Friday, July 16, 2010

An argument made for why you see the same dozen-or-so poets featuring all over town.

About to commit a no-no.  Someone wrote me this justification of the current LA/OC scene awhile back and it's worth sharing with the public.  The unnamed person seems to think of me as Andrew Jackson wanting to let the great unwashed into the White House on Inauguration Day; this is because I believe that even "established" readings need to have more of a mix of new talent and honored veterans.  Nowadays, you mostly get the latter (plus "published" poets of renown).  And I'm also implicitly slammed for having insufficient "taste."

Anyway, here it is with highlighting by me:

My impression is there are still plenty of places for the beginning poet to get their first feature.

A couple of things to consider. Today's well-credentialed poets are often yesterdays beginners. Wheeras ten years ago, most of the credentialed poets came from outside the coffeehouse poetry scene, now many of them come from within it. We're still featuring the same poets, but their status has changed.

Similarly, many poetry readings have grown in stature. Ten years ago it was pretty much Beyond Baroque and Laguna Poets who had the status to attract big name poets [this is incorrect--around this time and before it, the Hyperpoets-programmed Rose Cafe offered the same service; the Rose Cafe approach now is copied by several venues in LA/OC]. Now, Cobalt has been running for over fifteen years, Redondo Poets for about twelve, and Ugly Mug for ten. Along the way they have earned enough respect that big name poets will consider featuring for them.

Both of these points indicate that ten years ago, many readings had a smaller pool of poets to choose from, and therefore may have given more opportunities to beginners, only because they didn't have many more options.

But as I said, we could go back and forth on that point forever. What bugs me about your posts is the underlying argument that hosts should not be choosing their features based on the quality of their poetry. In fact, you seem to often be arguing that there's something wrong with the whole idea of assessing poetry for quality. That mediocre poets deserve the same opportunities as the really good ones.

You say that raising the standards for features unfairly cuts out a lot of poets. I say it should merely encourage them to write better poetry.

As an addendum to the unnamed person's lengthy quote above, I'll say this:
Years ago, there were more venues in LA/OC then there are now.  At that time, the pool of poets was a fairly large one--but filled with more storytellers, comics, performance artist/improv types (most of them seem to have moved on or have been culled from feature consideration) than now.  And there were also plenty of poets with literary aspirations--a lot of them now MIA or moved to other cities/states.  Perhaps the current conception of "quality" means that social climbing (in certain cases) and worship of Masters of Fine Arts-degree-holders determines a lot of booking choices.

I've never said that poets who are absolutely terrible should get booked (unlike what the unnamed person seems to be saying), just that more new talent like, say, Noor Al-Samarrai (who gave a fine feature at Coffee Cartel weeks ago--in that increasingly rare, say, one out of ten moment when someone not a Name gets a booking there) shouldn't be pushed aside for the 900th booking of [name your favorite overexposed veteran poet here] because he/she won a literary prize or finally found a Name publisher to put out a Real Book.

[UPDATE 7/18/10: Heard from a blog commenter using the moniker RitaJoo about the above post--the commenter made a remark that's a bit too stupid and crude to reproduce here.  Suffice it to say I did send a link to this post to the person I quoted, and he's okay with the unauthorized use of the quote; he stands by his statement in its entirety.  This is a rare exception to keeping private correspondence private--and if the quoted person had asked it to be taken down, I would have obliged.]

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