"Art at its most significant is a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen." - Marshall McLuhan 

"When artists are given freedom of expression they contribute to a climate of intellectual and political freedom for the whole culture. It is no co-incidence that the ugliest, greyest and dullest parts of the world today are places where people have been persecuted for their ideas," - Franky Schaeffer, Sham Pearls for Real Swine 1990

"...receive with meekness the engrafted (planted) word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers (performers or specifically poets) of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving (contradicting/cheating) yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer (performer or poet), he is like a man looking at himself, who goes away and immediately forgets what sort of person he is," - James 1:21-24

"To get to the eternal strength of things and fearlessly to make strong songs of it, is to my mind, the mission of that (person) the world would call a poet" -  Edwin Arlington Robinson (Octaves)

In search of the poets voice

By Keith Newman, September 2003 (Revised Jan 04. First posting 08/03)
(an encouragement for poets and other public ranters to reposess the power of the living word, discover our voices and take the role of the 'doer sof the word' to a new level)

In the past few decades poetry as a force for social change has been sulking in the shade, sidelined in the half light while the seemingly unattended spotlight continues to fall on dusty textbooks of a bygone era.

As the giddy pace of technological and social change gears up exponentially it seems there are few who can distil this constant churn to give us the still points needed. Where are the wise word wielders who can see beyond technophobia and bring perspective to information tsunami?

It's time for disaffected outsiders, edge walkers, closet ranters, and those who have paid their dues to the 'rejection slip brigade' to stake a claim, get a sense of place, and report back from the fringes.

"…Poets are born to be activists of a sort. It should surprise no one that dictatorial governments arrest and execute, first and foremost, poets. Never in the history of mankind has an evil government killed a poet for poems of prairies and flowers. Make it your responsibility as a human and a poet to periodically write about wrongs that should be righted. Be not content at the supportable until you know greater things than lyrical melody traverse your craft,"
 - Soul Cadence and the Social Poet, Mark Antony Rossi

There's a change in the air -  a stirring, a fluttering, an unfurling of coiled tendrils, a  sense of expectancy as the sap begins rising again. It is springtime for new poetry - time for creative souls to take up pen, pad and keyboard and rise to the challenge of the open mic, the corner pub literary gathering, the world of self-publishing, performance art or collaborative expression.

But wait  we are not alone, there is accompaniment, poetry and prose is once more finding synergy with its close cousins music, drama and art as part of the multimedia convergence. 

Reclaiming territory

Rather than sitting back and leaving it to the old school or those who have hijacked the mainstream publishing machine, it’s is time for passionate poets to claim the ground that is rightfully theirs. New voices, having honed their craft and mastered the digital tools, must step up to the mark.

The poet is a revolutionary, an agent of  social change, a visionary. The 'maker' as we were known in ancient times must not only spin evocative webs of beauty, wonder and tragedy but take time to put context around world changes.

As the poet opens up to the reader, revealing their own soul struggles we gain a glimpse into our own affairs.  As the reader hungers for human warmth in a clinical world, where religion, ritual and legalism have displaced mystical revelation the poet labours to unravel ancient truth and restore the key to life to the seeker. 

As if from another time or planet, the poet as seer or prophet stretches the grey matter, waking sleeping souls, peeling back the layers of bullshit and bureaucracy, to deliver inspirations and warnings about about who we are and what we are becoming.

The poet... may be used as a barometer, but let us not forget that he is also part of the weather - Lionel Trilling

Champions of truth

The poet has a social responsibility to present crystallised ideas as poem, prose, rant and rave. These trigger thoughts may well be the seeds that inspire action or cause a tectonic shift in the way the world is perceived.

Poets can provoke radical shifts in the mental process, which filter down into the heart and come back up again for the reader, renewing the sense of destiny. The writer of prose and poems is a champion of truth, defender of justice and freedom of expression, listening to the heart to get to the heart of the matter. 

Determined to find order among chaos and magic in the mundane the writer dissects the ordinary life in search of extraordinary things, stirs up the sediment in the sedentary, moulds unshaped things in the clay of mind and fires them in the kiln of imagination. 

Preconceptions are prized apart. The bard or bard-ess rocks the status of the status quo, dropping fresh thinking like boulders into stagnant pools of rhetoric. 

I see your there scribbling down little notes and insights on the park bench, in the cafe and alone in the bedroom wrestling with concepts, contradictions and conflicts, linking observations, experiences, feelings and conversations into a new fabric of symbolic layers.

