Address by Mark Morris

Presented by Geraldine M. FitzGerald ’75, trustee, for the honorary degree Doctor of Fine Arts

unedited transcript

I’m a choreographer; I don’t talk in public too much, so I will be brief, because some of us are hot and some of us are a little hung over [laughter].

First of all, accept no advice, which reminds me that I have a little bit of advice here, to get it off my chest. I was reminded from the introduction that I meant to say something: I was on a trip to Bali, where art, society, culture — everything is linked fabulously in this wonderful place. I came back, jetlagged, and was watching TV and there was this man I’d seen in Bali, who was on TV. In Balinese — I didn’t understand it but it was subtitled — he said, “Without art, people would not be normal.” And that is true.

Anyway, here is my advice:

Have safe sex.
Your mother was right.
If you need to believe in God, be sure that you find a god that believes in women [applause].
Stay flexible enough to be able to change your mind without embarrassing yourself too much.
Take a moment to think of yourself really old, naked, looking in the mirror…and don’t get the tattoo [laughter].

I am going to read an essay by my hero, the poet and queer Frank O’Hara, in a statement for the New American Poetry in 1959. I wish I’d written this; I didn’t. Here we go:

I am mainly preoccupied with the world as I experience it. And at times when I would rather be dead the thought that I could never write another poem has so far stopped me. I think this is an ignoble attitude. I would rather die for love, but I haven’t. I don’t think of fame or posterity (as Keats so grandly and genuinely did), nor do I care about clarifying experiences for anyone or bettering (other than accidentally) anyone’s state or social relations, nor am I for any particular technical development in the American language simply because I found it necessary. What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid, goes into my poems. I don’t think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else; they are just there in what ever form I can find them. What is clear to me in my work is probably obscure to others, and vice versa. My formal “stance” is found at the crossroads where what I know and can’t get meets what is left of that I know and can bear without hatred. I dislike a great deal of contemporary poetry all of the past you read is usually quite great but it is a useful thorn to have in one’s side. It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or, conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incident which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or, each on specific occasions, or both all the time.

Thank you and congratulations.