The boy in the picture is Howard McCord.

He grew up to be a poet.

Obviously, this picture was taken BP--Before Poetry.

Before the writing of the thirty-some-odd books, before the two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, before the Fullbright that took him to India, before the hundreds and hundreds of poetry readings all over the United States, before the adventures walking glaciers in Iceland, strolling the jungles of SE Asia, or climbing tall mountains beneath the nuclear furnace sun, in his beloved deserts of the American Southwest.

Our film is about what happened to poetry after this picture was taken.

Howard in 1939

Howard in 1951

My name is John.

I am not a poet. I am a storyteller. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I shoot video.

I learned something. If you're dealing with a complex subject---like poetry, or like Howard---a picture is worth a thousand non-poetic words. A motion picture is worth millions of words (or, maybe, a few stellar poems.) As a storyteller I figured it wiser to film Howard & his work, than to try to describe him in writing.

Here's another thing: It's often wise to distill a complex subject to its essence. It's better to have a good taste of one dish than to try to fill your table with---and then taste---every conceivable kind of food.

You can't sit around a campfire or in a university theater, captivated by the sounds of a master poet holding forth, and not be curious about the sheer magic and power of the spoken word. If you talk, or if you listen, or if you write, then you need to know about poetry, even if you never do poetry. Knowing about poetry knocks the slag off of your spirit.

Knowing about poetry helps you speak and listen and write better.

Knowing about poetry helps you live and love and laugh better.

Pretend for a moment you're a filmmaker.

Pretend you're kind of interested in poetry to start with, if not as a poet then certainly as a lover of language and the magic of words. Then you come across this pretty fascinating poet who makes you want to grab your camera. He knows how to Distill It, how to explain poetry in terms anyone can understand. Not only can he explain it, he makes it interesting. Which is important, because as he says about poetry:

"The worst sin is to be uninteresting."

Which applies to human beings too, huh?

This poetry stuff has applications in the everyday world.

What to call this film? "World Poetry and The Poets Who Do It?"

Howard in San Francisco, 1967

Nah. "World Poetry and The Poets Who Do It" are two subjects way too broad for a single film.

So, how about this: Why don't we focus instead on poetry as seen through the eyes of one master poet? A poet who serves as spirit guide through this strange and wonderful, somewhat uncharted surreal landscape?

Howard in 1975

Without contrast, a photo is uninteresting.

A lack of contrast in a human being is even worse. It's like rigor mortis setting in, forty years before death shows up.

I've always been interested in people of contrasts, men and women who can walk life's long fence lines, or fly them in a helicopter. The peaceful gun nut, the physical man with the sharp intellect, the free spirit with six kids, the rock climber who lives on a pancake-flat plain, the gentle old poet who carries a switchblade. These sorts of people have something, don't you think?

They REALLY have something if they can figure out how to paint little masterpieces of life's realities in sixty seconds worth of spoken words. That's shaman stuff, my friend.

In martial arts, there are guys who strut around and throw their chests out and flex their biceps and make noise without saying anything intelligent. They lift weights and try to look fierce. Then you have calm, happy guys who smile a lot, walk like cats, and keep their cool. They can move if they need to move, and they do it in a way that makes the fierce boys gasp. The rest of the time, they cast a warm glow. They have a gentle power that makes them approachable as human beings---quite the opposite of the brash fighter who repels people.

Now think of poets. You know, anyone can roll a pack of cigarettes in his T-shirt sleeve, grab a mic and swing it around and look fierce and glare at the audience and yell his poems out in a bizarre Shatner-As-Kirk-On-Meth if decibel levels and "attitude" and whacky vocal rhythms alone actually mean something.

But, you know, there are cooler cats. And they're rare.

So I made this film about poetry, as seen through the eyes of one particularly happy, well-adjusted, and successful master poet. Maybe the only one.

Howard McCord is our guide in the film The Tao of Poetry:   a nonlinear exploration of the art.

Check it out. If you're not a poet, you'll want to be.

And if you are a poet, it'll clear things up for you.

Howard in 1989