One of our Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association members attended a first annual literary event held recently in Hartford. Eileen Albrizio is a former ABC and NPR news host and journalist. She is the author of several books, including, The Windsome Tree, Messy on the Inside, Perennials; New & Selected Poems, and The Box Under the Bed. In short, she’s no amateur. She hoped to promote her books and meet some of her readers.
Instead, she was met with anger. And rage. The literary event was more of a poetry slam. A poetry slam is a contest in which poets perform spoken word poetry. The idea was conceived in Chicago in 1984 and was seen as a way to bring poetry back to the mainstream. Poetry can feel inaccessible and poetry slams help make poetry feel accessible.
Eileen put a bowl of candy on the table with her books. One ‘artist’ scooped up a handful of candy and said, “I’ll eat your candy, but I won’t buy your book.” She found that rude and rightfully so.
Eileen is careful to point out that she felt the artists’ rage was not directed towards her and that the motivation was real, even if the execution was offensive and a little scary. She left disheartened.
Art can be employed to promote change, start revolutions, or just make you say….huh…I never thought of that situation in quite that way. Art has been shining the light on our human experience since prehistoric man first painted images of the hunt on cave walls.
What art should never be is rage itself. Rage is not an art form. Rage may show itself in the art form, but it is not the art form.
Story, freedom of speech, transformation through words; that’s an art form. Rage is just rage. Some think of rage as a badge of honor, an exclusive badge to an exclusive club. Scientists will tell you that rage is an aphrodisiac as powerful as love or lust. It’s addicting as meth.
But, it is not art. It is rage.
And it’s important to note the difference. Because if art is not rage, then it is something else. And that something else is the purpose, the thing that needs to change or be exposed, whether it’s racial equality, LGBT rights, or women’s issues. This way, when we get what we want, the rage we suffer can slip naturally away. But, if it’s just rage for rage’s sake, well…what then?
I finish with a poem by Langston Hughes. I love Langston Hughes because he was a great poet. I love him because he helps me see the human experience first, rage second. I don’t know if Langston Hughes felt rage. My guess is he did from time to time, but his motivation was grander. And, in the end, that is what makes art.
I Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.