Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A story from 1991 applicable to poetry communities today.

It was a weeknight in the late winter of 1991.

I was in Santa Monica to attend a meeting held by an anti-Gulf War group at Midnight Special Bookstore.  This wasn't the large, upscale store from the latter 90s-early 2000s; instead, it was perhaps one-fourth of the larger store's size, crammed with books and with a narrow floor space to fit metal folding chairs into.

The people at the meeting, predominately elderly folks active in progressive causes, were discussing various ways of taking action against the War (at that time, no one knew that the George H.W. Bush administration was planning to call a halt to the proceedings after roughly two months).

A man spoke up with an idea.  Another man in the room didn't like the idea and, while he didn't shout the first man down, proceeded to be vocal enough in disapproval to cause the first man to rise from his folding chair and leave the bookstore.

A woman near the naysaying man said something like "We need all the volunteers possible."

But the naysayer didn't respond to her; instead, he displayed a satisfied-granite facial expression which said: "I only want people around me who agree with everything I agree with.  He was wrong and deserved to leave."

Twenty-one years later, I look at the SoCal poetry community and I see much the same attitude as Naysaying Man expressed at the defunct Midnight Special bookstore.

To be honest, that attitude could often be found in my first five years (1998-2003) of poetry community activity.  For all the cliques that believed that their members were the only ones with poetic talent, there were other people (some of them now either deceased or living elsewhere) that believed in the "big tent" notion of poetry as a public activity where participation was encouraged whether you were a just-starting-out amateur or acclaimed Published poet.

Or, to state it this way: A long time ago, poetry communities had various segments expressing unconditional love.  Now, love is highly conditional, with even the sympathetic-to-others poets believing they have to conform and take what's given--even if it sometimes borders on hazing and/or forms of indentured servitude before a few peanuts of reward are granted to them.

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