Danielle Rose issued an extraordinary tweet. She was the poetry editor of Barren Magazine. She tweeted,

I wish poets understood that the general population has no interest in what we do, so when we speak we are speaking only to each other. The delusion that poetry is something powerful is a straight line to all kinds of toxic positivities that are really just us lying to ourselves.

That tweet—the first part of it—reminded me of something that Ned Rorem, the American composer, told me some years ago. I interviewed him in 2002 (writing it up here). He said,

. . . the general public has no notion of what it is we composers do. We’re a despised minority. Actually, we’re not even that, because we don’t even exist, and to be despised, you have to exist.

He further said,

Intellectuals in America might know about painting past and present, and about literature, but if they know music today, it’s pop music, and I and my brothers and sisters are not part of their ken.

Barren Magazine fired Danielle Rose over her tweet. To read a story about this, go here. My friend Elizabeth Conquest quipped that Barren is apparently well named. The magazine, incidentally, describes itself as “a literary publication that features fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and photography for hard truths, long stares, and gritty lenses.”

About Danielle Rose, I know nothing, save her tweet (and her employment status). But she seems to me an exceptionally interesting person.

I am writing a brief post today, and may write about all this at greater length—proper length—later. But one of the issues is: Should composers write music that people want to hear? Are they writing for one another, or for a closed circle, rather than the public? Should poets aim to write poetry that pleases the public, or at least a substantial portion of it?

Here’s what I think, and it’s very simple: People ought to write the music that is in them (or the poetry that is in them). If it’s popular, great. If it’s not, and it probably won’t be: what can you do? We can be true to ourselves. (Pardon the sappiness.)

I have touched on music and poetry—but what we’re talking about applies to many another activity, too, as you know.

With some regularity, I have occasion to think of something that George Rochberg said. He is another American composer, who lived from 1918 to 2005. The life of a composer—a modern classical composer—can be hard. You’re in for a combination of neglect and abuse. (“They deserve it,” you might say. But that is a subject for another time.) Rochberg said to a friend of mine—a composer starting out—“It takes an iron stomach to be a composer.”


To be continued, by all of us.

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