Three things quickly---pineapple, sparrowgrass, whale—
and then on to asbestos. What I want to say tonight is
words, the naming of things into their thing.
Poetry: from Gk. poema "thing made or created,
Welcome to National Poetry Month with these lines from a very fine poet who celebrates our human capacity to be “the mouth that speaks things into existence.” I also favor the definition of poem-making which calls it “giving things the honor of their names.”
Let me splurge and offer you two more: Poetry is that quality of attention which turns a given into a gift. Stephen Mitchell. And oh my goodness, this from Audre Lorde: Poetry is not a luxury. . . Poetry is the way we give names to the nameless so it can be thought
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Once, in my hungry twenties, jobless in a new city, I interviewed for a position in advertising. I would begin, I was told, by writing copy for a cleaning product made by a company which shall be nameless here. I knew that I both could—and couldn’t--- do the work.
On the couldn’t side, as much as I would have loved a “writing job” to validate my
newly-minted English major, I literally could not imagine my mouth speaking cleanser into wider market share.
* * * *
On days when my better nature is eroded by the word-swirl of punditry and polit-speech, I’m downright cranky about the fact that, toss a rock in any direction and you hit a brand specialist. Nothing personal, some of my best friends …. ok, I’m making that part up, but a lot of very wonderful and creative people are “branders” “marketers” and god knows they send their children to better colleges than we poets can afford…
But here’s the thing, branding, as opposed to, naming, turns a gift into a given, contains and constrains its authentic life. Branding, run amok, speaks something into an existence which takes on a life of its own, which must then forever be propped up, defended, re-branded, funded.
In very short order, the BRAND is the thing, rather than the thing itself. Or the person herself: Susan Komen, for example, was a woman. Now Komen is a brand which has- like cancer--- taken on a life of its own, arguably a life distanced from its origins in the thing (curing breast cancer) itself, and the mortal, beloved, sacred person.
This monthly column is a portable version of what I prefer to create with people in person and through time: communities gathered around our human capacity to write and speak things into existence, AND to be good stewards of those things, lest they go zombie. A zombie organization, (or political candidate, or business/ nonprofit leader) is one which does not operate internally in alignment with its public face, or brand.
Most do not go zombie on purpose, but because the pressure to get bigger and more efficient (for a good cause, don’t you know) completely crowds out the value of poetic qualities and tools---and the kind of leaders with the capacity to use them.
A Poetic culture (i.e. one in which “making” vs. only branding is happening) is one which adapts two tools:
space designed to express truths from all parts of the system
language meant to reveal: down-to-earth what's really happening.
1. Write lists of words which you love for their own sake, for their sounds, meanings, layers of meaning, for their history in stories of your life.
2.Now challenge yourself to use, say, five of those words to write with complete,
unbranded, not-trying-to-persuade candor, what you observe in some community of which you are a part (work group, community council, neighborhood, board).
3. On a later day, choose another five words you love and write about how you contribute to what you wrote about in #2, and what you want to keep and what you want to change about your contribution and the culture at large.
4. Consider inviting other members of the group to work on this with you and design a safe place to share your writing.