Monday, November 11, 2013

Words as the Form We Choose

In Noblesville, Indiana, Kurt Meyer and Bill Kenley, supported by community patrons and grant money, have just printed their third annual edition of The Polk Street Review. Their publication is based on a simple premise: publish what has been written about Noblesville or what has been written by people who have lived there. At a time when the most rigorously studied languages belong to computers and when megacompanies control our media, this bit of literary hyperlocalism is a marvel. I attended their third issue launch party last Saturday.

The size of the magazine and the number of its contributors have swollen in three years. Bill Kenley noted that a surprising number of poets have swarmed to the grasshopper-emblazoned annual, a fact I noted with conspiratorial pleasure because I sometimes write poems, but not because I am part of any organized conspiracy of that controversial craft.

The party happened at The Logan Street Sanctuary, a church that John Gilmore has recently converted into a place for performances, art shows and the like. We sat in pews and listened to magazine contributors read what was printed in the new issue. The forms the authors chose to express themselves ranged from bare haiku to what I can only call "wonderfully expansive Hoosier memoir." And whenever you attend a reading you get the fullest possible sense of the reader, from tone of voice to color of dress. Speaking as someone who grew up in a fairly sheltered childhood in Noblesville, I have to admit that hearing the range of behavior revealed among residents in this former small town was utterly refreshing and reassuring.

These people who go up in front of others to read are brave. The number of reasons they are brave would be difficult to count. The first one that comes to mind is the general hostility people feel toward those who write. That level is tamped down at an event like The Polk Street Review launch party, but it's a fear all writers carry, usually only modified by the thickness of the individual artist's skin. The other fear is the fear of failure.

My personal and probably biased opinion is that those who choose written words as a form for expression have chosen a very difficult method. The opportunity for messing up starts at the typo and extends to, but does not end at, the accidental connotation that will ruin pages of material. Let's add stage fright and all that goes with public speaking and performance to those who do readings. It's a giant house of cards writers build. In the end whether that structure stands or falls seems more dependent upon some form of providence than it depends on individual talent or effort, but we always look to that author to take blame when things go wrong.

In all the risks the writer takes with words--the risks with fragile emotions using a fragile medium--the considerable value of the written word shines brightest. In the vulnerability of the words we can always see the infinite vulnerability of ourselves as humans, and we are reminded of our true place in the world. Keep reading and writing if you can.

Hats off to The Polk Street Review for reminding us what literature is all about. And many happy returns.

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