Spoken words may or may not linger in memory, but written words, especially in the Age of Internet, last forever. So wise men refrain from writing anything that makes them appear stupid and ignorant. But, as Alexander Pope, a British man of letters, remarked in his poem “An Essay in Criticism” that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, a statement that appears to have been immortalized in the English language. I am a fool so I am going out on a limb and share with you certain views.
I just finished watching the movie “War Horse”. I came across it on a lark. I picked it up from the library, solely from the basis of the title. I grew up in an absurd, stupid civil war during my formative years. I watched my native country bombed to shreds by the American Air Force and my people maimed and their morals shattered. I like horses for their beauty, grace, and strength, but not enough to watch any movie about horses (I have not watched “Sea Biscuit” and “Black Stallion”). But the combination of “War” and “Horse”compelled me to pick up the DVD and examined the jacket. I finally decided to take it home. And I was glad that I did. The story was good. The directing was sensitive and faithful to the time period of the story. The pacing was right. And the acting was convincing, not laborious.
I am no movie critic. I had no formal training nor exposure to the craft of movie-making. I react to a movie on the basis of:
1) how it makes me feel about it as a work of genuine art or a clumsy, pathetic attempt of telling a story visually and suggestively, along with a hidden message, if there is any, and
2) if I learn anything from the movie–if I am transformed by it and become wiser.
That’s my personal approach to movie-watching. I am not saying that it should be the way to approach a movie. But movie-watching is an experience steeped in reactions to visual, audio, and thematic presentations. The reactions may be a bit slower to those involved in listening music where the immediacy of sound arrangement makes the listener react to a piece of music at a visceral, not analytic, level. We either like or don’t like right away a piece of music when we listen to it.
Because of the accessibility of “understanding” a movie and a piece of music, every Dick, Tom, or Harry fancies think he can be a movie critic or a music critic or, heavens forbid, both, and thus won’t hesitate to pontificate on the merits and demerits of a movie or a piece of music when he himself has no training nor exposure to the process of making these works of art. He then extrapolates and extends his pontifications to other arts like painting, architecture, sculpture, or literature. I personally know a nitwit who does not know crap about literature, who cannot write a single stanza of poetry in any language, but he stupidly and obstinately maintains that he can dispense comments about poetry. When questioned about his lack of familiarity with the craft of poetry writing, he gamely and blithely answered that he did not have to be a musician to appreciate music or a cook to enjoy good food. He, of course, was very proud of his answer. Little did he know that his answer exposed further his pathetic ignorance and pitiful personality. Not all arts are the same and requiring the same level of cognition and appreciation. Some arts are more accessible to others. Poetry is an art that requires from the reader a modicum of poetic sensibilities, a sensitivity to sound, music, and meanings, and a love for words. Poetry is always at a higher level of cognition and appreciation than prose because of its compactness and suggestibility. Everybody can write prose— with some training, but poets are born, not trained. One does not say, okay today I decided to be a poet. One writes poetry because one has to. There is no other way. Words, arranged in a certain rhythm and sometimes rhyme, are a better tool for him to express himself about certain subjects than mere prose. A poem comes to him from deep somewhere in his subconscious and demands expression. Any fool can enjoy and pontificate about a good meal and a glass of fine wine, but that does not mean he possesses a sense of aesthetics about the arts of cooking and wine making. It just means that his palate is not impaired. A pig can consume food with a gusto, but I seriously doubt that it has any sense of aesthetics about gourmet cooking.
To conclude, it took me more than 40 years to be able to render into English the following stanza written by Hồ Dzếnh:
“Em cứ hẹn nhưng em đừng đến nhé!
Ðể lòng buồn tôi dạo khắp trong sân
Ngó trên tay, thuốc lá cháy lụi dần…
Tôi nói khẽ: Gớm, làm sao nhớ thế?…”
“Go ahead, make a date with me, but don’t bother to show up!
So in sorrow, I’d walk around in the courtyard,
Watching the cigarette burning itself backwards on my finger tips…
And softly saying to myself: ‘Damn! I do miss her much..”
One of these days, I will translate the rest of the poem.
August 6, 2013