I’m on the floor, a floor, the floor. A floor in an apartment in Pittsburgh, PA and it is glorious. The night before I was on a couch in a house in Parma, OH, just outside of Cleveland. The night before I was in the back seat of a white Chevy Impala traveling from a Belle, MO still-flooded all around from torrential rains earlier in the week, muddy Gasconade River hungering for more life, fuckers, yet, somehow, the literary gods smiled down upon this trip, and opened an eastbound route out of Belle around 8PM, which we used to hightail it to the Red Carpet Inn in Monroe, IL, and where I fall asleep at 2AMish in a bed mercifully free from bed bugs.
The scene is this: John Dorsey, Poet Laureate of Belle, MO, and all around indie poet tour de force (his 50th book just released last month) sits in the Impala’s passenger seat. He doesn’t drive. Victor Clevenger, a rising tide of poetic madness making a mark on this-this, whatever this is, wherever he shows up to read, drives that heavenly-white, smooth-sailing Impala without fail, without error, without objection. And, like I told ya, I am in the back, grateful for it all. We travel light, long, and relentless. This poetry is a this with a tankful of books.
The scene is this: At White Whale Bookstore in Pittsburgh, PA. ~50 people are inside, escaping what I’m told is a typical, cold, rainy, spring night in Pittsburgh. 50 people to hear/watch poetry read aloud. Does this seem typical to you? Would you expect 5 people? 500? The readers never know and I suspect those organizing the readings really don’t know either. But, just like a band playing for 1 or 10,000, the reader is expected to deliver. I feel good saying that the people I’m with tonight deliver like fucking Fed-Ex. Afterwards, folks mill about. We get questions about why we’d come from Kansas City to do this. The answer is simple but not wholly satisfying: This poetry is a this with a desire to move.
The scene is this: An upstairs bedroom of an otherwise unassuming house in Parma, OH. I don’t get to see it in person, but my mind’s eye tells me that that bedroom is chock-full of manuscripts and letter-pressed covers that will soon bind chapbooks and there are envelopes and pens and loose papers and notebooks and binders and paper cutters and inkjet printers and boxes filled with more impressively-printed documentation and markers and papers and papers and papers and books books books everywhere: books of friends’ work, books for friends, books for sale, books for trade, books to submit to contests, books to read, books to donate, books to carry along, and books to leave behind. This poetry is a this with an indie press like a record label.
This poetry is a this that is nothing new. Cities have birthed tiny presses since the dinosaurs first founded New Raptor City – but the dinos didn’t have the internets to organize in greater numbers across such great divides. This new poetry is a new rock ‘n roll, one that welcomes all ages, goes out of its way to respect its elders. This poetry rallies in jest against poetry less lived in and poetry written by the obviously unread and poetry that holds itself beholden to a performance without metaphor and is happy to embrace the imperfect. John Dorsey and Victor Clevenger and Juliet Cook and Jason Baldinger and Marlana Eck and R.A. Washington and Jeannette Powers and Paul Koniecki and Charlie Zero and probably you – reading this right now – are each little Johnny Poetryseeds – dropping verses here and there, sometimes near, sometimes far – in an effort to…to what? That’s the joy. Motivations are legion and community matters in order to cast and wrangle such a wide net and you see, there are others like you out there, others who want to read good poems, engage with a recitation, contribute to a thing that is a thing like any other thing yet this thing is a thing for misfit wordsmiths whom have not yet (for the most part) been given proper due but whom have already wowed audiences in ways that they beg for more. This poetry is a this for those making love in bookstores.
The scene is this: A 3-day small-press, poetry festival in Kansas City, MO that features a blend of out-of-towners and locals reading poems back-to-back-to-back for 5 hour stretches. It is exhausting and it is pure magic. Pure magic that the whole thing works. Pure magic that the quality of work is so incredibly high. Pure magic suffusing the air so evidently that all involved leave imbued with the tension arising from new connections formed between cities and poets, anxious for new projects to take shape, and the welcome flow of words and words and words flow from hands and mouths and minds. This poetry is a this spreading one chapbook at a time.
In Pittsburgh, Becky Corrigan reads delicate stanzas about life in a steel-hearted town.
In Pittsburgh, Karla Lamb whispers surreal stanzas.
In Pittsburgh, Victor Clevenger teases back door lovin’.
In Pittsburgh, Nikki Allen talks of Egypt and heartache.
In Pittsburgh, John Dorsey bellows, “Sam Ryan is in noodle heaven!”
In Pittsburgh, there is wine (of course) and beer (of course) and talking with writers about writers and what’s being written next and where to we’ll go after this. All of this.
This poetry is a this we can do as only we can do.
This is not a poetry screaming, “Fuck you!” to the world. It’s more sincere, though no less angry. This poetry is a DIY how you do how you do. This poetry is a this selling books for beer and gas. This poetry is a this that often calls “readings” “gigs”. This poetry is a this with pens and paper as 3 bare chords. This poetry is a This, by God. This is a this for those not trapped by words but trapped in words. This poetry is a this for the Attention Economy. This poetry offers breathing room to the Instant I. This poetry encapsulates engaged emotional response, effective in a few lines, a few seconds, hovers right on the edge of a swipe or a click or a yawn or a character limit.
What is this poetry-this? Those making the books know this-this without having to discuss it much. Those reading and writing the books are staking claims to this-this. Those who come to find themselves bearing witness to this-this come back and when they come back they may have a few loose leafs in their hand and a pen behind one ear. This-this is cats running around a house in the middle of the night looking for a way to get outside, outside where the squeaky mice live, where a bright moon shines, where the other cats wait to bite big ears then lick clean their wounds with sandpaper tongues.
This-this is every this before it. It is a punk rock and it is a hip-hop and it is a dada and it is an art brut and it is a rave and it is a beat and it is a lost and it is a hippie and a romantic, too. But this-this is, in its own mad way, its own twisty, line-broken this, whatever its tangential tentacled refraction of all other modalities of creative expression. And this-this, this-this, this-this…warrants your eyes and your minds and your engagements. I have seen. I have heard. And you should, too. This poetry is a this that you may well remember. This poetry is a this that is damned hard to forget.
2 thoughts on “Today’s Poets Breathe Through America Like Born-Again Punkers: An Examination of One Instance of One Literary Road Trip Out of Thousands of Literary Road Trips Occuring On Any Given Day in the U, S, & A”
Reblogged this on Writing on the Wall with Crayon and commented:
Jason Preu telling it like it is.
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Thanks for reading (and sharing), Shawn!