Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Moratorium (For Claire Donato and Jeff Johnson)

There is not enough poetry.
There is too much poetry
Both statements are true in America today.
This is partially because of distribution and mediation
(not because of the quality of the work).
I’ve seen avocadoes drop from trees
And rot on the lawns of the rich
While the poor must pay $1.50 on sale at the store.
A little can go a long way…

Poetry is not reaching the people who need it
& many who need it, don’t know, or like,
what they’re told is poetry.
It starts with a name, the “P” word.
The loudest speakers have a narrow definition.
That does not dare include
At least some pop songs (not mere lyrics)
Or stand up comedy and sermons

Some see such inclusiveness
As a watering down of standards.
Some fear it could threaten the contemplative mode,
The necessary solitude---but tweets and texts
And “social media” is more a threat to that
Than the fine art of the song is.

Some fear it can threaten the “safe space” of the coterie,
Especially one that is socially based on the poetry reading.
I seriously entertain
The proposal that poetry readings
That are not also organizational meetings
And do not get people dancing and communicating
Should be banned (for at least 6 months).

This “standard” has done more harm to the power of poetry
Than any creative writing workshop.
I sing the creative writing workshop more than the poetry reading.
I sing the dialogic collaboration as a meeting place
In which the living word of conversation
Can meet the beautiful—or even ugly—artifact
Just as a 45RPM record comes alive 50 years later
In the young and old people dancing to its MP3.

Yes, Robert Creeley and James Brown
Emily Dickinson and the Queen of Soul
Form a necessary coalition
that can put Hollywood back in its little place
Of course, writing is a compromise
I embrace that knowledge with a question:
But what are we compromising with?
Who are we reaching, and why?
Are we even reaching each other?

And I embrace poets in the schools programs.
Kenneth Koch’s work makes me happy
And the performances of Le Roi Jones’
Spirit House Movers makes me even happier.
You may scoff when I tell you
The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”
Was the first poem I cradled and was cradled by
Even before I knew the word.
But yes I won my Ashbery cred, and burden
And I can speak your Shakespeare and Beatles too…
We need more teaching gigs—
More collaborative creation!

Oh poets, you can hate my writing,
Scorn my art, my prepared speeches
And texts. Feel free. I do not “mind.”
I’ll pay that price
Because I know I’ve been seen
scorning yours,
but that’s just because more is less
and we need to put the space back in
to face book, or at the poetry reading
stopping after one intense poem
and giving a few words time to sink in
and saying let’s talk now
if you need more prepared texts
you got the solitude
where the book and recording
can come alive---
but we’re together now,
what can we build?