Improvisation, Poetry Contests, and a Draft

Beata Moon, whose composition Piano Fantasy (1998) I played in a recital a few years ago, writes to me about my saying that I never improvise on the piano. She says, “I would encourage you to improvise on the piano.  I didn’t improvise a note until after college.  I had a job playing for a modern dance class and the teacher was kind to let me improvise for her class.  The more you do it, the more comfortable it will get.  You have to turn off the critical voice in your mind though.”

Story: When I was still in high school I took lessons from a music professor at Wichita State University—Dr. Robert Steinbauer, a very good teacher. One of the things he had me do outside of my lessons was to write a song. I no longer have it, but I do remember that the words came much easier to me than the music, which he acknowledged after seeing/hearing the results!

I do believe that the more you do anything, the easier it gets. And you definitely have to “turn off the critical voice in your mind”whether you are “performing” for someone else or just by yourself.  I said in my last post that poetry is mainly improvisation; however, many would disagree, arguing that improvisation applies only to free verse, and even then, there is the constant opportunity to revise.

I also said that I do not have as disciplined an approach to writing as I do to the piano, partly because, for my writing, there is usually no deadline (on the other hand, I have indicated that I plan a piano recital for 2015 as well as the regular scholarship auditions at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music next spring). When our writing group is meeting, that provides a good “deadline” every couple of weeks. But in the absence of that this month, I have decided (somewhat surprisingly for me) to enter a poetry contest.

Like most poets, I have very mixed feelings about poetry contests. First, there is the entrance fee, which usually I don’t mind, since in most cases it goes to support the magazine.  As a beginner, I was always excited by the announced judge: i.e. he or she would actually read my work! Not so. There are often so many entries that they are screened, often by twenty-something MFA students—not my best audience. And I have always been a bit intimidated, not having that degree myself. And so, feeling that I was pretty much entering a lottery with a very low chance of “winning,” I have not entered such contests for a long time, even though, because of similar criticisms, many such contests have changed their format.

There is one that I came across in an email from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets yesterday: ZO magazine “orchestrates a broad presentation of multidisciplinary art, poetry, music, literary and design offerings — through a daily changing CLOUD PUBLICATION. We will publish an annual ‘COLLECTOR’S EDITION’ glossy MAGAZINE showcasing an internationally curated 2D museum of creations (later this year).”   They are sponsoring a contest for poems based on a painting by Luis José Estremadoyro (on the magazine’s site). The deadline is August 31, and one’s first entry of up to three poems is free, although further entries must be paid for. The topic interests me—a riff on a painting. I definitely like what I see, especially the multidisciplinary approach.  And it gives me a deadline! and some ideas to overcome that initial blank page which shouts out, “You idiot! Have you nothing to say?”

In the meantime, I have been playing with the Flash poem I mentioned earlier, Cebrennus rechenbergi or The Flic-Flac : Found Poem with Quiz. Often feeling like a rat in a maze, I have worked through most of the initial technological challenges in the past week or so and now have a draft which I hope can be accessed through the link above (you will need to have Flash Player installed on your computer. If you don’t, you can download it for free here.)

This is a DRAFT. There are still things I want to do to make the text stand out more, and I would like to have the shifts of text accompany more closely the cuts in the video (which is admittedly of poor quality—there’s not much I can do about that). I do know how to cut a video into segments now, but doing it differently would entail a lot of time, which I’m not sure I’m willing to do with this “experiment,” at least not now. However, I am considering adding sound or even music to this version, and wonder if anyone has any ideas about that. I don’t think I would be likely to use any identifiable pieces, since that might create a sense of unintended irony. On the other hand, I don’t want to use anything sentimental or too obviously “meaningful.” I guess that’s a tall order. What do you think of leaving it silent?

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