Monday, October 18, 2004

Poetry Today

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


Adam Hardin said...

How to Publish Poetry in the Academic Journals:

1. Write a Sloppy Prosy Limp Dick Poem.

2. Add an MFA to your Biography. Add a number of Pushcart nominations.

3. Submit.

4. Repeat steps 1-3

Anonymous said...

Poetry Today?

Was there ever a time when the ones at the top weren't viewed by the forgotten as lifeless? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

First an underground, then a movement, then a rung or two of respectability and lastly a footnote in someone who is respectable's history. Respectable (read 'weak' if you want) writers? Who wants to be one of those? All it takes to be a pro is to get someone to pay you to do it. Good or bad, if they pay? Guess what?

Condemning a 'group' in it's own time is a worthless exercise. In fact, it may be counterproductive. Brings them more attention from your ranks than they deserve. Ignore them in public except to raid them for converts. It's what they do to the rabble (read 'strong' if you want) writers, er rousers.

Wouldn't increased promotion of your ranks work better than dissing theirs to further your cause?