It’s fitting that it’s pouring with rain here at my 2013 VCCA residency as I take down the 40 (!) sonnets that comprise Sisters & Courtesans from my cork pin board. I feel a bit flat, like you do after you’ve stood in line for a rollercoaster for two hours, and as the two minute ride is pulling back into the loading bay, you ask yourself if it was worth it.
Does the world really need a series of sonnets in the voices of non-famous historical women? Does the series, taken as a whole, really explore the evolution of the intersection between spirituality and sexuality, as I rather pompously put it in the cover letter to a submission I sent out yesterday? Do I care?
Which, of course, leads us to the burning question we discussed on one of my earlier evenings here: who is art for? The suggestion from one of my fellow artists was that art is for those who can appreciate it. I disagreed with that, because I think it represents an elitist ivory tower perspective and is the reason that so much contemporary poetry is up its own ass. I contended that art should be for the people. But perhaps I was wrong.
Maybe art is primarily for the artist? When I decided that “My Life as a Norse Spae-Wife” should attempt to suggest the alliterative qualities of Anglo-Saxon verse as well as being a strict sonnet, I took that decision for my own personal satisfaction. When I spent an entire morning studying African American Vernacular English to write “My Life in the Jim Crow South” it was so I could take pride in the result. When I chose “My Life as a Tibetan Yogini” as the final poem (The series is chronological, but there are a couple of poems that could have taken place over a broad time period) that was because I wanted the book to end on an uplifting note, not because I thought it might be more likely to get published that way.
So if *I* feel that I have developed a better overview of women’s sexuality and spirituality as a result of these two weeks, perhaps that’s all that matters, or, to put it in the words of the zen koan I quote in “Tibetan Yogini” which thereby forms the last line of the manuscript:
“The hand that points at the moon is not the moon.”
This I believe: When the writer writes because the writer has a vision that needs to be expressed whether as an attempt to understand or as an attempt to share that vision or as both; when the painter paints because the painter sees and wants to capture and preserve the seen or to share the seen with others or both or wants to be a part of what’s seen; when the musician makes music because the music comes through the musician and needs to be heard on the outside whether by the musician alone or by people standing on a street corner or filling the grounds at Tanglewood, there is the start of art. And who is that art for and how does it live? It certainly is for the artist – it’s the artist’s vision, way of seeing, embodiment of the universal rhythms and melodies. It is the artist’s experience of life as well as the expression of that experience. And it is for whoever will share it or participate in it, whether by invitation or by circumstance or by chance. And where does art end? True art has no end.
The Sisters & Courtesans Self-Interview
[…] Firstly I get very frustrated, especially in this country, with the way that goodness is so often correlated with religiosity and chastity, both of which, it seems to me, tend to produce more hypocrites than saints. On the other hand, I didn’t want to glorify prostitution, so, yes, my “Crack Whore” is miserable, although not evil, while my “Gangster’s Moll” is definitely a criminal, but in her words, “Jeez, it’s fun!” I wanted a balance of those elements throughout my sisters and my courtesans. (I talk a little more about this earlier in this blog.) […]