You are like a watchman on the wall trumpeting insights for those who have an ear to hear. "Let me see, let me look. Share with me your living words so I may  look out the same window and sense what you see coming over the horizon."

The poet is the new prophet in the information age, a forecaster of the times, making words rise above the usual, the normal, the average to reach their fiery potential as darts aimed at the human heart and mind. The challenge is to express the poets heart with fervent passion through the amazing opportunities now available through the computer: publishing, movie making, recording and presentation. 

A poet's work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep
 - Salman Rushdie

So where are the underground tracts, the seeds of the new revolution using the amazing tools now opening up unimagined possibilities for creative people. Where is the merger of poetry, art, music, drama, movie making and other performance styles?

Who do you think you are?

Poets and artistic people can easily be undermined by their own fragility and the great walloping machine that weaves clouds of dread over the creative spirit. We must battle that awful voice in the grayness of uncertainty, whispering in our most vulnerable moments: ‘who do you think you are?’, ‘What makes you think you have anything new to add?’, ‘Pull your head in’, ‘Leave it to the published big names, the literary underworld  who’ve  won copious awards and accolades’...'Walk away'.

My advice is to choose which voice you listen to. If you are passionate and determined you will find a gentler, wiser voice, quietly affirming your gift despite rejection slips, cruel criticism and self doubt. With patience and persistence you will pay your dues, hone your craft and find your voice.

Submit work to poetry book compilations and websites looking for contributions. Treat rejection slips as a challenge to improve and get past their defences. Find out where the poets rant and rave, if you’re brave enough join them. They’re not all idiot savants or heavy hitters in beatnik berets looking down on newcomers.

If you believe your work requires an audience to evolve then hold that thought as you walk in the door of a live poetry gig. Survey the scene quietly, observe the person with the open book in front of them and gently ask if there’s room for you to read tonight. If the book’s full ask if you can pre-book for next week or next month. Arriving early ensures a place and first time readers are mostly welcomed warmly.

 The audience for social poetry is here and waiting on poetry speaking to the new evolving political rhythms of our existence, divorced of obscure references, mythic Greek figures and greeting card mush,"
- Soul Cadence and the Social Poet
, Mark Antony Rossi

When likeminded people gather together something bigger than the individual is aroused – a sense of community and common purpose. Being in a room where ideas and insights are freely shared and encouraged invigorates and refreshes performer and audience.

Discover yourself

Push the boundaries, try new things. Don’t wait to be discovered. Discover yourself then let your friends discover you. Hang out with people who will encourage and offer constructive criticism.

So if you were invited to provide an item at your social club or church service, be a guest artist at a cushion concert or café night, to perform between bands at a concert, or asked to submit something for a book would you be prepared? 

Too many creative people moan about not being given the chance but if that door opened for five minutes would you have a sample of your work in a publishable form or be ready to present in a professional manner? Would you have a demo tape of your songs, a folder full of your artwork or poetry or a manuscript of your play or book?

Be prepared. Be an ambassador for your craft – volunteer for the next concert or get organise one yourself, and involve likeminded people from across the arts to make it a multimedia extravaganza.

Of course you’ll need to make sure someone handles the marketing and promotion side so you actually get an audience. Pass out photocopies of your work to provide take-away value.

Don’t give up. Keep active and involved in the various forums for performance and publication or risk losing momentum. Sometimes it takes years for the writer or artist to gain recognition. It takes discipline and downright dogged effort.

So transcribe those literary gems from your dog-eared notebooks onto a computer file. Play with them, refine them, toy with typefaces and layout, print them and share them. As you add each new piece and weigh the feedback from your test market look for the telltale signs that suggest a pamphlet of your outpourings or even a book might be in the making.

Express yourself.

Poetry? - What strange fabric is this?
  Poetry links and resources 
Poetry - Queen of the Arts - A how-to for budding poets
Quotes about poetry by poets
Cleaning Out The Garage, 2003 © (book & CD $20 for both)
  Interactive multimedia CD featuring 17 new compositions
Buzz Words - rhythm 'n verse with Kiwi attitude  CD-Rom (1997) $20
  The 1984 hard copy book Heartwars also available, only $NZ5 (with Buzz Words total only $20)
Soul Searching - a fresh look at the big questions in life
(based on the radio series of the same name)
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