Here is the last first draft of my video. I plan to revise the ending.
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Here is the last first draft of my video. I plan to revise the ending.
I had the good fortune to meet a man named Lytle Shaw,
who is coincidentally an English professor at NYU, at an after party for some poets who had performed at the Bowery Poetry Club last Saturday. I was there to interview a poet named Rob Fitterman, but Lytle ended up doing much of the talking. Its wonderful that you can randomly meet such fascinating people in this city. I won’t talk about Lytle’s accomplishments as a poet. you can read some of his stuff here. More important for me was the new direction he, and the whole party group that night, got me thinking in. Here is a transcribed excerpt from that interview:
Me: Do you think any professional poets are down on slams?
Lytle: yeah, of course. Somebody’s down on everything.
Me: But do you think it’s a pretty widespread feeling among professional poets?
Lytle: Conversations like this have happened because of all the attention that’s been paid to slams. They always come up as the one form of popular poetry and everybody feels anxious about that, because that’s the extent of the so-called “public’s” engagement with poetry, and it’s not very much of an engagement. So they feel called upon to reflect on something that they may not even themselves be very concerned about. Like I don’t think that people that read in the Segue Series are thinking very much about Slam poetry. It’s not a major frame of reference for them. They’re thinking about modernism, they’re thinking about the history of poetry outside of performance poetics in the last thirty years. So its great that they were able to make a certain version of delivered, performed poetics popular, but it should not come to stand for the whole history of poetry.
This may not illustrate the extent of what I learned from those men and women that night, which is this – I’m not particularly over-concerned with slam poetry either. One point that was repeatedly made that night is that slam poetry is too often about identity, or self-expression, and this can only go so far. Its not fair to say that all of performance poetry is this way, but slam is just one form of performance, contained in a competitive format. Slam increasingly seems like a sort of entry-level poetics. I’m looking for more than that, something beyond slam yet not antiquated or inaccessible. Not just what is compelling to me, but a sophisticated performance poetic subculture, a new genre. ***************************
The Bowery Poetry Club is perhaps most important in it’s role as a nexus for all things performance poetry happening in the City. This creates a collaborative, cross-fertilizing opportunity for the poets, thus encouraging innovation, while providing the audience with precious insight into the current performance poetry landscape (at least that of New York). The range of shows is spectacular. For the next several Sundays, rather serious seminars will be held about the impact and legacy of major New York poets like Whitman and Ginsberg. Then this coming Tuesday, a poetry and avant-jazz trio will be providing an alternative soundtrack to the silent 1925 classic, “The Lost World,” which will be playing on the big screen on stage. These two programs are isolated events of the type always moving through the BPC. In the regular lineup, every Saturday there is a college slam competition followed by a professional poetry show, of some sort.
I have noticed a salient feature of all the young poets that read in these amateur competitions – they all seem to be wrestling with massive inner demons and childhood scars. Last week, two of the winning poets rapped about having been raped, and growing up without a father. The young man that grew up without a father had been stabbed in the face as a boy and had a damaged left eye. Their readings were both powerful, even approaching sublime at moments. However, I think I was more moved by their poems that weren’t about their inner pain, though that is, in itself, very jarring. Perhaps I would not have felt that way if I didn’t already know some of their secrets by the time they got around to reading their less personal stuff. For instance, Kareem (the young man with the damaged eye) took the stage for his final reading and said, a little shyly, “This one’s about nature…I like nature,” and then recited a beautiful description of full clouds before a downpour and at sunset. I hope to post that video on this blog this weekend.
It’s a coincidence that I ended up, after all, basing my documentary on poetry in Manhattan and the Bowery Poetry Club as the nexus of it (the BPC does hold that distinction, with the greatest sheer variety). This was one of my first ideas, but I felt like it was too fluffy, or something like that. But this is not the coincidence. That would be the fact that one of the very first images I shot with the camcorder that I bought for this class was a poetry reading at the BPC, that I just happened to be at. One of the notables was Taylor Mead, a very old man who was once part of Andy Warhol’s factory scene. He name dropped Warhol incessantly, in case the audience missed the point.
Anyhow, he was damn good. SEEEEE:
Though Taylor was swamped with sycophants that night, I have a feeling that he would do an interview. He does a show at the BPC every Friday night. He lives in the neighborhood and this is just part of his weekly ritual. He was such a peculiar old man. Though he must be in his Eighties, he talked about his father and his family as if he were still the prodigal child, or the black sheep that embarrassed his aristocratic parents. He even said at one point, “The problem with growing old is that you’re still young.” From interviews with him that I have seen, it seems that he is pretty well established as a local historical authority on a certain scene – Warhol, 1960’s New York, the Art scene at that time. He is fascinating in himself, but I don’t know what place he would have in my documentary about contemporary New York poetry. Please leave a comment if you can think of an answer to this dilemma.
So I’ve been communicating with a madman named Bob Holman. He owns the Bowery Poetry Club. His poetry resume is insane! He first published in the late seventies, a collection of poems called Tear to Open. Of course it’s a big damn inconclusive metaphor. Every couple of pages was stuck together at the edges, so you had to rip the connection apart to read every turned page. Part of the idea is something like ‘creation is a violent act,’ although that could be misleading. Paraphrasing just can’t sum it up here. He delivered a reading of this book at the MoMA soon after it was released. Since then, his career has been such an astoundingly intense ride that I’m not going to try to bulletpoint it here. Suffice it to say that he’s won several emmy’s for poetry documentaries, written numerous books and essays alone and in collaboration with some of the brightest poets of our time, been a founding member of some of the most original poetry movements in recent history, traveled the world lecturing, and now teaches at Columbia, and I believe NYU. But he is so unconventional, in manner and in mind, that the idea of him being part of any institution seems absurd. I’ll stop singing this man’s praises, but the sheer range and eccentricity of his accomplishments are truly rare. Just check out the link when you click on his name above.
Anyway, this man is my guide into the uncommon world of contemporary NYC poetry. I was exchanging emails with him earlier tonight and I said, “Everybody is looking for the next big thing, but I feel like having this expectation is absurd.” He wrote back, “Poetry is the Last Next Thing.” As cryptic as that is, I think I know what he means, and it was close to what I was thinking. There is such a wealth of poetry going on out there, that if I set out recording it, searching deeper and further for something new, certainly the document I leave will be an interesting portrait of the way NYC poetry is today. Furthermore, and I will also illustrate this point via a conversation I had, my roommate (who was a stand up comic) said, “there all different kinds of comics. Some are college kids and they have those crowds. Then there are thirty somethings who seem like they do it to release some of life’s pressures, and they have those corresponding crowds (to paraphrase).” And that’s just it. The story isn’t about poetry – meter and verse and such – it’s about the people that make it and that follow it. All different crowds, as diverse as New York. Certainly there are some characters out there.