case sensitive: get it here
$650 apartment for $650
Terrific publications appear regularly from the House Press people. The second issue of Eric Unger's journal Spell arrived in my mailbox yesterday--it's available for trade or just for free. (This continues to amaze me.) Above is one of Andrew Peterson's contributions. Click on it for a closer look.
a work of art has many
I think Eric is away right now but if you email him, he'll probably send you a copy when he gets back. Find out more about who's in Spell and how to get it here.
How has your first book changed your life?
28. Aimee Nezhukumatathil
I had just come home to my teeny apartment from a long day of teaching and saw the big UPS box at the top of the stairs. I don't even remember climbing the stairs or even opening the box and unwrapping the paper. I know everyone talks about the tactile feel of their book, the weight of it, in a very drama-filled rhapsody and I wish I could say something different, but I tell you, if you have never held a Tupelo book, you are missing out on one of the highest production qualities of any poetry book I have simply ever seen. The satinsilk matte cover with French flaps--it was a dream come true right there in my hands.
How involved were you in creating the cover design?
I sent the creative team at Tupelo a few images I found of various tropical fruits and peacocks. In hindsight, I realize peacocks have nothing to do with the title, although I have a poem called "Peacocks," but what can I say? I know it's silly, but it's my absolute favorite bird... I just wanted to incorporate that obsession in some way. But WK Graphic Design, hired by Tupelo to design my book, found a great image of an actual miracle fruit. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but they arranged the fruit in such a way to resemble the spread wings of a peacock. I actually gasped when I first saw the pdf file for the first time. It was more beautiful than I had ever hoped for.
Shortly into grad school, I knew I wanted to teach creative writing. My mentor and thesis director, the late David Citino, actually told me not to get an MFA if I wanted to teach and I went home deeply wounded and deflated. I wanted to be him for crying out loud, and here he was telling me the chance of me actually getting a job was slim to none. I see now that he told me that so that I wouldn't concentrate on the 'race' that so many MFA students fall into: publish in journals, publish a book, BAM--you get a job! And because of what David told me, I really did hunker down and focus on writing, not the race, (and reading, oh goodness, how I re-learned to read). I was hired for a tenure-track job before I found out Greg Orr picked my book to win the Tupelo prize. I had some teaching experience, a bunch of publications to my name, and a lovely little chapbook, but it wasn't in that dream 'order' that so many people think is the magic key to poetry glory. So, no, I actually didn't think my life would change per se, but I'd be lying to say I didn't somehow feel validated a little bit, especially in a university setting with a book--a book that I could hold and feel and students or colleagues hopefully wouldn't be wondering what the heck I was doing there (I was twenty-six and looked like a more dressed up version of my students when I was hired). I actually found out about the book over Labor Day weekend of my first semester teaching.
How has your life been different since?
I suppose more people recognize my name--I guess that has been the most interesting change. I get lots of email from readers I've never met and I answer every one of them--mostly from female high school and college students just writing to say Thank You for writing the book and mostly they are just so glad to read a female Asian-American poet they can actually relate to. Not only in experience but in the 'accessible' language they say I use. Virtually all of my readings now are paid invitations to various colleges and high schools, and I love being able to interact with students outside of my own little sphere at SUNY-Fredonia. Someone suggested a blog, just to keep track of what was going on during my book tour. A few months before the book's publication, I started one in '02 back when blogs were a fairly new and weird concept that sounded like a disease ("Oh, I heard you have a blog,"). In just a few months, I went from having a few friends read it to almost a thousand people reading it daily all over the globe. Actually, I won't pretend it all had to do with the publication of my book, because my geriatric dachshund, Villanelle, actually was a little star of the blog. She has fans all over the world from Brazil to Finland to Saudi Arabia. When I didn't post pictures of her or describe her daily shenanigans for awhile, my inbox would be loaded with complaints and suggestions for "More dog stories!" It just got to the point where I was getting a bunch of questions in email on dog care or solicitations from parents wanting to arrange a marriage for their son, or recently released prisoners asking for a "private poetry tutorial," and I even had a certain Pulitzer-prize winning poet (who shall go unnamed) harass me from it, so I deleted the entire thing and now only post rarely, and definitely zero information on my personal life. I'm sure I will post more once my second book comes out in April '07, but for now, it's just weird bits of photos and snippets from my garden.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
I actually had no idea what to expect. No one in my MFA program had published a book of poetry since I entered the program, so I didn't really have anyone to give me the heads-up about publication. Tupelo did a great job of setting up some readings and took out a goodly amount of ads in places like Poets and Writers and the AWP Chronicle. I had no idea Tupelo would throw me a book-launch party at this hip little gallery in TriBeCa. In fact, at that point, I had never heard of a poet having a book-launch party, so that made me feel a bit glamorous.
