Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Billy Idol and Lao American poetics

I recently caught Billy Idol at the Fantasy Springs Casino in California as part of his Rocktober tour.

While we were all rocking out to 'Rebel Yell,' and 'Indio Woman,' a twist on his cover of 'L.A. Woman,' I thought about his body of work, which currently stands at about 130 lyrics, including his Generation X material.

Some time back, William Elliot was discussing Shuntaro Tanikawa and noted that some poets are recognized for the quality of their work, and others for the breadth and extensiveness. Tanikawa was a poet who was fortunate to have a good balance of both.

Walt Whitman has just one book, Leaves of Grass, which he was constantly revising and editing over his lifetime, sometimes for the better, sometimes to little effect. A century later, 'Rebel Yell' is certainly a different response to 'Song of Myself,' but then you also have poets like Otto Renee Castillo, who is often remembered just for "Apolitical Intellectuals". 

For a musician, you only get about 2 hours to perform songs from your repertoire. Billy Idol has 10 solo albums and a number of greatest hits collections (and I usually don't count those). You hit a point where you can't play songs from all of them in the time you're given.

There's a few core pieces that always go in a set during a performance, but what do you fill the remaining time with that helps show one's continuing progress as an artist? 

As poets, I think the question is even more relevant.

I frequently think of my poem 'Song for a Sansei': "We only get 5 minutes each to talk of our own yellow lifetimes."

I've been to presentations where I've had between 5 to 15 minutes to present work, and on lucky occasions as much as 90 minutes, which is quite a bit for one poet. I'm glad I've got a lot to choose from in that time, but I also wonder what's an ideal body of work for a writer to leave behind. Enough to keep people interested, but not too much to overstay your literary welcome, I imagine.

For Lao American poets, I've seen some who are well into the hundreds of poems they've written, and a few, who over a decade, still have less than two dozen if that many. In a way it's something like watching the sports pages, wondering if we'll see a book from some or if some of us will be the kind of poets who only produce a poem or two once every blue moon. 

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