Gene Burnett picks a card
Gene Burnett, Ashland poet, musician and Tai Chi instructor is a mercurial fellow. One moment goofy and lax with a Buddhist mellow and at other times booming with emotion, watching him perform, if not transform, is a unique experience. Like a micro-sized Dylan homage, Burnett performs his poetry by drawing from a deck of index cards and reading at random.
He never lets himself write a poem beyond the card. And for music, he has already recorded 11 albums. He attributes his prolific and broad nature to the Tao.
"To me, the Tao is about using less force," said Burnett.
He isn't relegating his philosophy to acts of martial force. Burnett is actually looking to a life of least resistance. In that, he seeks integrity; to do what is most inherently natural.
"My life is one big project. I seek out the genuine impulses. It's sort of my mantra to do what feels right.," said Burnett. "Within life; this project, everything I do is an expression of that; poetry, Tai Chi, marriage, music. It's all life. I don't feel like my songs preach that, most of them anyway. They're more like reports on my life.
"In this era right now, of MySpace and all, everyone says, 'listen to me, listen to me.' But, if everyone out there just does that, no one's really looking. As I've gotten older, I think that I've grown more generous in spirit. I want to hear others and encourage others to do so as well. If people are just 'listen to me, listen to me, listen to me,' no one really gets heard."
Burnett has 11 albums on his Web site. All of the songs can be heard or downloaded for free, though his digital tip jar is always hungry for donations.
Burnett's goal in this is to be heard.
"I just want to reach a wider audience out there," he said. "Why hold out on ten bucks an album? Why not just put it out there and see what people think it's worth? "¦I want to make it easy."
I started poetry through dialogues. It all fit on cards. This lucky, cool Ashland thing happened to me; I went to my first few poetry slam and was a judge."
They were all very mellow. One day, I competed and all the heavy hitters weren't around. I won. I haven't since, and I don't expect to, but it was so encouraging."
Since then, Gene Burnett, performing as Geneburnett.com has found an audience for his charming tendency of pulling out random strings of fortune cookie poetry from his deck of cards like some kind of quixotic Zen master. A dichotomy Burnett expresses is the yearning for spiritual harmony in the face of dogma.
"Look at Christ, for example," said Burnett. "You can read the Bible, go to Church all the time, be in that community, and do all these things. Or, you could just look at 'love thy neighbor' and go with that."
"I used to compete with a lot of strategy," said Burnett. "I've learned to be more organic. Since I've adopted that philosophy of just reading well, I've never not made it to the second round."
Maybe that's Burnett's Tao of performance; to just go with it.
"I've learned that the beauty and poetry of it is just connecting to human beings who actually listen for a second. "¦Robert Frost would get crushed at a poetry slam."
Burnett also works as a Tai Chi instructor.
"I'm that guy you see in the shell at Lithia Park giving private lessons," said Burnett. "I guess maybe that's my claim to fame."
Burnett studied for 12 years at the Xinqishen Dojo is Seattle under Andrew Dale.
"I just wanted a physical experience of the philosophies I believed," said Burnett.
Relishing the practice, Burnett eventually began teaching it; starting in retirement homes and community college and working his way up. He eventually moved to Idaho for two years, a little burned out on teaching, and resumed his own studies. Moving to Ashland, Burnett renewed his interest in instructing his art, but on a more individualized and personalized capacity.
"We were looking for a small town where we could live without a car and where people were interested in art and nature. This town just felt right."
"I've been focused on this viewpoint and defining it for a long time," said Burnett. "I'd rather work to be a six everywhere than a nine in some things and a two in others. I'm on a huge roll right now. I've had prolific periods before but this is something else"¦ "
Having just completed a new book which he is fishing to publishers, the whimsical Burnett sums up his philosophy with a little Sufi surfer charm:
"Rather than seeing yourself as a cork on the ocean, live more like you're surfing. Think of life as a wave. You are going to wipe out. You are going to die. So, how much style and grace can you have with it until then?"
Catch a wave with Burnett at www.geneburnett.com.