As far as surprises go, my blog went from a list of what I ate when I traveled to this...thing that really invited a closer look into my life. At first I was pleasantly surprised that so many people took the time to read it, but I had no idea it would get the attention it received.
I also didn't expect to have such a response from high schoolers, particularly young women. When I was in high school, I never would have had the guts or even interest to track down a writer that I admired, but those have been my favorite correspondences. Especially with minority students. I never even knew there were Asian American writers that were alive (!) until I went to college--it just was not part of our suburban middle/upper-class curriculum--and I suppose I was too swamped with my bajillion extra curricular activities, none of which were reading poetry, to ever try and seek them out on my own. For me, there was absolutely zero guidance or encouragement to be introduced to writers of color, so I just admire these students' pluck and vibrancy and want to encourage that interest in writing as much as possible.
What have you been doing to promote the book, and what are those experiences like for you?
I gave a lot of readings that first year it was published. Lots. Tupelo set up a nice set of places for me to read--bookstores, high schools, etc. But I also took the initiative and contacted all of my friends from out of state and asked for contact info on local high schools, indie bookstores, and colleges. I sent emails. I made calls. I did lots of so-called grunt-work because I knew I didn't have an agent who'd do it for me. I figured, if I want to make sure that no student ever says "I never knew there were Asian-American poets" again, I had better well do the groundwork and get my name and poems out there. Some were paid gigs, but more often than not, I was just so happy there was an audience, so I've read in front of 3 people and over 500. My department was extremely helpful (and patient!) in scheduling me for teaching duties twice a week, and without that, it would have been difficult to get to other campuses during the week. My students too, have been so supportive and they understand that sometimes I won't get to an email right away because I'm on the road. But I make up for that elsewhere by giving 200% in and out of the classroom, spending hours commenting on work I've assigned and work that students give me "just to see what I think" outside the classroom. I also make it a point to have several visiting writers during the year here at Fredonia and I think the students and my co-workers know that I am a better teacher when I am also traveling, giving talks and readings. And I'm a better "traveling poet," because of the time I do put into my teaching. For me, they go hand in hand and to do one without the other would be like watering half of a plant.
The best advice?
I think the golden rule is still the best advice for everything, but before, during and after your book comes out, it's a perfect reminder to treat others as you want your book to be treated. When I fall in love with a book, I write the author and tell them so. You want reviews? Write some for others. You want invites to places for a reading? Try to do the same for others, and fight to get them as many shiny dollars for their art as well. And when you are a guest--give them everything you've got. Read with energy. Be audience friendly and look people in the eye. Don't read over your limit, make every person (and especially the students) you meet feel important and special, and have good manners for goodness sakes. Saying Please and writing thank-you notes in the writing world go very, very far.
Did winning the ForeWord Prize have a big effect on your book's popularity?
