Gnawing away the thrones.

Over lunch yesterday, I wandered over to the Gerding (“The Bob”) to eavesdrop on a round table discussion titled “Stone Soup: Engaging Culture, the Arts & Civic Collaboration.”

The guest of honor was Barbara Schaffer Bacon, co-director of the Americans for the Arts project, “Animating Democracy.” Here’s what that’s all about:

Animating Democracy fosters arts and cultural activity that encourages and enhances civic engagement and dialogue. It is based on the premise that democracy is animated when an informed public is engaged in the issues affecting people’s daily lives. The arts and humanities can contribute unique programs, settings, and creative approaches that reach new and diverse participants, stimulate public dialogue about civic issues, and inspire action to make change.

Several guests contributed to a conversation about using the arts as a tool to generate dialogue on pressing community issues, both chronic and acute. These are projects such as Sojourn Theatre’s “Witness our Schools," a groundbreaking examination of values related to public education in Oregon. The discussion also touched on a Sojourn project, “Common Threads” in Lima, Ohio, as well as Portland’s “Restorative Listening Project” which addressed issues of gentrification in North Portland. The facilitator of the latter project, Judith Mowry from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, was introduced warmly as “The Listening Lady.” She pointed our way to the Oregonian’s excellent coverage of that project by Erin Hoover Barnett and an online multimedia story that grew out of it – a nice example of how a traditional newspaper can effectively use technology to tell a story.

Culture Shock founder and contributor Culture Jock contributed to the discussion. Of course, he was equal parts pith and eloquence, with a dash of debonair. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a notepad, so can’t report on what he said other than making the smart point that some people grow frustrated with too much of the yakety-yak that doesn't lead to solutions.

Instead of more "dialoguing" (to use a particularly heinous term) on this topic, here’s a poem in honor of the last day of “National Poetry Month.” Written by American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879–1931), I like to think of it as an ode to community organizers.

Here’s to the Mice!

Here’s to the mice that scare the lions,
Creeping into their cages.
Here’s to the fairy mice that bite
The elephants fat and wise:
Hidden in the hay-pile while the elephant thunder rages.
Here’s to the scurrying, timid mice
Through whom the proud cause dies.

Here’s to the seeming accident
When all is planned and working,
All the flywheels turning,
Not a vassal shirking.
Here’s to the hidden tunneling thing
That brings the mountain’s groans.
Here’s to the midnight scamps that gnaw,
Gnawing away the thrones.


Unknown said...

That's a very cool poem, and a cool drawing of Mr. Mouse. I don't think I knew that Vachel Lindsay had another named attached in front. I'm thinking Booth must have beat it out of my memory boldly with his big bass drum.

MightyToyCannon said...

As Bob notes, the poet Vachel Lindsay does not usually have his first name "Nicholas" attached. I stuck it on there after checking wikipedia to get the years he lived. Lindsay was known for the musical quality of his poems -- an early precursor of "sound poetry," full of onomatopoeia and often accompanied by instructions for how each stanza should be accompanied or sung. He was also tagged as a rascist poet thanks to a ditty he wrote, "The Congo," but we won't go there now.

culturejock said...

I think The Oregonian's listening project about gentrification, and Sojourn's work on almost any community issue, are two stellar examples of democracy well animated! Would that all "deliberative dialogue" was as illuminating and productive. Good to see you yesterday.

And, nice poem. What a fine month of poetry it was.