CHINESE CULTURAL CENTER (redux)

The Wu Shu Kung Fu academy with its flash and marketing swag

Had a name—t-shirts, slick, glossy booklets, and mob appeal

 

My Hung Gar Sifu didn’t want too many of his t-shirts out in public

Sifu wouldn’t tell me what all the flags written with Chinese characters, and trophies

Placed in the corner of the studio said, were for, meant

Not really on the map, not a crowded academy but with the air of authenticity

Sifu told me could have gone off on his own but for honor to the lineage of his school

Known among those who know in the community

The dedicated advanced esoteric group—I think all China-born

They pitched in when rent came due

When we two college students brought Sifu to Harvard phys-ed

He filled the gym and school reporters came around

After warm-ups and ch’i exercises and everybody was practicing form one

A group burst out in applause watching me do form 4

I guess it all fell apart when I graduated and Sifu kicked out the other college student

 

Greatness can shine even in the gloom of obscurity

The gloom of obscurity can befall even shining greatness

The Wheel of Fortune means

More than a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

 

For sure, certain greatness has a human attraction to all that being choirs in harmony

Then certain vacuous offerings appeal to mob, herd, the vacuous herd, vacuous offerings

 

When Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura unveiled Minnesota’s annual budget

Three local news channels showed up

Every national, cable, network, local news channel showed up—international, too

When Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura MC’d WrestleMania

 

So I say that every clam has its day in the sun

Fitzgerald front page in newspapers in the Roaring ‘20’s, Gatsby unsold in its first printing

My mind wanders to Blake printing his own books alone, unknown like Shelley

And the Impressionist painters displayed in the Gallery of Rejects,

Warning people not to come in or else view art they would much despise

And who’s heard of gaudy Moreau of the Paris Salon and professor at École des Beaux-Arts?

So that medieval poet sings about changeable Fate

In the image of the Wheel of Fortune

Now a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

Chanted ubiquitously through the ‘80’s, now unknown but to music teachers

 

O Fortuna                    O Fortune
Velut luna                     Like the moon
Statu variabilis, . . .       You are changeable

Sors immanis               Fate, savage, brutal
Et inanis,                      And inane, empty
Rota tu volubilis,          You turning wheel
Status malus,               You are malevolent

Vana salus                   Vain well-being

Semper dissolubilis,     Always dissolution into nothing

 

My mind wanders to Pound sitting at the feet of Yeats

The last to adore the washed up out of vogue poet old

And Frost got a full-time poet-in-residence only in the end

Of his legacy life when he wasn’t writing anything memorable

Struggling for money all his heralded fame and no fortune existence

And Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater

When everybody fancied him a washed-up has-been

Still, that young architecture student spoke of his disdain for Wright,

Admiring a post-modern building so deconstructed out of everything human that

A woman vomited in one of its rooms

Mozart lost his vogue, tossed into an unknown pauper’s grave

And where is the corpse of Mozart rotting?  While Falco turns his grave into pop

Ubiquitous in the ‘80’s.  And where is Falco?  Rock me Amadeus!

 

The Wheel of Fortune means

More than a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

 

After all, it was the fitful whim of the impassioned Jerusalem mob that murdered Jesus

The same impassioned mob whose ecstasy welcomed Him into Jerusalem but a week earlier

A LITANY

The Keepers of intellectual trends hold apparent power

And to make it, some are slaves to the Keepers’ fashion

I am a free man to my own muse

I am a priest who intones the litany:

 

Blake was a free genius, self-published,

And died in literary obscurity

Until T. S. Eliot gave him a name

Shelley knew, “Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure”

Whom all English students now study

Though F. Scott knew fame and wealth,

Gatsby didn’t even sell out its first printing

And F. Scott never knew the book as all high school students do

They suppressed Hemingway’s Pulitzer

They fiercely debated whether Frost were a poet, Wyeth a painter

The Impressionists showed in the Exhibition of Rejects

And Moreau, in the National Paris Salon

Pollock had his 10 years, before his suicide

Mozart died unknown, unsung

 

We can’t give our contentment to the Keepers

It rests in the beauty of our art manifesting,

In the pen of the writer alone with paper or laptop screen,

And a  happy finished project

In the living-room, study, or dorm room

With, or without, the blessing of the Keepers

Fame

Fame and success are not always meted out in a person’s lifetime.  Some great artist were relatively obscure in their own lives, and did not know that they would be important later, after their demise.  All they knew was that their work didn’t catch on.  And they were unknown–and that, for their whole lives.  They didn’t make it.

William Blake was known to some of the Romantic poets, but achieved no real fame.  Shelley wrote these verses about his own life,

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,

Nor peace within nor calm around,

Nor that content surpassing wealth

The sage in meditation found,

And walked with inward glory crowned—

Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.

Others I see whom these surround—

Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;

To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald had fame and money, but failed to find critical acceptance as an artist.  His greatest novel, The Great Gatsby, didn’t sell much and went out of print in a few years.  Fitzgerald died thinking himself a failure.

Now we study Blake, Shelley, and Fitzgerald in literature classes, and all these writers are considered great.  Every high school student in the United States reads The Great Gatsby.

Hemingway and T.S. Eliot had fame all through their lives, and the respect of the artistic community.  Hemingway also had wealth.  Intellectual fashion is now debating whether they are still as great as they used to be, but I suspect the laurel wreath will not be taken away in the end.

But Shelley and Fitzgerald had respect among the community of artists in their day.  Coleridge and Wordsworth knew and respected Shelley.  And Hemingway was Fitzgerald’s close friend.  Even in Hemingway’s scathing stories about Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway praises Fitzgerald as a great artist.

Fame may not be the best measure of a person’s worth.  Respect from one’s peers, self-respect, believing in oneself, and the joy of creation alone are not fame, but are abiding satisfactions in lieu of fame.  While an artist wants recognition, it is satisfying to enjoy one’s own creations privately, while perhaps also enjoying favorable reception from a few who matter.