March 29, 2009

Happy National Poetry Month

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month?

In Chicago, we wallow in an embarrassment of poetry riches year-round, and April just revs it up.

Caffeine's mission is to mine the poetic tradition to explore social questions. The word "poetry" can be a little daunting to some (as I wrote about in HereThere magazine in 2008). Yet it carries a long tradition of engaging people both in beauty and in ethical thought.

The origins of spoken drama lie in poetry (Aristotle's Poetics, anybody?). Beckett wrote that he wanted to "bring the poetry back to the drama."

Robert Pinsky says in Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry that poetry is a part of the rhythm of our internal lives, our thoughts and our guts, as well as our external lives, our walking, our speaking, our whimpers and whoops. Octavio Paz says “as long as there are people, there will be poetry.” Ruth Padel succinctly explains why art persists: "Art can be a witness – and, in witnessing, it makes other people see themselves and the world with new eyes."

Last fall we celebrated the 125th birthday of beloved American poet William Carlos Williams with his play Many Loves. Williams puts it well:
"It is difficult to get the news from poems,
Yet men die miserably every day
For lack of what is found there."

We began quoting those particular lines during our first "full-run" production, Sailing to Byzantium, in which W. B. Yeats wondered whether poetry could properly serve a world where young men die for their beliefs. In the play, Ezra Pound answered him with youthful enthusiasm. In real life, Auden wrote this in his own memoriam for Yeats:
"For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth."

Isn't that what, ultimately, theatre does as well? Provide a mouth, and a witness? And a way to step into another world, where we reflect back upon our own lives with new perspective and perhaps new vigor?

The Poetry Foundation (kin to the great Poetry Magazine founded in 1912) issued a call a few years ago for more verse theatre, and Caffeine has answered that call repeatedly--currently with The Changeling. Tallgrass Gothic, then, answers another facet of our mission: to connect that time-honored tradition with the contemporary world.

Poetry has teeth. But it will not bite you. Give it a go this April, and see what poetry can do for you.

- Jennifer Shook, Artistic Director

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