Preposterous Universe

Thursday, March 17, 2005
Words are accessible to all

Patricia Barber is of course one of my favorite jazz musicians. She was recently asked by Poetry magazine to write, as an outsider, about poetry. Her comments are reprinted at the Chicago Public Radio website.
I am a songwriter, which is not the same thing as a poet. Poetry is a passion, my ever present guide and inspiration, though I indulge in very little of the lingua franca of the art. The truth is that I guard a deep well of ignorance; I deliberately protect an anti-position.

Music is a demanding but mysterious discipline whose clubhouse is exclusive. Membership is inherited more than earned. It is a gift endowed by blood, then perfected by tremendous desire and perseverance. The best a music teacher can do is lead by example or perhaps draw the student's ear toward general musical patterns. The task of finding a musical path is left to the student. All musicians understand that even after years of musical scholarship, in the end, composing successfully is a lot like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Unlike the musical language, words are accessible to all. Accessible to too many. There is a myriad of poetry teachers and books on books. Better to stick my fingers in my ears when encountering cocktail chatter about iambic pentameter. "Wonder" has great power, like jet propulsion, like pleasure, and self-discovery is a path to wonder as well as a profound path to knowledge.
"Accessible to too many"? Discuss.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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