I don't know for sure, but I think that may have been one way for college and high school librarians to even have it in their libraries, which was very key for building my audience. So many people who wrote to me first saw the book in a library or school setting and then ended up buying it after renewing it so much! I also like that you can never tell each year who will win--and that small presses really do have a chance at winning a prize at ForeWord.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
Tupelo is one of those great presses who really wants to create a poetry family, one where your poems (and future poems) really do have a HOME of sorts, so very early on, my editor, Jeffrey Levine, assured me that Tupelo would be happy to print my next collection. I was already knee-deep into my next project before Miracle Fruit even hit the bookstores. My next collection is a marked change from the lightness in my first one--it's a darker look at the world, at relationships in particular, all told from the perspective of someone who is obviously in love with nature, in all its lovely and scary forms. I was really grateful to have that pressure off during the writing of those poems, wondering if I was going to find a home for these poems or not. I could really concentrate on just getting the writing done and as a result, my next collection, At the Drive-In Volcano, will be out from Tupelo this spring.
I'm so glad Miracle Fruit had a slew of reviews, from newspapers around the world and Publisher's Weekly to tiny paragraphs on a website. Everyone has been so generous and very thoughtful in their introspectiveness. But as far as an effect on my writing, I can honestly say it doesn't even factor in my day-to-day hammering on my keyboard.
My life already has changed in so many ways since my first book. I'm married now to a wonderfully supportive (and cute!) writer, and would like to start a family eventually, so I already know my life will change-- the amount of time we have for writing and reading on the porch together with drinks in our hand, or the carefree days of taking road trips with our geriatric dachshund. I'm actually writing non-fiction now, and the process for me is slow, slooooow, sloooooooooow, and I am both really frustrated and loving the process all at once.
Richard Hugo said something like, You have to have a little arrogant streak in you. Not in real life, of course, he goes on to say, in real life, be nice. It's funny--it was such a lightbulb moment for me--I suppose I would have always kept writing had I never come across his little wonderful book, The Triggering Town, but it really gave me permission to not apologize for once. I think little girls, especially, are trained early on to say sorry for everything: for being loud or too quiet, for being first, being last, for winning, for losing. But on the page, I know I can be as bold (or as nuanced) as I want to be. No apologies needed (unless they are to myself, during revision!). I think just writing poetry forces you to be a more careful observer, and in turn, a nicer person, or at least one who takes care of this planet a bit better. Eco-writer Rachel Carson said if we pay more attention to "the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction." And I do see that play out in my students every semester, actually--they save resources more, spend more time in parks with a notebook instead of bars, and they actually take an interest in the world outside their dorm room. I know it doesn't happen with every student and it's a small start, but one that can make all the difference.
When Cleopatra received Antony on her cedarwood ship,
You could not live without my scent, brought pink bottles of it,
of these crushed purple blooms for wrist, cleavage, earlobe.
the smell of my perfume, the one you handpicked years ago.
on my neck, twenty-seven small murders of you. And the count
. . .
. . .
How has your first book changed your life?
27. Brenda Iijima
I don't remember the day in all of its specificity but do remember my impression of seeing 50 copies of Around Sea shrink-wrapped neatly in stacks in the box that arrived. The cover of Around Sea echoes On Bear's Head, a terrific book by Philip Whalen--I was charmed by this slippage of identity. It is a vision of continuity and certainly interconnectivity. Leslie Scalapino, editor of O Books, has linked us inextricably. The colors connote Buddhism. They are tertiary colors, purple and orange. The feeling was and is one of generosity, exuding continually from Leslie's enterprise of ushering books into ecosystems of thought and conscientiousness.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change because of the book's arrival?
No, not really--not in the sense of an epic transformation happening to me because the work morphed from being a private document into a public one. I'm curious about unintended consequences and experiential particulates that slowly accrue.
How has your life been different since?
My shyness dissolved somewhat--this must be partially related to the book's actuality. Its presence asserted my commitment to publishing others' work--I'm constantly made aware that this experience is an incredible way to learn and to forge relationships. I continue to probe what is book-ness. These pages--leaves--they hold, sustain, offer up. I run Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, a micro-press dedicated to the making of chapbooks. As time goes on I see the provocative space that these folders of paper are (meaning the pages). Within the pages of the chapbooks I slip environmental protest letters and other ephemera (sometimes a mini installation of drawings or postcards assembled specifically for the person who'll receive this ecosystem)--additional written documents that impel, relate and agitate in their temporary position lodged there into the body of the book. This is just to say that I become more and more involved with what books might be.
