Searching for an Alternative Poetry Community
It was weirdly hard to focus this…it addresses two different yet related problems that have been gnawing at me in relation to the poetry world. One, it is a dying artform and two, even within that dying artform, it is hard to find the subculture of poets I enjoy and I am represented. During the drafting phase paragraphs kept diverging and cross crossing, led by passion yet with very little restrain. I suppose that is my main issue with prose anyway, maybe that is why I love poetry just so much, every word is calculated, there is no room to go off on tangents. I love tangents.
From the time that I started loving poetry, I loved the outsider schools: the confessionals, the beats, the outlaws. From Marianne Moore, to Anne Sexton, to Charles Bukowski, to Allen Ginsberg, to Frank O’Hara, to Kim Addonizio to Jeffrey McDaniel, I loved the voices that talked about life, hard life in a beautiful way. They were relatable, they elevated the real human experience, they knew how to manipulate you.
The more education I received, I learned just how apt all of these writers are at their craft. You have to know the rules before you bend and break them to your will. They may use common words and vulgarities and talk about the common people, but they did it all with intent, they did it all to guide you into their space.
I respect the Robert Frosts, the e.e. cummings, the Walt Whitmans of the world. I just wasn’t able to relate, I wasn’t able to become lost in their nature, in their romance, in their forms. They made me feel like the outsider that I was, and I was more than okay with that. I had already found my mentors.
Or had I? I plowed through my undergrad like a girl on fire. I was writing, I was double majoring, I had multiple workshops a week, there was nothing going to stop me. Then I graduated, found a job, and started to live in the real world. That was when I started to realize how sparse the poetry community is, there were readings and open mics, but I never seemed to identify with any of the poets. There were spoken word poets who mesmerised with their inflections and their cadence, there were love poems that laid themselves bare on the floor, there were angry rich kids who believed that the more obscure the language the better the poem. Yet I never fit in with those groups. I couldn’t find the writers who spent their daylight hours hiding in a dark bar, those who absorbed themselves into loud thrashy music at night, those who were out living in the streets of today’s society.
When I was a kid I had punk rock, but I have never seemed to find that community in poetry. Where are the young Bukowskis or the budding Kim Addonizios? Where is the poetry that comes from the gut, the poetry that puts words together to make your heartache or to ignite revolution, the poetry for the rebellion, the poetry from the gutter, the poetry that distills the pure emotions and the complexities of the world into the perfect words, with not one extra character. Those are the poets that I want to read. Those are the poets that I want to know.
Poetry has been taken from it’s lofty position of Ancient Greece or Elizabethan England and dragged through classrooms and broken hearts. It has been sanitized and bastardized. It’s been forced into rhyme schemes by sticky fingers and panicked high school students. It has been dripped in perfumed sweetness of lovers and beaten with the fists of broken hearts. Until it lost its purpose, until it lost its power.
There are great traditional poems, the ones that though they are well well crafted and aren’t my style. And even those, which seem to appeal to the masses as they are read at open mics and workshops at the local coffee shop, still aren’t making a dime. Traditional or outcast, we are relegated to giving our work away for free or buying one another’s books, just to get out work out there, instead of creating a new space for the artform or demanding respect and a living wage.
But then, I think about the fact that poetry really is a dying artform. When was the last time someone names a new poetry school? When there was a collection of poets who were writing in the same style and making a mark on our society? Even the spoken word poets barely made a splash in the 90s with MTV and record deals in their corner. We’ll never get that recognition or living wage unless we figure out how to make this work in the internet age, with short attention spans, trivial memes, and people who aren’t looking up from their phones, even when they are at an event or out with friends.
I suppose now I’ll have to keep searching for that community, those poets whose work is meant to be read in the bar, or on the street corner, at a punk so, or in AA. Keep searching for the poems that are dripping with whiskey, the ones that don’t mind a little blood and are always caked in dirt, all the while, showing the beauty of those places and people. Yet I have no idea where to start looking. What do I look for? What keywords and tags to I use to to discover those poets. DIY has been taken over by crafters, zines has been taken over by comics, punk is music exclusive these days, outlaw has more of a southern twang, outsider , underground, and alternative are relatively quiet. Maybe we can take over them? Create our own community with a name that can attract other like minded poets, hell, even other like minded artists. We have to find our community without having someone to rally around. We have to start it from the ground up, true DIY style until all the smaller communities ignite into the next movement.
Oh, and, if anyone wants to give me ideas for tags or keywords, if you want to point me to a community, or start one, let me know, I am an island here.