Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mime, a Foundation of Language

I was listening to a linguist/anthropologist on a radio program expound on his theory that even before we humans assigned meaning to sounds and groups or sequences of sounds we were communicating by what we today consider mime. He was so animated as he spoke; I could imagine the gestures and facial expressions he must have been using to emphasize his points. Not only, he claimed (as a result of long and careful research), did we communicate with each other that way but also with different species!

And I think of how a lab environment must have been set up. First people would have been put in close proximity and told they could only communicate without using language. Of course it will work; ask any immigrant placed among people whose language is totally foreign to them. You make yourself understood by gestures. It's no great leap to conceive that such must have been the case when there was no recognizable language at all. We still use mime and mime type movements to emphasize what we say. That's known as body language.

Body language is also a large component of how we communicate with other species. Anyone who trains dogs, etc. will tell you that motion is as important as tone of voice and more so than specific words. We have been communicating with other species as long as we've been around; there is nothing new here.

Let me tell you, too, about poetry and mime, about poetry and motion. In the earliest times descriptions of activities and events must have depended on the poet/storyteller miming those acts. The great epic poems needed action to impress and deliver their meaning. The bard did not simply sit by the fire or at the table and speak; he got on his feet, proclaimed, gestured and mimed. When he spoke of the hero, he would strut, stick out his chest, raise that powerful arm. When he spoke of the defeated enemy he would make himself look weak, beaten, and slink

It all holds true today. The better speaker is the one who engages you with gesture and motions as well as sound. The poet who will be heard and admired more is one who does not simply read or say his words. He must get up on his feet, raise his body and his voice to proclaim.

The language of the voice, words and sounds so intricately woven, enhanced and emphasized by mime, the language of the body.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On The Street

Sometimes I discover little things or happenings that please me deeply. One such happened at the most recent Art Crawl here in the city, that evening when all the galleries and related businesses on James Street North open wide and party. The street fills with people, in clusters and individuals, moving from one to another to sample the art and other attractions in the area. Some galleries provide incidental music or other performance. You can find buskers on the sidewalks: musicians, dancers, and more.

Often you'll find a display of books in front of a shop. There may also be a used book dealer displaying his wares. But this most recent Art Crawl offered something dear to my heart; a young lady had positioned herself in front of a gallery and was offering poetry for sale! She was sitting on a blanket on the sidewalk, copies of her first (self-) publication spread out on display. Without even reading one poem, I bought a copy. (She said I was the first person to purchase her work; I feel proud of that!) It didn't matter if the poetry was good or bad, what mattered was that the young lady was putting her words and her craft where it belongs - out on the street with all the other arts.

It reminded me of myself, hawking copies of my own poems in Yorkville in '67-'68. (Gestetner, remember those?) And a plan that never came to fruition, of chalking poems on the sidewalks of Barton Street a number of years ago. Then there was the International Village's initiative that displayed poems monthly in storefront windows. There is the current project of Simon Frank incorporating a poem in the sidewalks of Locke Street as public art, rather than the usual mural or sculpture.

Poetry on the street. Poetry in the markets. Poetry for people where the people are.

(By the way, that book "Poetry's Dead - on Love, Despair, Hobo-ism and produce" was worth the price. Nyki Hamilton, I'd love to be in touch with you!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Words and Music for Peace

Yesterday, the Sunday of the Labour Day holiday weekend, I took part in an exquisite experience, artists expressing their art for a cause. The cause: building a community of peace; the event: Michael Pickett's third annual "Concert for Peace" at his home in Crystal Beach, Ontario.

There was no fervent preaching, no raising money for a cause. The music Michael and friends provided and the often expressed reason for all of us being there rang out the message loud and clear: if there is ever to be world peace, it must start with the individual and grow among friends. Here we grew from music fans to friends to a community, a group who hold something in common.

Five musicians/bands performed in diverse styles, from gentle and introspective to powerful and driving. All left their marks on the common consciousness and with those marks the awareness of the need for peace within and without.

At one stage in the planning there had been some consideration that Poets for Peace might also take part in the performance, a group of which I am also a part. That idea could not be developed but that didn't matter. Sometimes poets become preachers for a cause, and that wasn't needed. The music and the communion of friends were more than enough.

I want to thank Michael and Louise Pickett, all the musicians who performed, and all the friends there, old and new. Together we were what we could not be independently.

Peace. May it live and grow through us.