Friday, December 01, 2006

Poets at Smokebrush

The last time I went to a poetry reading was in a previous lifetime, so Tuesday's event at the Smokebrush Foundation was an extra-pleasant surprise for me. The contrast of Malcolm McCollum and Jim Ciletti was extremely effective: McCollum's work is ironic social commentary, while Ciletti's is disarmingly personal. The effect was of spending some quality time with a couple of friends you just hadn't gotten around to meeting yet.

Not even the finest surround-sound home entertainment system can produce this sort of personal effect. But the various home entertainment systems are what the performing arts, and even movie theaters, are up against. For many people, the convenience of staying home outweighs the comparative emotional poverty of the aesthetic experience. (A couple of years ago some marketing expert was quoted to the effect that "Americans will go to any lengths for convenience," apparently without any ironic intent.)

Of course, this trend isn't new. It dates back to the rise of the player piano in the late 19th Century — the first machine that made it possible for a middle-class family to regularly experience music without either going out to hear it or making it themselves. The introduction of commercial radio in 1920 hugely accelerated the trend towards home entertainment: When I first met my wife's aunt, and told her I was a pianist, her reply was, "Oh, when I was a little girl, I was going to learn to play the piano, but then my parents got a radio and I didn't have to. (Italics added.) Interestingly, one of McCollum's poems addressed the growing trend towards pre-digested entertainment, and he remarked how unfortunate it was that the poem was even more relevant now than when he wrote it in the 1970s.

The crowd wasn't huge, but it at least fulfilled optimistic expectations — the folding chairs were almost all filled.


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