Between the charismatic and the organizational phase falls the shadow. Thus Max Weber’s law on the development of religions, but it applies to politics, arts, letters – pretty much all human endeavor. It’s one thing to have inspiration, another to fix it into form – and sometimes you don’t even want to. Lucky writers know the moment when finished perfection seems to leap from the page like Athena out of the skull of Zeus. But real fineness takes work – plenty of it. The old saw about genius being nine/tenths perspiration was not just a joke.
The Beats – our grandfathers – believed in spontaneous writing. They got it from the Surrealists and Joyce – an era when tapping into the unconscious and extracting whatever weirdness lurked seemed a creative equivalent of busting the atom. Our hip fathers took drugs in full obedience to Rimbaud’s dictum that you had to fracture your mind to find what was true, or even Baudelaire’s that if you want to discover the ‘natural man’ go to the Marquis de Sade. It may be so. And then Oscar Wilde said in a different context, ‘I went down the primrose path to the sound of flutes, but the other half of the garden had its secrets for me also.’
I’m catholic in taste. Formal poetics appeal to me too. When young Cary stands up on poetry night and does a Ginsburg-ian stroll through a howling Soho, I love it; but I know that one day in future when they hit a printed page, his spontaneous words will have to be sifted to make sure they mean just what they’ve said. Ars longa, vita brevis. Meanwhile, the essence of our Fridays is lightness of being. We want to hear Susan recite Rumi off her handheld device because she’s had a sudden inspiration. We want a woman who’s never come in before to surprise us with a passionate rendition of Neruda. We want to see Steven try something new: a mini Wildean fairy tale. We all warm when another first-timer reads a poem in honor of her mother, who died a few months ago. Something from the heart, expression that just has to come – that is precious. ‘I only want to read what’s written in blood,’ Nietzsche said, ‘because blood turns to spirit’.
At last orders young Tom Bailey arrives in coveralls from his job driving rivets to try a reflection off Poe to see if it’s worth taking further. Lovely barista Sophie has brought a contingent of family and friends from L.A. whose songs and guitar play infuse the atmosphere with another style of exuberance, pop, professional. Tip sings a song written in illness in Ohio. Chris plays flamenco. Meanwhile, maîtresse de maison Carrie set the session alive by reciting a lyric by Sophie’s songwriter dad as if it were direct poetry. Why not? Many hope Bob Dylan will win the Nobel Prize for literature. Last I heard he was tooting harmonica riffs over a not very well-strummed guitar.
The instant and the finished. The charismatic and the formal – all part of the process. ‘Beauty is difficult,’ said Aubrey Beardsley, according to Pound. Yet it comes most often in evanescent flashes, not least at blithe moments in the Society Club on poetry night. Join us.