Tag Archives: meaninglessness

A Good Reason for Keepin’ On

Kris Kristofferson has a song called To Beat the Devil. If you haven’t listened to the lyrics lately, they’re about a recommendation from the devil on the meaninglessness of trying to change the world with your music, and Kris’ response to that challenge. The Devil’s argument goes like this:

“If you waste your time a-talkin’ to the people who don’t listen,
“To the things that you are sayin’, who do you think’s gonna hear.
“And if you should die explainin’ how the things that they complain about,
“Are things they could be changin’, who do you think’s gonna care?”

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
‘Cos the truth remains that no-one wants to know.

Well, to be honest with you, I’ve felt that way a lot. There are definitely times when it seems like nobody’s listening, nobody cares what I’m saying, and it wouldn’t really matter much if they did.

But I tell you what: that’s defeatist thinking. I used to say that in order to change the way people think, you first have to make sure they’re thinking. That’s a bit of a downer, too. It’s a cynic’s approach to life. That everything sucks. That there is inevitably a need for either bitter coating on the sugar pills, or sugar coating on the bitter pills. The cynic lives their life believing that human beings, and this must needs include themselves, are intrinsically no damned good. And what, pray tell, is the point of that? Better, I think, to retain at least a little optimism, or at least perseverance and stubborness of purpose, if you can’t muster a bit of a smile, so that like Kristofferson, you can say:

And you still can hear me singin’ to the people who don’t listen,
To the things that I am sayin’, prayin’ someone’s gonna hear.
And I guess I’ll die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin’, hopin’ someone’s gonna care.

I was born a lonely singer, and I’m bound to die the same,
But I’ve got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickle, I won’t ever die ashamed.
‘Cos I don’t believe that no-one wants to know.

If we’re not supposed to affect the world at all, if we really are just a moment’s ripple in the ocean, then what’s the frickin’ point?

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Ranting on Poetics

I will not write for other poets.

They exist to ridicule each other,
and failing that, to share inside jokes
on what words are or aren’t clich
on poems written in metered speech
on lines that rhyme, even if well done,
on absurd show instead of tell
(as if a poem could only exist for its own sake,
without serving a greater purpose
than entertaining a few self-important snobs;
perhaps, I offer to such critics,
if you don’t feel a connection with the work
you’re either in the wrong profession,
the piece was beyond your frame of reference,
or just maybe the poem wasn’t all about you).

And those who claim to teach, who write
in back rooms, sneaking off to slams on weekends,
lording it over a gathering of teen angst
and tossing their black pearls of wisdom:

How dare you offer as advice
“For God’s sake, nothing before 1900”
as if what’s new and now and wow
will be remembered even half that long?
Poetry is how culture is transmitted.

It’s not just a mindless TV program designed
to inundate the captive audience
with strings of images.

It’s a story, too. And sometimes a lesson.

And it’s the way poets talk.

About what’s important to them.

And if that happens to also be meaningful to just one other person,
let’s hope that person hears or reads it —
because the other poets also in the room
don’t mean anything without that, either.

28 DEC 2004

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