Commentary So Far (with other testimonial pieces for bulk):
By Fred Harris
Join me in submitting comments to this website which interpret Arthur’s works, not to create an orthodoxy around how they should be read, but as an extension of the task his poetry, and his life, seemed to grow from— the exploration of meaning in life and of the ways we can celebrate it together.
If we provide more background for the listener, the appreciation of the depth and solidity of Arthur’s work will grow. If we can take that further and practice the embodiment of poetry by being present in the body and the breath and (without direct imitation) the resonance of voice Arthur embodied when he read (something anyone can grow into with practice), then presenting his work will be recreating his spirit, which I do miss.
Would this be a difficult task? I am irritated when I hear people refer to how much Arthur knew. Yes, his thought is systematically interconnected and the meaning of each poem is layered and deeply cultural. But he set an attainable example.
If we do a little homework we will start to know a sufficient amount about the areas his poems touch on, and not so much less than he. Arthur set a role model of being diligent in putting his knowledge together into a synthesis that represented a world— but it is our world. Let us own it.
There is a lot of subtext in Arthur’s poems, but this is not what draws me to them. I don’t care if I know what a poem means when I read it, as long as I like it. And I will like it if I find it musical or dramatic, or if it moves me or grabs me for some reason even if I don’t at first know why.
As a kid I liked nonsense poetry and nursery rhymes and poems by T.S. Eliot and Poe and Walter de la Mare. In later years I have noticed they all depend on repetition and image, most of them involve story telling, and they all are delicious to recite aloud. Their music is simple and sonorous like the music of verses in the Bible. I deeply enjoy these same qualities in Arthur’s work, and so I am led to explore its meanings.
The more meaning I derive from a poem in the reading, the more it comes alive for me. The enjoyment of poetry becomes like practicing tennis with an invisible companion. The poet lobs an image at me, as Arthur does, and I intercept it and lob back comprehension. Back and forth we go and with practice comprehension deepens, until the ball never drops.
It's a good way to communicate with the dead... with all of the dead.
When I read the Bible, for example, I communicate with my father. I think of my father’s voice reading the Bible to me and I am a small child. But in his voice I also hear all the fathers back down the trunk of the generations, all the way to the root voice, and it is my voice. The sound is old beyond memory, and yet as personal and familiar as the bedpost at the foot of my bed, picked out of the darkness by a ray of light from the hall. I like poetry that makes me feel that.
Arthur would read at The Space Coop in Rosendale and make it worthwhile for me to attend the poetry readings. The images were of things at once ancient and familiar. He read with a musical voice and a joyous spirit and his poems were full of story and a valuing of those things which have been passed down as gathering points for the sense of our shared humanity.
It is this primal communication through shared experiences we celebrate in poetry. I experienced it first in my family, and as a young man I then sought to enlarge this experience in the search for community with others, rooted in an appreciation of art and shared experiences of life.
Bram wrote to me that Arthur knew that the "inherited, conditioned sense of the world he started with was horribly flawed and unfixable, and he needed a new one" and that Arthur tried to "create a foundation for himself from scratch and in so doing, articulate a foundation for the rest of us as well."
I experience Arthur's poems as written for a universal community. Arthur was laying foundation. The work he was engaged in is a living work in which we can participate as fellow builders, bringing the structures of community into being.