Monday, June 22, 2009

What is Literature?

When I was in graduate school, I remember my professors always lamenting the fact that the majority of books sold in the United States could not be classified as literature. I admit. I was once among those who made those accusations; however, the more removed I am from sheltered academic life, and the more entrenched I am in the trappings of every day life, I find that their opinions about literature are stuffy and aristocratic.

A couple of years ago, when I was selling windows, I met a fellow and his wife who desperately needed new windows. As I talked to them, I learned that she was an art professor at a local university, and he was a writer. At that time, I'd already published a book, so I was interested in finding out what he wrote. She told me quite nobly that he wrote "literature," and "it was not to be mistaken with the crap that is sold in the bookstores." I translated that to, "he hasn't been published yet, but he writes well." What took me back, though, was the snotty attitude she had. She was very academic, as you can tell, and she probably couldn't believe that her window salesman had published a book too. I didn't tell her that my book was an academic book. They eventually bought my windows too.

So, as I'm reading a best-seller from the 1980's called "Marine Sniper," I ask myself: what is literature? Well, I'm happy to say that we should not listen to the high-brows. There's more to literature than Faulkner and Hemingway. Writers didn't just fall off the face of the earth after Frost died. They're still here, and they're writing for an ever-expanding audience. It's good that people still read, and I'm happy to say that books still sell by the millions, even if it is not considered literature by university-types. Trust me, in the future, that trashy novel you're reading right now might be this century's Marquis de Sade. You never know.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ruby Bute

Today, I would like to recognize St. Maarten's most notorious poet, Ruby Bute. I had the pleasure of meeting Ruby on my trip to St. Maarten a few weeks ago. Not only is she a poet, but she is an accomplished artist as well, and she is the artistic ambassador for the island.

I love Ruby's art. This, I guess, is what she is most famous for. Self-taught as artist and poet, she shows what a person can do when she puts her mind to it, no matter under what circumstances she is under or where she is born.

Ruby's poetry, like her paintings, is fresh and without the corruption of academia's influence. She doesn't worry about style or voice. She just writes what comes to her heart. The same is true with her art. She really can't be pigeonholed into one artistic school or another. She lets the subject guide her emotions, and she lets the brush do what it wants on the canvas.

I selected a poem which I think really reflects her style. It's called "Starry, Starry Night:"

Sitting on beach sand under the stars,
We listened
To the whispering of our hearts
And the serenade of the sea.

That night
We promised
To never part,
Come what may.

Under a jeweled sky of a thousand galaxies,
We pledged to conceal and cherish our love
Like a precious pearl sealed in
A golden shell.

This is a lovely poem. It draws the reader in to that night while sitting on the beach. The imagery really makes it come to life, and the emotions are whispered yet very powerful. In all her poetry, she tends to say little yet evoke much more in readers' minds about her subject. She allows the reader to come away with his own conclusion, and I like that aspect. I like how she's painted the scene and alluded to the situation without giving away all the details. I think that's the best way to write poetry. The poet should let the reader enjoy and live the poem. I also like the simplicity of language and the ease of reading the poem. How many poets write poetry that no one can understand? Even the critics can't get it right. That's not the case for Ruby. She writes to the people, especially for her people of St. Maarten.