I can’t get enough of the blues of Fred McDowell, that master of rhythm. A single chord and a simple, insistent guitar figure were the essential elements the Fred forged into a dark, droning throb that drives into the soul and carries it away. The motion is irresistible, every song a segment of an endless train ride. As with all the greatest blues artists it is as if the feeling and the pulse of his music was always around, like cosmic rays, and with each performance he tuned in the frequencies for a little while. Or so it seems to me!
A traveler in thirteenth-century France met three men pushing wheelbarrows along the road. He asked them what manner of work they were doing and received the following three answers: The first said, “I toil from sunup to sundown and all I get for my pains is a few pennies each day.” The second said, “I am glad enough to push this barrow for I have been long out of work and have a family to feed.” The third said, “I am building the cathedral of Chartres!”
Slightly adapted from Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content
Painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Perhaps my young friend would never under any circumstances have become a good poet. Perhaps he should have had the drive and persistence to master those forms which have defeated him–I myself think he should. But I wonder whether it was ever made clear to him that all poetic forms have derived from practice; that in the very act of writing poetry he was, however crudely, beginning to create form. I wonder whether it was pointed out to him that form is an instrument, not a tyrant; that whatever measures, rhythms, rhymes or groupings of sounds best suited his own expressive purpose could be turned to form–possibly just his own personal form, but form; and that it too might in time take its place in the awesome hierarchy of poetic devices.
But teaching itself is so largely a verbal, a classifying, process that the merely intuitive kinds of knowing, the sensing of things which escape classification, the self-identification with great moods and movements in life and art and letters may be lost or obliterated by academic routine. They are not to be taught but rather absorbed through a way of life in which intensively developed arts play an easy and familiar part. For it is just such inexact knowing that is implicit in the arts.
It is this kind of knowing also–the perceptive and intuitive–that is the very essence of an advanced culture. The dactyl and the spondee, the heroic couplet, the strophe and the antistrophe may be valuable and useful forms to the poet; but the meaning of the poem and its intention greatly transcend any such mechanics.