Friday, November 4, 2011

Seven more thoughts as I leave the SoCal poetry building.

1. The titans of SoCal poetry come in three flavors: a. obnoxious and egomaniacal b. seemingly friendly, but likely to say less than kind things about you behind your back as they advance socially c. genuinely friendly and helpful no matter where you are in the scheme of things.  Have known people in all three categories over the past thirteen years.

2. As I've said before, I came into a poetry scene that had a larger welcome mat than it does now.  Ironically, the first venue I read/attended workshop at (Midnight Special Bookstore) had a shakeup where certain then-elite poets (Richard Beban and at least one of his fellow Hyperpoets) stomped away--apparently because the venue was too small-d democratic for their tastes.  Today, venues either set out to pattern themselves as/change their booking preferences to the Rose Cafe's Hyperpoets reading series as it existed in the late 20th Century--making Beban sort of the highbrow Carl Karcher, Jr. of SoCal.

3.  A very large number of SoCal poets may claim to be fiercely liberal in the social/economic senses, but they are rather passive and pay little attention to the "poetry community" changing in ways which eventually
discourage their active participation.  They have day jobs and they have fun at the readings they attend--and they, sadly, aren't bothering to take a long-term viewpoint until it's too late.  Then, nostalgia---and silence. 

4. And, as a corollary, they tend not to want to stick their necks out for troublemakers (few Tom Joads in LA/OC poetry).  If one of their own gets in trouble with a popular poetic authority figure, that's not their problem--unless that authority figure says/does something to them personally.  And, then, they're likely to find few-if-any fellow poets willing to listen to their problems should they choose to seek counsel.

5. Some veteran poets in the scene figure that, by embracing prevailing (and sometimes trendy) notions of "what's good", they can prolong their careers and eventually make some money.  The mania of getting an MFA degree to get the Right people to take one's poetry seriously still prevails.  However, I worry that, given the "we will anoint you as a Real Poet when we see fit--it may take years or decades" thinking here, an MFA may not change certain tastemakers' attitudes that easily.

6. Take self-appointed leaders with a grain of sea salt.  G. Murray Thomas knows a few things, but his blow-with-the-prevailing-winds pronouncements/reviews shouldn't make you feel like writing poetry you're uncomfortable with for "career" reasons/wasting money on an MFA if you don't agree with him.
7.  If you choose to remain in the arena, don't hesitate to spawn readings from your home--or even (gasp!) a coffeehouse.  I did both over the last few years--and am happy to have made a positive effort.

Now, it's your turn to pick up a banner and keep Southern California poetry from losing its regional flavor/diversity/idiosyncrasy entirely.

Some day--or some year--I hope to join you again.

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