THERE's with poetry even more than with prose a huge gulf between vital underground artists and the establishment posturers placed by arts institutions at the forefront. (One reason why "more arts funding" isn't a cause which much interests me. By their nature, arts institutions, run by genteel people, tend toward the bland and the safe.)
In Philadelphia, for instance, when it comes to a choice, institutions like the Free Library and U of Penn will go with poets credentialed, castrated, and tamed-- while the genuine article runs wild on the streets. The folks who run the Monday Poetry series at the library are well-intentioned, but this year's line-up is extremely genteel, fitting well the garden tea party put-one-to-sleep stereotype which people have of the art. Those audience people who do look in are seldom made aware that poetry sometimes, in tenor and message, can be explosive and revolutionary; can unsettle and move people. Instead the audience hears gentle word-chirps about birds and trees.
THE PROBLEM with most underground poets is that their landscape is unsolvably divided by cliques, fiefdoms, backstabbings, personal grievances, envies-- and by the desperation of most of them to be handed a crumb of attention by the elites. The nature of a poet is to be egoistic and to see the world in an extremely personal way. They're unable to step back and take a larger view of their scene, or have an understanding of the larger literary scene of which they're part. They see only next week's reading, and those who don't show for it, and who is or isn't the "feature."
For underground poets to stand together and stand up for themselves they first need to be able to stand, period-- to have backbones to raise themselves above the insular scenes and see the world as it exists in reality.
(The ULA in coming weeks will be reaching out to more poets across the country. Also, poetry is regularly featured at the ULA Blog, accessible at www.literaryrevolution.com.)