Yesterday I said I was going to talk about distribution paths for poetry, but mine certainly isn’t any kind of definitive word. We choose how we give and get our poems; we choose which poems we love and hate, both of our own and others. The cultural shift from canonicity to community implies that the notions of “poets anointed” or the “cream of poetry” are merely modes of discourse, rather than something objectively “true.” Editors choose the contents of a journal as forms of self-expression in the voices of like-minded poets from the same poetic community. Best American Poetry is an editor’s expression of a range of voices that sparks conversation about other great poems from the year, and what “best” means for each of us. For me, the most interesting journals and anthologies make loud choices—i.e., are able to recognize the extremes of their chosen aesthetic(s). I count BAP among the best anthologies. I count No Tell Motel, Court Green, LIT, Word For/Word, Jubilat, Jacket, No Posit, Octopus, Columbia Poetry Review, Aufgabe, Denver Quarterly, Anti-, Ping-pong, Tarpaulin Sky, H_NGM_N, 1913, Noo, Glitter Pony, Pank, Lana Turner, RealPoetik, Shampoo, and Weave as just a teeny few of many, many, many awesome journals being published today, in a wide variety of aesthetics (see the forthcoming “links” page on the forthcoming new Coconut for a more extensive listing).
Let’s scare you up some drama. An 18th century peepshow. A typical entertainment of the time period. Take a look. Through this peephole. The dimensions pile on, revealing a poor paint job. There I was, fearless and standing on tables. Now I am something vivid. You are some thing. Seaward. What are whales? Why are whale hunted? In your sleep I start stealing your slow-ish motions. A puddle of pale blue on the floor. The most delicate patch of it. In the city their hands smell of oranges. Soon I will stop. Matching you stroke for stroke. I count the scratches on your back. I name them like ships.
--Lily Ladewig, from “Shadow Boxes,” from the current Word For/Word
The shift from canonicity to community implies that hard-drawn aesthetic “lines in the sand” are outmoded. “Experimental” and “traditional” are meaningless, with form and narrative and epiphanies and visual poetics and Black Mountain influences and lang-po influences all thrown into the same mixing bowl. In a room full of Frank O’Hara disciples one will find 50 radically different poets. Similarly, we need not feel ashamed if our poetic influences include, for instance, John Berryman among a dozen great NY School poets. This isn’t to say that all evaluative categories for poems must be defenestrated; instead, however, I propose that we consider relative value (originality, profundity) within the context of particular, vital poetic communities (or within the context of a single poet’s trajectory) as a more effective measure of greatness.
Once in a while the contents are so varied that one cannot label a drawer. How to categorize the scrap of pulse and ankle length of twine? One begins to fail the crucial moment—pulling out anchors in flight time, wrongfaced watches. When the hinge catches, panic fuels the tug of war; one can only push or pull. The secret stash half exposed, the runner off its track.
--Hanna Andrews, from Slope Move, forthcoming from Coconut Books
The Vida numbers seem particularly devastating for me in this age of community poetics. A vital community should, of course, not only be open to anyone, but should embrace diversity. A vital community doesn’t make assumptions about poetics based on gender or race. A vital community is individuals honoring the poetics and identities of its members through open conversation.
I love hosting a reading series, even if before each event I get nervous that the audience won’t be big enough or that I’ve forgotten the mic. More than anything I want the readers to be happy—to feel like they have a good setting to perform in. I love meeting new poets. I love going to readings. I love giving readings. I love buying and trading books at readings and conferences (avoiding the three-letter conference out of respect for Nin!). I tend to buy books more frequently from poets with whom I’ve had contact. I buy books full of exciting (to me) poems, of course, but I also buy books from poets I like, even if I’m not the perfect audience for their poetics. Poets aren’t poets if we only stand in the corner and don’t join the party, even though, of course, we choose who to talk to and avoid the bullies.
I haven’t met Sawako Nakayasu in person, but we’ve emailed a lot. I love her poems. Her brand new book (Mouth: Eats Color: Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-Translations, & Originals) just arrived in the mail today. On first glance it seems to question the whole notion of authorship with ("collaborative"? "translated"?) pieces written by or attributed to other poets (Mina Loy, Harry Crosby, Frances Chung). Lines and whole poems in Japanese. A handwritten reproduction. The whole book an intimate conversation, as if everything is translation.
Insects multiplied with the speed of an electric
Lapped up the boils on the earth’s crust.
Turning over its exquisite costume, the urban night
slept like a woman.
Now I hang my shell out to dry.
My scaly skin is cold like metal.
No one knows this secret half-covering my face.
The night makes the bruised woman, freely twirling
her stolen expression, ecstatic.
Tomorrow: more about forthcoming Coconut books.