Friday, February 17, 2012

I use this blog to talk about my poetry and lots is happening with my poetry these days, so I'll try to give an update.

I took $291 over to Good Samaritan today; this was the proceeds from the Benefit Poetry Reading of Wed. night. Altogether four poets read including me, and I'll review each one a little simply as a way of reliving and recalling the event. To me the most compelling aspect of it was simply that we raised almost $300 and some cans of food (more may be coming in), so the charity nature of it put people in a good frame of mind and gave us something in common, namely compassion.

The first reader was Thomas Gault (left), who read the poems of Patrick Randolph, the headliner of the show who was home with a newborn baby. Patrick told him what to read and not all of them were actually his; some were from the Empty Shoes volume in which a variety of poets wrote about homelessness. His own book Father's Philosophy was also well represented. His reading was well received. He didn't sell a huge volume of books, but then, he wasn't there and what what people really like is when you sign them, and when they get to know you a little, I figure.

Kathy Cotton was the second reader; she's a friend of mine and a Quaker, and together we brought a number of Quaker friends who filled out the audience. She however said that her new book, though she expected it on that day, had not yet arrived. This was a disappointment. Her intense collage work is featured on her website and her prize-winning poetry, which she read, is available at the Illinois Poetry Society (http://www.illinoispoets.org/) where she holds various posts. I was impressed.

Then, she brought a friend from her performance-poetry crowd of friends; this woman, Tabitha Tripp, immediately went into a performance poem about the tigers in Ohio that were released from a safari place and had to be killed by authorities. It was this poem that stuck with me later, partly because of the performance aspect of it, and partly because at the point she was making a big deal out of "the 1%" (these tigers were apparently 1% of the world's population of tigers), all I could think of was the occupy protestors, their 1% nonetheless being entirely different. I include my tale of her performance because, if I were to do this benefit again (and I may), I would like to make it a little more performance-oriented.

I would not have really thought about the performance poets, but, in talking to Kathy about a week earlier, I had heard her say that through involvement with them, she had taken her own poetry, made it more lively to the ear, and won the Illinois Poetry Society Contest with the revised poem. She said, you can easily forget what you hear, but you shouldn't; it's a crucial part of the poem.

I picked out about sixty of over six hundred of the haiku in e pluribus haiku; only 570 appear in the printed book (which I'd published in a paper copy, and put on Kindle, in December), and i was disappointed that upon careful rereading I found a typo or two, a repeated poem, etc. Seven years worth of poems, and some seemed kind of stale to me, or from an era when I was trying to adhere to the truth of what happened (on a 48-state trip around the continent) that I sacrificed good poetry or effective use of sound. I was very excited about performing but it almost seemed to me like it was a story I'd withheld or suppressed for many years and only now was able to tell; this aspect of it gave me a strong feeling of finally telling the truth to the people in this small town. All these years, I stand in line at the post office scrawling my little poems but I don't want to really just tell folks, but now's the time to tell them.

I also got to talk about Actualism, which was good, because it's important to me, and this was a small group of people who might actually care, and it's the kind of thing that, as long as it's mentioned, once, anywhere, in any situation, it's still alive in some form, not forgotten. Iowa City took the brunt of my rough landing, from said 48-state journey, but Iowa City was the home of these Actualist poetry experiences then in the 70's that really more or less defined an era and showed how poetry can go in the direction of the moment, the here and now that we both see and feel.

These are the days of performance poetry, apparently, and this community meets on Monday nights though they don't even start until 9 pm, in a small but atmosphere-rich restaurant uptown. People live for this stuff, and it surprises me that in this small town a group of young people would keep it going and keep the spirit alive; I'd definitely do it, but for my family life, a job, kids, that kind of stuff. It, in some ways, is very actualist, though I don't really know, because I don't go there. It would be good for me, though; you perform a bit, you get better at it.

It's given me a boost, to have pulled it off, a successful reading that actually raised real cash. It was a good combination, and for that I thank Mr. Randolph, who conceived the idea of putting the two (poetry and homelessness) together for each's mutual benefit. Getting my poetry out of the book (and the web) and into the light of the voicestream was glorious and enlightening; those sixty or so poems will now be marked in my little copy of the book as having been read, and thus to me have a little more life than the others, another dimension. Not everyone can relate to the Alaska ones, or any particular one, but I got some sense of what they did react to, based on what happened. I was told later to slow down, let the picture sit there in people's mind after each one. You've drawn a picture, let them experience it.

The central question, to me, and I laid this out to them also, is whether to stick with a 5-7-5 knowing that the whole rest of the haiku world rejects it. I have a body of work, over 600; I want it to stick together; I want them all to work together like parts of a train work together to give you a rhythm and take you across the land. Another question involves the order of the book; Alabama is first but that's strictly alphabetical and puts a lot of pressure on a state that is possibly not the most appropriate one for that role. Reading them randomly, first Alaska, then Arizona, then whatever, gave me a kind of thrill of the moments being so diverse, so rich, yet it also wasn't true to the journey itself, which was one step at a time. But the journey itself included Mexico, Guatemala and above all Canada which was incredibly rich in its moments and textures; these unfortunately are not in the book at all. I guess an online version could possibly unite all the "trip" ones in one spot and at the same time not lose all the ones that were done since the trip, but still fit in there because of their geographical nature, or their character (example: flood ones, see below). It's an organizational problem; I mull it over.

I take breaths, so to speak, to see how it's falling out, and then I get back to work. Each state, I'm hoping, will tell an entire story, summer, fall, winter, new year, spring, with a diversity of poems some of which stay true to my experience, and others which capture moments that I want, & need, to be in there, a little less bound to the truth. The prose version, where I promise to stick to what happened, I was hoping to put out sometime this year and might in fact get to it, but there's no guarantee. I'm lucky if I can go back, put Pile of Leaves: Stories of a rake in presentable form and redo e pluribus so it has more of the character I want, based on what I already know. It's my solemn vow, I'll do my best.

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