"It's a good thing to die at least once in a lifetime."
That's Pueblo artist the Poet Spiel talking about his new exhibit coming to the Business of Art Center, and really, giving advice for life.
"Americans," he says, "just do anything short of embalming themselves while their hearts still beat to evade the issue of death, and I see it everywhere."
Spiel has seen a fair amount of death, too. This past winter he suffered a serious illness, and his life changed dramatically years ago when he was misdiagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which we chronicled in our profile, "The whole Spiel" (Jan. 27, 2011).
These events galvanized the artist and poet to create. For this BAC show, titled for dying out loud, he made paper quilts covered in rhymes, speeches and song lyrics. Spilled coffee and bleach stain these rugged works, which become frenzied and hysterical as the words drift into incoherence.
Other works are much older, like one of two paintings he created 50 years apart, each depicting a faceless boy in front of a white farmhouse. They are autobiographical icons demonstrating Spiel's struggle of growing up gay and bipolar in a World War II-shadowed era.
That's part of what he'll cover in "The Poet Spiel, also known as ..." a performance he'll give in place of an artist's talk. "I talk about the troubled spirit that was within me when I was a child," he says, "how I wanted to confine myself in the darkness of the big hay mound in our barn."
Spiel will dress in black scrubs and open the show in darkness, singing one of his poems, "Chair." He'll continue through changing lighting and topics — the names he's gone by, his turning 71 years old — and recite works like "On Swallowing," which is about his father's death. The show will end with one of his favorites, "Hairpin," a tender poem of an elderly couple's physical love. But even "Hairpin" has that razor's edge.
It wouldn't be Spiel otherwise.
"Art yanks at our roots, sometimes it hurts," goes a line in the performance. "Oh for dying out loud, sometimes life hurts."