Sunday, June 8, 2008

Re-posts, for poets everywhere

A Writer's Blog (Responses welcome)

[June 8, 2008]
I started this blogging process in January 2005, in Greeley, CO, and I have heard that people have enjoyed it.

This is the premise that all the blogs I wrote were based upon:

"In the spirit of avoiding bragging and slipping into exaggerations etc., I will make a few simple rules for this blog before I forget them: (i) only write about things about which I can be completely honest, (ii) tell the whole truth whenever practical or possible."
[Jan. 22, 2005]

Looking back on all of this now (from the center of Philadelphia), this first "mission statement" modified into being more specifically about themes of interest to poets, younger poets especially.

I think it is possible that blogs may inadvertently contain or become "literature," and it seems to me that just as the pop culture was decades ahead of the critical community of academia regarding film, the pop blog ("blop" culture?) may be decades ahead of the critics again.

Whenever academia catches on and catches up, it has tendencies to throw up [sic] on everything so much pseudo-hyper-intellectualization that it ruins everything. I know this because I have a Ph.D. in British Literature from NYU. So before someone realizes what the significance of popular blogs is, I think that readers and writers should try to push this thing as far as it can go. Toward this end, I'm going to be revisiting my old blogs and reposting the most enduring ones (i.e. I still get a laugh out of them or there is something worth remembering there) and writing new ones on similar themes.

Here is the first "Re-post."

"It is January 11, 2005 10:44 p.m. in northern Colorado, i.e. it's past midnight in the world I used to call home.

I decided to start writing this blog to record a few observations that deal fairly strictly with being a writer in the increasingly strange world.

Last night I gave a reading with another poet, Tim Hernandez, in Denver in the LoDo Tattered Cover. I have been very sick with a virus, so getting there was very hard, actually. The distance from Greeley to the reading was about 65 miles each way, and I'd never been there before. So after work (teaching), after crashing for a while, after not being able to eat much anyway, and after some medicine took hold, I hit the highway where, to my surprise, most of the traffic was cruising way over 80 mph, a lot of it near 100 mph. This was harrowing for an east coaster where the upper limit is usually 65 mph, or frequently less.

Anyway, the bookstore itself was beautiful, as promised, and the fact that it was nearly empty did not diminish its charm, its vastness, its uniqueness. The event room was really great: clear acoustics, a tall podium, glasses of water at the ready, a wide stage, neat stacks of poetry books on large desks, the nicely displayed book covers with tattoos, the large author portraits on the wall, seats for a hundred people, a thoughtful host/emcee in evidence (though not immediately present), and two people waiting for a reading to start.

The two people in the audience at 7:27 (the reading started at 7:30) were very nice. They were both casually but smartly dressed women in their late twenties, short hair, glasses, maybe. I said, "Hi." "You're one of the poets," one of them said.

Thinking that I've had worse audiences, I said, "I guess you're the audience."

One of them said, reassuringly, "I'm sure more people will show up." Then, as if on cue, the host walked in and promised to find the other poet.

Actually, since I know roughly two people in Denver, I was hoping the other guy would bring some people. A bunch of my students said they would try to come, but I knew it was a very, very long shot as any one of them would have to be as crazy as I am to drive 130 miles roundtrip for a reading by a guy you could hear in your hometown. Right?

But then one of them came! And from almost as far away, Ron, another workshop participant from Boulder, and his mother came, and another guy from Boulder who somehow just knew my work and had seen me before also showed. Confronted with that kind of—what would you call it—friendship? respect? of the people who came so far just to hear me, I decided to go for broke in the actual reading once I got up there.

Before it started there were maybe a dozen people, not including Tim's wife and two kids. Tim, who read first, had a wonderful, warm, open style. He actually invited and got questions from the audience in the midst of his reading. He was so casual on the one hand but very evocative and impassioned in the midst of his reading itself, on the other. There was warm applause after almost every poem he did. It was also nice to hear about his theater background and theatrical endeavours and how they complemented his poetry writing. (That was something we had in common, actually. Plus we were both married and had babies in the home. I really wanted to talk to him more after it was all over.)

After I was introduced, I wanted to make a joke about the fact that both of our books featured big tattoos very prominently, but being sick I forgot to say, "I guess it's Tattoo Night at the Tattered Cover." (The host, who had tattoos, had admired the beautiful image on my bookcover and asked about it.)

In the reading itself I felt better and better. I hit a certain space deep inside the poems where you lose all self-consciousness and just let them take over. At one point I realized that the interpretation I was doing was actually far better than the studio version I'd killed myself over for many months. That was kind of a great revelation on the one hand, but at the same time, part of me was thinking— "Sh$#— gotta get back in the studio and redo this whole %#^%$&* thing!"

Another thing that dawned on me in the midst of that 30 minutes was that I was very turned on by Denver.

For a thousand miles around Denver in all directions, there isn't anything else really like a big city. Denver is the most isolated major urban center in North America. Maybe it's even worse than that. Maybe it's the most isolated metro area in the western hemisphere. I forget where I read this factoid.

But Denver threw me into high gear the last time I read there also at the Colorado Poetry Festival. I got to read in a renovated brewery with a vat twenty-feet wide in my line of sight. Somehow that was inspiring to me.

I think this Denver effect may be due to the fact that my "hometown" is Philadelphia, a major east coast city with 1.4 million people within its bounds, and at least as many in its neighboring satellite/suburb counties. For me to go to Denver is exciting in the same way it was exciting when I'd go from the suburbs into the big city where all the interesting and strange people and things were.

Why do so many of us poets and writers have to leave the great cities that we came from?

It's kind of like an intellectual diaspora, and the economics of the conservative policies of the last decades have made this the norm, not the exception. This means that intellectual communities in America are continually losing their eloquent spokespeople; the cities that used to start revolutions in coffeehouses now merely house chains of Starbucks, Seattle's Best, and the next big whatever."

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