Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"For the love of what you love"     [sonnet]

The news at 5 in the morning   Zorn has nabbed it
or garnered? or been recognized?   locutions
proliferate:  neglected like Confucius
the geniuses triumph   hailed   none have grabbed it

you can't apply for a Gug   you've just gotta live it
for many a year   for the love of what you love
the genius-hand   is tailored to its glove
or medium   now as for those who give it

the laurel of esteem and broad support
they play a worthy role in our society
those who receive it plausibly resort

to inward gladness don't they?   would sobriety
at such an hour be meet?   should one comport
oneself with (quite un-Zorn-like) mild propriety?


responding to a radio report about recipients of the Guggenheim Foundation's annual fellowship awards. When writing the poem, I had confused the Guggenheim awards with the so-called genius award from the MacCarthur Foundation . . . At any rate, a Guggenheim has been announced for (among others) New York's innovative and energetic composer/musician/improvisor John Zorn

neglected like Confucius: Confucius [Kong-zi] had many theories about wise and proper methods of governance. He deemed himself a philosopher well-equipped to advise kings. But during his lifetime, he never had much of an opportunity to apply these skills or institute these ideas. He did however pass on his thoughts and remarks to a small circle of students. In later centuries, his teachings and pricniples became widely accepted, indeed became the cornerstone of the established intellectual norm among the educated class in the Chinese bureaucracy in most of the dynasties for more than two millennia. So perhaps it can be said that Confucius was an avant-garde intellectual -- ahead of his time. His ideal of the Golden Mean -- a mode of behavior that is purposively never excessive in any direction (particularly, where the self does not seek to go too far in demonstrating its own excellence) -- seems to involve a psychological stance and mode of thought and comportment and action rather foreign in our modern world, but apparently influential among cultivated persons through long spans of Chinese antiquity.

The final lines of the sonnet are intended merely whimsically and playfully. The underlying sense one has from John Zorn is that he has followed very far in the direction of his own inner promptings as an artist, and that he demonstrates a palpable elan of self-assurance. This quality of assurance, which can arise in the wake of much work for a creative artist, renders him inwardly independent and carefree. Then, presumably, honors or recognition may come or not come, and he is unruffled either way. Still, all human beings can take delight in happy events and auspicious circumstances. At any rate, perhaps the earlier mention of Confucius in the poem is playing out whimsically here. Admittedly, I am fairly talking through my hat vis-a-vis Zorn, since I do not know him, and have only heard bits of his music here and there over the years. He runs an estimable record label.


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