-October, I don’t know who will win the presidential election.

But I can say that, like many who I know, I’ll wonder how I’ll get out of bed the next day, if Obama isn’t the winner.

I won’t bore you with the reasons why I fear what would happen if McCain wins:

the scary global economic crisis.....

the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.....

the potential backlash against the civil rights of gay people, people of color and other marginialized groups.....

the woes of those without health insurance.....

and the erosion of the separation between church and state.

Yet despite these worries, I feel energized–almost exhilarated--to be a creative artist during these hard times.

Why do I, a poet and anxiety poster child, feel hopeful to be making art when, as my grandma used to say, the world is going to hell in a handbasket?

Because art, in all forms (from graphic novels to trashy movie comedies to new operas to productions of Shakespeare) is going to be needed more than ever.

Our time is often compared to the Great Depression, and I think, there is much truth in this comparison.  Especially, in regard to the role of art.

Say what you will about the banality and avarice of Hollywood. 

But during the 1930's, Hollywood produced some great flicks from the Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn comedy “Bringing Up Baby” to the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical “Top Hat.”

People nationwide flocked to movies for escape.

Watching pictures like the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup,” they found relief from their economic hardship, and emerged from movie theaters, with energy to face their difficulties.

Too often, we who consider ourselves to be “serious” poets, writers, filmmakers or other artists, scoff at art that embraces the comic.

Years ago, E.B. White observed that we never reward our humorists with laurels.

Poets are the worst.

Like Eeyore, we love thistles, and we toss them at our peers who employ humor in their work.

A distinguished Washington, D.C. area poet once dismissed poet Frank O’Hara, because “his work was too happy.”  Life, she opined in the dolorous tone of a newscaster announcing the end of the world, “was never happy.”

Some members of the poet tribe must be waking up with night terrors: Billy Collins’ new book “Ballistics” is out.

I’m sorry to break the bad news: this is a wonderful collection.   Some of the poems, as is often the case with Collins, are glib.

But, generally, this volume is Collins’ usual mix of poignancy, irony, and wordplay.

This book is fun!  You don’t feel as if you’re having a root canal or deciphering the tax code when you read it.

As is the case, say, if you dipped into the work of some language poets.   

One of my fav lines from Collins’ book is from the poem “The Poems of Others”:

“is there no end to it/the way they keep popping up in magazines/then congregate in the drafty orphanage of a book?”

Poetry, films, painting and other forms of art offer humor and poignancy that will provide consolation in these dark days.

Creative artists aren’t legislators.  Most of us aren’t money makers.  Maybe we can’t solve the problems of the world. 

But through our art, we can make the world bearable.  Even more than that, by making art, we can bring hope.

Emily Dickinson said hope is the thing with feathers.

Today, that thing with feathers is art.

Fellow artists, let’s get busy.


©2008 Kathi Wolfe
©2008 Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine: Kathi Wolfe
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet and a columnist for Scene4.
Her reviews and commentary have also appeared in an array of publications.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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