Monday, October 20, 2008

The State of Poetry

So this is where we stand:

empty handed.

You've got Silliman, et al bounding on about poetry that no one (or statistically no one) cares about. It's interesting, maybe it's good, maybe it's not. But no one cares, so what's the point? It's a big circle jerk.

Then you've got the Saul Williams and Def Jam poets of America. Fantastically energetic stuff that JUST DIES on the page. Dies. Is dead. Kaput. It only lives when in someone's mouth.

Why is that a problem you ask?

You'd be right to ask. You know that I view poetry as an aural art. But I consequently view written poetry like a piece of sheet music. If no one else can play your work, it's just not that important. The performer is great but the piece is irrelevant.

So I'm planning to attack this thing through a different angle. Collect a few great poets (and other writers) and collect their new work in one place. Build an audience and go from there. Which is, really, what everyone does.

So what am I doing differently?

Well it's certainly different from what's going on now. There are too many writers, too much jumble. The content in poetry magazines is so hit or miss that this obscure blog is better and more widely read than most of them.

So we pare down.

Not a bad idea. But it's only half the battle. It only proves that recognition/money can be made in this racket without the direct intervention of Universities and pass-the-hats at poetry readings. That is, that money can be made from the Word. That may be blasphemous. I dunno.

The other half of the battle is winning young readers. We need an inside person in Scholastic. They need to publish an excellent book of understandable children's verse -- or rather, tween/teen verse. They've already sort of done this with Karen Hesse, but everyone agrees that the verse is secondary/childish/crap.

Of course, I think I have a book worth publishing, but what else the hell for would I be writing this blog?

But I'd be happy to see ANY book of excellent poetry fill the hands of schoolchildren like so many copies of Harry Potter.


Also, I need some poetry blogs to read and post to. Most of the ones I find are crap. But reading and posting will help "spread the word." Maybe I should hire Obama to do this. I hear he's quite the community organizer.


Jim Murdoch said...

Could I suggest you take a look at One Night Stanzas which is a new blog devoted to supporting up and coming poets. I think it's a great rallying point and she needs all the support she can get from people who believe in the future of poetry? I have an interview with the girl behind One Night Stanzas on my site at the moment.

I do poetry articles from time to time on my site too and I'd be happy to see you adding to the discussions in the comments when something piques your interest.

Kirby Olson said...

Every once in a while a poetry book does break through but it's generally very sentimental. Ginsberg broke through with amazing chutzpah -- he'd stop a whole street of traffic, and pass out his poems, creating a news story.

There's Rod McKuen.

Someone in the 70s wrote a book called The Gentleness of Wolves, or something like that, and we went nuts over it in 9th grade (1972).

But good writing is hard to read, you have to study it, and that means it won't be popular, and no money will come out of it.

Baudelaire said that a poetry book will repay a publisher if they have 50 years to wait. Baudelaire said his books would sell 3000 copies a year until the end of time. That's about right. He hit it.

But you need someone with huge bucks, and you need a door to that person.

Laughlin did that at New directions.

I wouldn't even know if there is a publisher for poetry that would read my book of poems outside of a contest. I've had poems in PArtisan Review, South Dakota Review, and hundreds of others, and I still doubt if I could get a publisher of poetry to even glance at my book.

If it were published, it would be even harder to get a person on the street to read it.

There's also very little that I will read.

I did read a lot of LANGUAGE poetry. It seemed to me to be to poetry what the pink stick of gum inside of old baseball card packs was to fine cuisine.

At best a gimmick.

However, I enjoyed something that Silliman wrote in his book The Age of Huts. In general, he's probably the best of the LANGPO group.

Bernstein is very stiff. I read his essays and find them stiff, too.

He had a good essay on the kind of verse in the New Yorker and pointed out how often it is about seasons. But I think that seasonal verse is lovely -- Ilike the Japanese aspects of seasonal verse.

Bernstein wants poetry to be political, and to make a point, and not be affective.

In general, the critical writing of LANGPO is far stronger.

I do like that Silliman is keeping the Nam tradition alive. I like a lot of it, even though in the end I'm not sure if it's any good in the everlasting sense.

Except Corso. He's for the ages, for sure.

Rachel Fox said...

I liked your comment on Jim Murdoch's blog about poetry and singing. I put a book out this year - that is I put it out poems are not nearly posh lit enough for most publishers and I have some odd poetry habits to do with minimum punctuation amongst other things. And the book? called 'More about the song'. So you're not alone!

G. M. Palmer said...

But good writing is hard to read, you have to study it, and that means it won't be popular, and no money will come out of it.

Kirby, that's hardly true. Gatsby and Potter are easy reads.

And so are Dante, Shakespeare, and Chaucer (if you can reasonably fake being a literate medieval or Elizabethan).

Good |= hard.

Kirby Olson said...

I can't imagine many people sitting down to read any of these except Potter these days. If by Potter you mean Harry Potter rather than Beatrix.

Shakespeare's very hard to read. You have to be prepared to climb a mountain.

G. M. Palmer said...

I meant at the time.

Any literate Elizabethan would have been able to read Shakespeare no prob.