As I’ve been reading about new American poetry, I have repeatedly come across assertions stressing the difficulty of describing the contemporary poetry scene, for all its diffuseness. As Hank Lazar suggested, the field is so “atomized, decentralized, and multifaceted” that “no one can pretend to know what is out there, or what is next.” Almost as often, I am finding assertions that “something new” is happening, for all of the difficulty in describing it. If not nail it wriggling to the wall, I hope to catch and convey a glimpse.
I briefly walked down one path in my research, before catching myself and running in the other direction. That is to say, I started researching modern academic poetry – that complex, arcane science that seems to me impossibly removed from common access. Let the institutions have it! I’m not maligning it. But my concern with this piece of journalism is to find how performance poetry is carving a niche in popular culture, not whether it is poo-pooed or praised by professors.
Among enthusiasts, there is the belief that performance poetry is a return to poetry’s roots – an oral tradition by and for the common people, to make sense of and lift themselves out of their everyday lives; poetry as a populist art form. The basic functions of art – holding a mirror to society, inspiring reflection, introspection, and joy in the sublime – are carried out by television and movies for many people. Can poetry reclaim a place in average American lives? Many of the essays that I am reading boldly declare that it can and is in the process of so doing. Acclaimed poet Luis Rodriguez said, “The fact is, poetry is having a resurgence in America, and mostly from the communities and populations normally not considered poetic, such as the homeless, gang members, midwives, prisoners, carpenters, etc.” So often, art is created in a crucible of sorts, from life’s pressures. It seems natural to me that poetry should come from the unsung places. I am starting to understand how the poetry of the masses and of the academies are entirely separate things.
This is a rough video from the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan that I cut the other day. I had to keep it within narrow time specifications, and the lighting is bad, but I intend to improve and repost it, as well as several other videos of whole performances from this night.
So catch a glimpse (if I did it well enough to provide that).