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February 06, 1990 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-02-06

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ARTS

A'The Michigan Daily

Tuesday, February 6, 1990

Page 5

I

^o-e

Poet writes abundantly

Meet the man behind the Slam

BY MARK WEBSTER
R OBERT Hass has written a
new book of poems, Human
Wishes, that is huge with ambi-
tion. Symbolic, meditative prose
is interspersed with long lyrics,
each piece resonant of an interior
world for which we have hopes
but have not come to know. The
author of two other poetry collec-
tions, Field Guide and Praise,
Hass has won many awards, in-
cluding Guggenheim and
MacArthur fellowships. He has
also trasnslated works by Polish
poet Czeslaw Milosz, and re-
cently edited Rock and Hawk, a
selection of poetry by the late
Robinson Jeffers.
Like Jeffers, Hass is a Cali-
fornia native but the two writers
differ as Hass avoids the didacti-
cism that is prevalent in Jeffers'
work. Hass writes with a verbal
abundance, absorbing anguish in
his appreciation of the patterns of
life. "Tall Windows" tells the
story of a Jewish woman dying of
leukemia,' who takes a friend's
place on a death camp train.
"Her sons kissed her good-bye
on the platform. Eyes open./
What kept you awake was a feel-
ing that everything in the world
has its own size/ that if you
found its size among the
swellings and diminishings it
would be calm and shine."
Like Milosz, Hass' poems ex-
ist in a forest of things, but his is
an expanse of mystery where
"...The religion/ or the region of
the dark makes soup and lights a
fire... / there is one desire/ touch-
ing the many things, and it is
continuous."
Human Wishes has four sec-
tions beginning with lyrics that
build verbal momentum ("there is
no need for this dream-compelled
narration; the/ rhythm will keep
me awake, changing.") The reser-

voir of words threatens to over-
flow but imagination and experi-
ence keep them at brim level.
Not a metaphysic in the way
of Milosz, Hass relies on small
things in small places. He writes
in "Santa Lucia II," "Sex is
peace/ because it's so specific.
And metaphors:/ live milk, blond
hills, blood singing] hilarity that
comes and goes like rain..."
Hass' verses do not allow the
imagination to be curtailed by
verbal mirrors. In "Berkeley

BY JAY PINKA
IF you want to see the man who
originated the Poetry Slam - and
you do - tonight's your night.
Marc Smith, poetry's Pied Piper of
the decade, is in from Chicago with
more "poetry for the people."
"The most important part of any
reading I do is the reaction of the au-
dience," says the poet, who sparked
the "slam idea" in 1986 at Chicago's
The Green Mill. "The community
out there is the most hopeful force
that has come out of what I do -
seeing my part in the big picture of
humanity," Smith says.
The poetry slam, imported by
Chicago native Vince Kueter, draws
people off the streets and into the
top floor of the Heidelberg restaurant
on the first Tuesday of every month.
The slam is a refreshing break from
the rough and tumble, hardcore aca-
demic drudge many of us call life. A

person can go from an English
prof's Freudian analyses of Robert
Frost to drinking beer at Club Hei-
delberg with plumbers and secretaries
(and probably that same prof - in
disguise) and everybody else who
likes poetry, which, according to
Smith, is everyone and anyone.
"Poetry is the heart of the people,
too long kept by scholars as some
precious diamond they kept up in
ivory towers," he says. "It's our
voice - and that's what I do. I'm a
humanist in my approach to things.
I'm mostly concerned with people."
Smith says he first experienced
the rewards of poetry in the oral tra-
dition at his first open mike reading
back in 1984, when he felt the joy
of having one man give him a stand-
ing ovation for his poem. The pas-
sion of the spoken poem is impos-
sible to get from reading it silently
to yourself because it blossoms di-
rectly from the involvement of the

speaker. Smith knows this.
"As an entertainer-informer, (you)
hope to get the magical spot -
like... a dancer becomes the dance,
the poet becomes the poem - ev-
erybody who's been up there knows
that. And to do that you have to put
your whole spirit into it." Not only
does Smith memorize almost all his
work, he often reads with a jazz
band. The Bob Shakespeare ensem-
ble group (not performing tonight)
consists of Smith and two women,
and performs in the unusual medium
of "three voices orchestrated into a
little combo of words."
Smith, who supports himself
with the money he makes from his
poetry, grew up in Chicago. The
mythic city landscape of Chicagoan
Carl Sandberg - a favorite of
Smith's - is a recurrent image in
his work. "I write about the city and
the people of the city," says Smith,
"I'm definitely an urban poet,"

