Wednesday, March 26, 2014

To Whom Do Muses Speak These Prickly, Pestered Days?

Sometime last week, you were applying appropriate Marxist approaches to sources of inspiration.  You posited a scenario in which one of the famed daughters of Zeus known as Muses, whispered inspiration into the ear of a poet.

With Marxist regard for the working classes, you in effect questioned whether a Muse could be bothered to approach a working-class poet.  This, in yet greater effect, left the likes of Robert Burns and Woody Gutherie out in the inspirational cold.  

The more you thought about it, the notion compounded that the poets--there were likely more than one--conveniently lumped together as Homer, of The Iliad and The Odyssey,also had to apply elsewhere for inspiration.  Muses only visited gentlepersons.  In the strict class divisions of England, Muses would only descend to whisper into the ears of nobility, graduates of Cambridge or Oxford.  

Although himself not royalty, Geoffrey Chaucer worked for one, John of Gaunt, who was no less than a duke, and prominent in the House of Lancaster.  More on him and his relationships with Muses in a moment.

Shakespeare, another non-royal, set forth to circulate among those who funded some poetic and dramatic activities, arguably had the kind of education that might have attracted a few stray inspirations from one or more of the Muses.  More, too, of him as these vagrant thoughts converge into a form of closure.

In your case, it is possible to observe with some certainty that you, although you have had ideas and inspirations, have had to apply elsewhere for them than from Muses.  Quite right.  If the Muses spoke only to English royalty and their acolytes, and to graduates of Cambridge and Oxford, they would surely speak only to American graduates of Ivy League schools.

Early this morning, while you took coffee with a writer friend, you were, in fact, whispered to by the exact sort of Muse who would have spoken to a candidate from the working classes.  True enough, there was considerable wealth on your mother's side, but it was by no means old or even moderately aged wealth.  Rather, it was come by through hard work, dedication, and openness of spirit, outlasting the 1929 Stock Market Crash, but dissipating rapidly in the early and mid-1930s.

Thus you are descended from two families in which there were some professionals and, as well, the likes of bootleggers (ah, Grandmother Lizzie), politicians, saloon keepers, a one-time butcher as a result of a gambling win, wine makers, dealers in what was called at the time soft goods, which meant clothing, luggage, auction management, and that most scientific of inquiries, the speculation of the relative speeds of thoroughbred race horses.

How highly appropriate for your Muse this morning to be the bright, beaming face of a uniformed police officer, who politely interrupted your conversation when she asked you what books you were reading, then engaged you for nearly five minutes to discuss the joys of book browsing.  She became a vivid component of an inspiration, which played out nearly six hours later, as you took coffee with yet another writer friend.

You'd already begun to think of this agreeable police officer, who'd detached herself from a larger group of men who seemed to you more appropriate to the appearance of uniformed police officers, neat, military, cynical, evocative of teen age boys deciding where to dine based on their expectations of the size of the meals rather than its inherent quality.  She had you thinking of a modern version of The Canterbury Tales,not verse, mind you, short stories, in the manner of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio.

Sometime later, in another venue, a writer you've seen through any number of books became the next component of inspiration begun earlier.  In the interim, you had no idea you'd been given components or in any way inspired.  Then, your friend, emeritus from the Archaeology Department at UCSB, wondered aloud why you had not been delegated to teach the course in Chaucer required by the College in which you teach.

"You seem to know all those characters so well,"  he said.  

We'd been discussing his next book, a departure for him in that it would be best served by a tip-toe dance along the cusp between a novel or dramatic narrative and a segment of a biography related to a major archaeological discovery.

You'd indeed illustrated some scenes in his next book, comparing some of the actual personages to characters in Canterbury.

Your ah-ha moment, a short study of the major characters in Canterbury as illustrative of the concepts you hope to demonstrate in your own forthcoming project, A Character Prepares.  Your second ah-ha moment is a rhetorical question which you will not be able to answer until you set forth to essay the short study from the first ah-ha moment.

Thus do working class writers hear inspirations from working class muses.  No Erato or Calliope or Polyhymnia, whispering in your ears.  Nor do you, by any stated or unstated implication intend to compare yourself with the likes of Robert Burns or the Homer poets or Woody Guthrie except in terms of old-fashioned proletariat functionality.  You make do, not with the lofty potential for boredom of Classical Antiquity, rather with the availability of what's at hand.

Your second ah-ha moment, which sent a chill both ways on your spine, would sell, as Thomas McCormick, a recent publisher at St. Martin's Press would have put it, "dozens and dozens of copies.  If that."

You, on the other hand, feel that urge only Proletarian muses such as uniformed police officers and professors emeritus can experience.  The Daughters of Zeus delivered inspirations.  Your sources present you with urges.  You will need a long life to get to them, but you are on track.


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