Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Revisiting an old inside-baseball post on poetry.

Perhaps the one positive of the fallout over Kate Gale's unfortunate comments regarding the AWP and inclusivity (which is still being felt by Red Hen Press) is that some poets/authors are choosing to think for themselves and not merely take what they're given (if they feel what they receive from their publisher isn't sufficient) for fear of losing a Big Chance.

Here's part of a years-ago blog post I wrote, with minor changes plus updates in brackets:
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 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 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 [chief ex-Hyperpoet] Richard Beban [now residing in Europe] 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.  [And, if you want people in the community to listen, avoid gender-targeted remarks and "oh, you're a bad poet" retorts if you don't care for what you hear.]

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 [though, over time, some readings may drop a crumb or two resulting in momentary profile-raising].

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a "Titan" and I've spoken out in support of Gale and Red Hen Press. I'm not doing this because I have any kind of acquaintance with Gale (I don't) and I don't do this because I necessarily like any of the poets she has published through Red Hen Press. In fact, I can honestly say that the percentage there goes towards the "not like" category.

    I defend Gale and Red Hen Press because it is the ethical and right thing to do. A person should not lose their complete livelihood, built over 20 years, over some dumb thing written in HuffPo. I don't have to support her. I can think of her as a dumb twit. But it is unethical behavior to tear down her life's work. This is wrong and must be stopped cold.

    This pitchfork army of social justice warriors are worse than the institutions they are trying to overthrow and, if they are successful, will be more tyrannical than anything current. And if YOU think YOU, Terry, have any place in their agenda, then all I have to say to you is good luck with that.