Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of March 2, 2021
This week I watched The World’s A Little Blurry, https://apple.co/theworldsalittleblurry about Billie Eilish. My kids introduced me to Eilish’s music and theatrical aesthetic, which was nightmarish and dealt familiarly with issues of mental illness like cutting and suicide. That they should esteem it or vibe with it freaked me out as a parent. I think they knew that when they gleefully showed me her megalomaniacal You Should See Me in a Crown https://youtu.be/coLerbRvgsQ . But the anime music video (by Takahashi Murukami (their collaboration is documented in an interview https://youtu.be/TVTzOOBxCog )) made me a Billie Eilish fan. I loved the combination of 2D flatness and dark epic scope, the appropriation of Studio Ghibli for psychotic purposes (a pair of terrified flowers, their faces uplifted to crushing doom, is as powerful and effective an image as you’re likely to find in poetry) as well as Billie’s self-caricature. The restraint of her vocals, their murmuring and lullaby sounded original and worked to unify the song with the visual’s monstrous imagery. Her vocal’s whispery seductiveness is countered by the live Billie’s signature loose-fitting clothes and child-like stage-scampering.
I said I was a fan, but I will never be a real Billie Eilish fan. Real Billie Eilish fans identify with her so deeply it’s as if their inner lives are interchangeable. There’s self-recognition. I think I came close to being a real fan when my children were in their teens, and I had their inner lives much closer to me, and therefore I had Billie Eilish’s inner life closer to me. But now, though I can feel it like distant sunlight (and though I can access numerous other human feelings in her music), I can’t live the Recognition connection:
Billie Eilish divulges high-stakes intimate secrets directly to people who keep the same secrets.
Poetry can make this same deeply intimate connection when readers feel known.
The aspect of Billie Eilish I did not talk about is Fineas, her brother & collaborator, who provides the entertaining, sonically inventive, delightful musical solution that flows the Recognitions along. So there’s an element in her emotional bond, as in poetry’s, of technique and art.
How do you connect deeply with your reader? Since we’ve often talked about entertainment as a way to connect to the reader, I am in mind of what Geoffrey Hill said. “Poetry is a strange angel and has very little to do with enjoyment actually…. “Enjoyment” is patronizing and possessive… when you “enjoy” a poem you say, “You are mine, and you please me in my current mood.” And the angel of poetry says, “Sod off. Sod off!””
Are your poems more the “sod off” kind?
Is Billie Eilish Geoffrey Hill’s strange angel?