In an effort to be more present on this blog as the new year approaches, in addition to new material, I will be revisiting older pieces of writing that were ‘lost’, under read, or are no longer available elsewhere. This particular piece was published way back in 2009 with Associated Content. I don’t think much has changed since I penned this one, and it seems just as pertinent as ever.
Underground Poetry Takes The Wheel
No matter what scene or subculture you find yourself in there is always the “Us versus Them” mentality. For instance, when I was a young man playing in bands it was always indie vs. mainstream… now years later as a poet it is the seemingly endless battle between the underground and the academics.
Now by all qualifications, I am an underground writer. Most of the writing I read would be considered the same as well but still, I have really tried to stay away from the underground vs. mainstream argument for several reasons.
For one, good poetry is good poetry regardless if it’s released by a major press or the most underground publisher. It doesn’t matter if it’s penned by the most D.I.Y. street poet or the Poet Laureate.
Secondly, it would be one thing if the academic poetry community was rolling in money and best-selling books, but they are not. No one is reading their poetry either.
So I try to keep out of it.
The question begs to be answered. Why is poetry in the state it is in? When I contemplate the question, that’s when I tend to reluctantly take sides and the finger wagging begins.
If poetry has a bad public image would it not be the fault of the ones in charge of what the general public sees?
Most people have their first brush with poetry in high school where they have some of the biggest load of kings English shoved down their throats. Oh sure, they let you read the occasional safe Whitman poem, but other than that it’s the same old trite crap that it takes an English professor to decipher for you. Poetry so workshopped that it is devoid of any meaning or emotion.
Is it any wonder why most people don’t read another verse after high school? This is the general public perception of poetry, which really is pretty silly. Can you imagine people being so closed minded about any other form of art? For instance, can you imagine someone who has never heard music before hearing one song of one genre and basing their entire opinion of music in general on this one song of one genre? Someone asks them what they think of new generic radio hit and they say, “Oh, I don’t listen to music. I listened to it once in high school and I just didn’t care for it.” It’s absurd, considering music is a limitless sea of genres where there is virtually something for everyone. Just like poetry.
We can even go so far as to say a member of the general public decides to attempt poetry later in life and they go to their local bookstore. Unless they sift through the books in the poetry section and stumble upon some of the more adventurous books, they will probably just go to the magazine section and pick up Poetry Magazine or The Paris Review…. and have instant horrible flashbacks of high school.
Of course, there are always the more subversive types in the know searching out underground poetry, music, etc. But for most the source of information comes directly from the ones in control of public image.
The ones who represent the public face of poetry are the academics and they have failed at capturing the imagination of the average reader.
They have failed to relate to the impoverished, the factory worker, the auto mechanic, etc.
In short, these people are in the driver’s seat. You do not wrest control by tapping on their shoulder and politely asking them to please let you drive for a while. For one reason, they wouldn’t even let you in the car in the first place.
Are they going to easily let go of the little bit of poetry success there is? Are they going to instantly let go of their college internships and minuscule amount of money that is being made? No, of course not.
Quite simply, we have to take the driver’s seat. We have to take control of the P.R. machine.
Then the people can begin to see what poetry can be. Poetry can be exciting; it can be rock and roll. Enlightening poetry does not mean hours of study, it can be that instant moment of realization.
So how do we carjack the poetry machine?
I don’t know. I’m a factory worker and so called “underground” poet. If I had a clue I would probably not be writing this right now. All I can think is we keep doing what we are doing. We keep writing, we keep publishing, and we keep pushing the hell out of our little shows. We become full time non-stop promoters not just of our poetry, but of poetry its self. We don’t just preach to the choir, we preach to the mob. We write poems for the factory worker to the office worker. We tell the academics to pull over, this is now our car.