But this seemingly bleak, indus-
trial scenario does not reflect
Smith's outlook on life and litera-
ture. He has changed both his poetry
and his views to experience and
make accessible the vibrant spectrum
of "it all."
"I've moved away from a ques-
tioning of modern American reality,
the right and wrong, the black and
white of life - (I) try to examine.all
aspects with hopefully not such a
judgemental tone," says Smith.
"I look at things with... more op-
timism now, hope, and a considera-
tion of the joys of life, rather than
the negative side." You can't think
of Mark Smith as anything but the
"lucky man" he knows he is.
"I'm lucky that I found out where
I belong," says Smith, "Where I be-
long is up on stage."
This month's POETRY SLAM starts
at 8 p.m. tonight at the Heidelberg,
215 N. Main. Admission is $3.

Robert Hass

Eclogue," he writes, "Sunlight on
the streets in afternoon/ and shad-
ows on the faces in the open-air
cafes./ What for? Wrong ques-
tion. You knock/ without know-
ing that you knocked. The door/
opens on a century of clouds..."
In these poems, the personal
voice and the world's minutiae
gather to feed the spirit, as in "On
Squaw Peak," which begins, "It
was the abundance/ the world
gives, the more-than-you-bar-
gained-for/ surprise of it, waves
breaking/ the sudden fragrance of
the mimulus at creekside/ sharp-
ened by the summer dust."
ROBERT HASS will read at 4
p.m. today in Rackham Ampithe-
ater.

This trip goes
nowhere
Flashback
dir. Franco Amurri
BY MARK BINELLI
"This was a different kind of role
for me," said Dennis Hopper, speak-
ing, of course, about his latest film,
Flashback, in which he plays a radi-
cal hippie fugitive. Now, a sly reader
might say, "Wait a minute, Mr.
Hopper, didn't you write, direct and
co-star in Easy Rider, that cinematic
classic where you and Peter Fonda
are hippies who go cruising around
the desert on motorcycles to sell
drugs and find America, and then get
blown away in the end by some red-
necks in a pick-up truck?"
Well, if Dennis Hopper himself

were here, he would probably have
to admit that, yes, there are some
basic similiaraties between the two
works. Easy Rider is one of the few
films able to adequately document
the free spirit of the sixties, while
Flashback, 20 years later, is like-
wise able to sum up the '80s - al-
beit inadvertently - by completely
exploiting everything that the '60s
stood for. The movie takes what
could have been a sort of nostalgic
and funny film and makes it into
something offensive to anyone who
has even a remote respect for what
happened in the flower power era.
It's modern greed in its most primal
and beautiful form.
The plot is pretty simple. Hop-
per's character is basically a more
annoying version of Abbie Hoffman
who's wanted by the pigs for
"malicious mischief with intent to
do bodily harm to the Vice-President
of the United States." That's Spiro
Agnew. Hopper's been on the run

for 20 years, and he only let himself
be arrested so he could get into the
public eye again and get his book
published.
The problem is, now he's cap-
tured, and he has to escape from
Keifer Sutherland, who is a real
tight-ass FBI agent, so he convinces
Keifer that he dropped some acid in
his mineral water, and then he con-
vinces him that the best way to get
through an acid trip is to drink lots
of tequila, so Keifer gets really drunk
and they switch places and Keifer
gets beat up by this corrupt sheriff
and thrown in jail, ha ha. But
wouldn't Keifer have some idea what
it was like to do acid if he grew up
in a commune? I guess I just gave
away a major plot twist - sorry
but the reason Kiefer's character is
so anal, it's because he grew up in
this hippie commune, and to sort of
rebel against his parents, he ran
away from the peace farm and joined

the FBI, only to be ordered, years
later, to arrest the King of the Hip-
pies, Hopper, dancing over that fine
line between irony and stupidity.
Overlooking the basic plot, the
main problem with the movie is that
it's just not funny, even as far as ac-
tion-buddy movies go. The editing
- something I usually don't notice
one way or the other - really
sucked too. Even the soundtrack was
irritating. It's not easy to screw up
"Born to Be Wild," but when Carol
Kane comes driving out of the
commune in her magic bus, it's not
cool. It's depressing.
FLASHBACK is playing at Briar-
wood and Showcase.
Express yourself
in Daily Arts
Cal 763-0379

1- - ONNO

4 S Re F
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