Gravity & Stars
It’s been 20 years since I tasted alcohol, but some things never change: I’m a glutton for beauty.
I’ve been indulging in a steady flow of the good stuff — poetry, music, visual arts — for three weeks now.
For starters, the Seward County Community College/Area Technical School spring musical is playing this weekend. Since one of my children participates in all things theatrical, I got a preliminary peek at the show, “Into the Woods.” The endeavor is amazing, from the well-thought-out sets to the color palette of the costumes. In her first season at the helm of the SCCC/ATS theater program, Director Gloria Goodwin has done a masterful job of bringing all the elements together to create nothing short of art.
My family chuckles a bit when I start to throw the “a” word around, because I become weirdly intense in my enthusiasm. Yet it’s merited, because art matters, and our modern lives don’t allow enough room or time for it. We’ve got all these nifty little glowing screens. We forget that a song performed live can be achingly beautiful in a way a recording will never match. We rush from place to place without noticing the way the sunrise-tinted clouds match the pink of the newly opened rosebud trees so that the whole world looks like it’s getting dressed for prom. On a stage, the lighting, shadows and costumes tries to replicate that lush beauty, and this show accomplished that.
As they say during “Into the Woods” to mark the passage of time, “two midnights!”
The next course of serious art comes through the doorway of National Poetry Month, which I’ve chosen to mark with the ridiculously ambitious goal of writing a poem a day. Following the lead of my friend and former fellow Liberal resident Steve Brisendine — remember him? The guy who writes sports copy that sounds like epic poems? — I embarked on a “Poem a Day” project and even coaxed a few people to join in.
The resulting community, made possible ONLY by the little glowing screens of person Internet access, has given me a fresh love of the written word in its most potent form. A squirrel racing across the street can set me off. So can the emphatic words of a weary parent at the checkout line, or the sight of stars above neon signs late at night.
Poetry was once a part of the common man’s life. Children at school everywhere were expected to memorize long pieces, like “The Village Blacksmith,” which my mother still quotes with ease. Since most churchgoing people used the King James Bible — and by “used,” I mean they read it daily with sincere attention — the gorgeous rhythms of older English felt almost natural. Of course, they were no little glowing screens. Words still trumped pictures, though the equation has reversed in recent decades.
Not in the circles where I’ve been hanging around these days. At the Poem a Day project, the swapping of haiku and free form and sonnets is the highest form of currency, and poets, as you might expect, are unfailingly generous when critiquing one anothers’ work. People compliment one another about word choices, for Pete’s sake.
Poet One: I love the adjective you used to describe your favorite pet from childhood!
Poet Two: Thanks, I knew you’d understand.
The thing about art-making is, it has this tendency to organically expand. I noticed a fellow reporter’s story about the “Chairish the Children” fundraiser, and his description of art in the form of chair made me want to make one myself. I took inventory of the seating options at my own house — slim at best — then cheered up when I remembered garage sale season has already begun. I could paint a chair creatively. I could paint six. They’d all be different but part of a set. Think how they’d look in the morning sun, while I waited for my little Italian coffee pot to start burbling on the stove.
Just imagine how much poetry I could scribble down while sitting in one of those art chairs.
One of the reasons a move back to Kansas appealed to me — besides the obvious benefit of leaving a party life behind — was its wide-openness. I don’t just mean the circular horizon and endless skyscapes. There’s also the long-distance factor to consider, what with our modestly-sized cities being spaced hundreds of miles apart in the eastern two-thirds of the state.
In Chicago, I’d gotten a bit lazy artistically. I could step out the door on any given day, and be bombarded within moments: fellow train travelers, the homeless man who lived under the El tracks and hit me up for a cigarette each day, the constant crush and rush and colorful press of people in close quarters. “All I have to do for inspiration,” I used to joke, “is leave my apartment.”
It was true. Living out west, I imagined, would force me to dig deeper, since there’s more space than faces in Western Kansas.
I was right, but wrong. The relative isolation of my home state has made me dig a little deeper. Poetry readings are more an annual event — like the one coming up at SCCC/ATS on April 23 — than a weekly occurrence as they were in the Windy City. Art openings, thanks to the college and Baker Arts, happen a bit more frequently. Yet the slimmer schedule does not mean fewer moments of collaboration and inspiration. I still find both when I walk out the front door.
These days, there’s a glorious abundance of inspiration, creation and the writerly, theatrical, artistic inclination to share what we’ve made with our neighbors right here in Liberal, Kansas.
That quenches my thirst in a way no cocktail ever could match.