When the concentric circles closest in to consciousness are vibrating, there’s less bandwidth for the larger view. My commitment to political change, always an ambient ideal, goes in and out of sharp focus for me depending on what else is in the foreground.

There is also the additional burden of how art and politics coalesce. As a non-representational painter whose work is intended for entry through the body rather than the head, I have settled into a compartmentalized rather than collaborative approach. It’s like having two parents who won’t speak to each other and live in separate houses on either side of your own.

And on that theme I found an interview with Dan Chiasson, one of the smarter poet/essayists around these days (and local guy who teaches at Wellesley College). This excerpt is from Guernica:

Dan Chiasson: Every poet wants to have that great, transcendent renunciatory power of Whitman, the access to other sites and other persons, that amplitude, that confidence and authority as a voice. Even the most narrowly private or confessional poets want that. 99% of them didn’t get it, and that’s roughly the percentage of poets in any given mode that don’t succeed, so I don’t think confessionalism offers any worse odds than any other mode.

Lowell, for example, not only wants to write from the private, but from a self that is damaged and schismatic, and often he literally can’t participate in the common world because he’s institutionalized…As a model and as an aspiration, it’s the biggest thing in my writing life to think about him. I don’t know if I’m influenced by him line to line, but I would hope to have something of that intensity, seriousness, unabashed learnedness, unabashed Miltonic ambition but also confluence with daily life and daily kinds of language—all that seems still relevant to me.

Guernica: He was also someone who could, by bringing everything he had to bear on whatever was in front of him, write some of the most political and culturally relevant poems of the last century.

Dan Chiasson: Yeah, I know. And I sound silly to my own ears when I discuss politics. I mean, I feel like puking every day when I read the newspaper, but I haven’t found a register for writing about it, and I haven’t found a register for making it part of my poems. And I really admire his ability to do that. It may no longer be possible. The assumption of centrality that he could make, that gave his political poems and statements authority. I can’t think of anyone who has done it successfully for the latest round of awfulness, which is certainly at least as awful as what Lowell was dealing with.

The events in America now have the quality of things you would find out about long after the fact, and think: if only we had known. Well, we do know now. But what are we doing? Maybe a poet like Lowell brought America a little nearer to its boiling point.

An artist who can bring us nearer to our boiling point, now that’s a worthy goal…And last night I felt some of that flash point hope. Dear friend and documentarist Sally Rubin, on a visit to Boston from her new perch point in Los Angeles, showed us the promo piece for her new project, Ghosts in Appalachia. Sally and her co-director Jennifer Gilomen are exposing the ecological and human disasters associated with the rapacious coal mining practice called MTR, mountain top removal, particularly as it is being carried out in Appalachia. Sally’s commitment is to make a film that is personal and can put this story into its proper context of our unchecked and unconscionable energy consumption. It is a message that needs to be spoken clearly and seen by millions. Sally’s commitment to both art and political change puts her in a unique position to reconcile both houses.

To view the promo piece and read more about the project, go to Ghosts of Appalachia.

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Filmmaker Sally Rubin

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