Sunday, April 15, 2012
Gene of El Paso: Poet, singer/songwriter/musician
photo by Richard Baron
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A POET (by Gene Keller)
I am sure I have been spontaneously producing poems and songs all my life. I
know this because I heard both my children making up poems and songs before they
started school. I must have, too. I remember making up a poem when I was eight.
And it was at that age I first had a guitar in my hands.
In my high school senior year, I began to consciously write poems and songs in
response to several horrors - President Kennedy was shot and a good friend
committed suicide. Like many young people of my generation, I wanted to be a
rock star. Unfortunately, I did not have the skill or the personality. Anyway I
was destined to be a poet.
However, it took a long time to find the temerity to say I am a poet. Not until
my forties did I make a serious commitment. Even then I didn’t truly understand
what the statement “I am a poet” means. After more than a decade of study and
practice, I identified and defined, (at least for myself,) the five functions of
a poet. And, as I have been able, I work in these multiple areas: maker, seer,
healer, singer, storyteller.
1. Makar is an old word for artist and poet, the poet as maker of word
artifacts - birthday or holiday poems, political or other public announcements.
I also feel bound by this duty to make my own chapbooks and broadsides.
2. The seer function incorporates much between prayer and vision, and it may
simply be an expression of hope for the community and the self. Beyond doubt,
something ineffable is going on in life, so some poets try to define what is
essentially irrational, outside of the senses as confined to holes in the head.
3. Surely the scalpel has a place in the doctor’s bag of tricks, but word-based
healing is also vital, and not only in psychotherapy. Whether the poet delves
into personal psychic wounds or those inflicted by history, putting the pain
into words bears healthy results.
4. In my experience, poetry and song come from the same source, the same need.
Even an oral performance of a poem has musical qualities, and as with music,
people need to hear the healing vibrations of poetry, maybe even dance to the
rhythms. Thereby the performer and the audience get to breathe deeply together.
5. At the roots of poetry, the lyric and the narrative are both required. From
our cave-residing ancestors to Homer and on to contemporary masters, readers /
listeners want to get lost in stories, to see themselves in stories.
As with other skills, some poets are better at different functions. For example,
I play guitar, have a loud voice, and more often prefer a lyric response to a
narrative one. But I like the challenges offered by trying my hand at the broad
spectrum of poetic expression.
Pride and ego have to be considered and controlled because some of the functions
can place the poet in the path of temptations, for some in the community mistake
the message which is passing through the poet for the physical vessel that is
the poet. One is the breath, the other is the breather.
Being a poet at this level is a great responsibility. When I try to explain it
to myself, I think of the responsibilities as being the toll for having the
gift. I have taken a vow similar to the vows that teachers and physicians make,
at least to themselves, to serve the public, the community, even when it is
inconvenient or costly.
When one has a calling, the topic must be professed. That make me a professor of
poetry. I believe poetry can help the world and poets have a responsibility to
do so. Posterity may judge the value and the success.
- Gene Keller / EPTX / 14 Apr 12
BUY HIS MUSIC at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/genemusic
"Blues for No Reason" is copyright 2004,
by Gypsy Wind Music, and the track was produced by Doug Adamz.