Let me start off by saying that, with many in the poetry community, I’ve gotten a reputation for my honesty and borderline snobbery when it comes to writing. I don’t intend it that way; I just have a certain quality of writing I ask for. Whether it’s morose or uproarious, I ask for few things, but they’re all important and centered around this idea of “care.” I got a fair amount of criticism when I first brought this up a while back, but it’s true. Qualities like taking one’s time with a piece, working extra hard on refining one’s craft, and having a sense of earnest in the things you say, no matter how outlandish. It’s those qualities above elements like verbal dexterity and hyperbole I truly appreciate.
This past Saturday, I witnessed a great example of this idea, seeing Rock Wilk’s one-man show, Broke Wide Open. As is typical with one-person shows, he tries to convey a whole life’s story in a matter of a couple of hours and a couple of acts. The difference between his show and others I’ve seen is that, as effortlessly as he skated across the stage, dancing in the projected images around him, he obviously worked really hard to give the illusion of simplicity.
With him, I also started toying with the idea of why I like an artist of any craft, in levels:
- They try to convey their message, and we’re meant to hear it and like it.
- They convey the message, hoping we’ll sympathize with them.
- They convey the message well, and get us to empathize with them.
That last level is so critical too. I feel like the closer you feel like you’re in the person’s shoes when the person’s in their “art avatar”, the better the artist is for me, no matter how reserved they are when doing interviews or in normal conversation. Ignore that I’m not Jewish, I’ve never been adopted or married, never lived in Los Angeles, and haven’t had so many of my close relatives die within a few years of each other.
I didn’t just feel Rock; by the end, I almost felt like Rock himself.
And that’s an awesome feeling. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Marc Anthony dance and sing with us on the floor of Madison Square Garden, Jay-Z and Eminem at Yankee Stadium where we were shoulder-to-shoulder on the field all bopping along, and now in a small black box theatre where a man was practicing this thing we call performance poetry, a different animal than slam poetry. (All of them from pretty close range, too). In all these instances, the artist has this way of captivating the audience because they don’t just ask you to join them in their stream of consciousness; they lend you their shoes and ask you to strap in.
The quiet man in the corner of our poetry workshop had all these words to share with us, and so many of us knew it, too. While a friend and I sat there thinking of poets who emote this sort of feeling to us (and we came up with about 4), I said, “This is what poetry should feel like.”
Like we were him, and our hearts were broke wide open.
Jose, who supports local artists, and don’t you forget it …