Were you involved in designing the cover of Around Sea?
No. Leslie created the cover design and used a photograph she took in Yemen. While not initially involved, I have taken the liberty to spray paint additional layers on some copies of the book with some furnace paint I found in the cellar. And I also sandpapered a batch, which was a spontaneous and active mark making process. The purple and orange dust was so fine once pulverized--it never landed. The epidermal layer of the book called for interaction. The title, author credit, blurbs, etc., seemed optional--or too heavy there on the surface.
Were there any surprises?
I received a letter from someone I didn't know personally. The letter mapped or scored the entire book in terms of the phonetics.
What did you do to promote the book, and what were those experiences like?
I didn't really do much, or I should say nothing directly. Leslie sent review copies out and thankfully there were responses to the book. I have no idea how many sold, etc.
Can poetry create change in the world?
Definitely. Poetry can be the site of incredible intensity. It embodies and enables awareness. It might involve deep listening, the kind Paulina Oliveros espouses. It agitates centers in the brain that stimulate imagination. Poetry creates a zone of openness--it is capable of moving the mind beyond convention, standardization, pattern and format. Acting in being is how I think of poetry. It is possible to critique cultural, social and historical paradigms via poetry--positions of the body, self, collectivity, gender, race, power, etc. Poetry is language as gesture and can push toward a temporary borderless. Because it is evidence of the reverence for language (which, at its base, is interrelation) it promotes a bounty of energetic exchange between communicants--credulousness in response to incredulousness and all sorts of reflections, deviations, regenerations, etc. Poetry meets up with threatening social issues like war by making its position one of empathy--feelings are conducted, as in electrical flows. At any time, language can extrapolate out of itself (as art, or whatever seemingly limiting condition it finds itself in)--it can become social gesture, action. When I read poetry I hear a call and response.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing and other artistic pursuits?
I've been asked to contribute drawings, paintings and photographs for book covers. Book covers are nomadic spaces that transit, interplay. This visual work will always be in relation, crossing over and participating in changeable environments. It is a very agreeable space for how I think and work. It is a thrill to be involved with someone's book in this capacity. A few examples: Kim Lyons' Saline, Anthony Hawley's The Concerto Form, Stacy Szymazek's Emptied of All Ships, Roberto Harrison's Counter Daemons [coming soon from Litmus Press], and Eva Sjödin's Inner China.
As far as the writing goes--it always is mysteriously in conjunction with the visual work I do. They inform each other. E. Tracy Grinnell and Paul Foster Johnson, editors of Litmus Press, are publishing Animate, Inanimate Aims--the book will be out this fall. The text is cocooned or swaddled in a series of drawings and collages. It is a mirror-critique of whiteness and myth, perhaps--and then some (so I hope). Jessica Smith, editor of Outside Voices, is publishing Eco Quarry Bellwether, a text where my objective was to weave sensuality together with pressing political concern. There are four modes within the book.
The work I'm into now deals with phases. Layered inter-textual, multi-tonal visual arrangements are an attempt to orchestrate the work--cause reverberation (relating to bodies) and time dimension variations, etc. Rabbit Lesson, one of these phases, is forthcoming as a chapbook from Fewer & Further Press. Around Sea concerned itself with transitions and systems (interlocking and not).
How do you feel about the critical response to your book and has that had any effect on your writing?
Sarah Porter's review appears in the current issue of How2. It is enlivening to get this unexpected feedback. It is heartening to find that these concerns radiate outward, inward--around. Presently the writing I'm doing comes out of steady research. It is beyond my own (solitary--which is an impossibility anyway) lyrical (romantic) voice. The passion wells up from sources and I respond. The book will be a sort of cacophonous listening chamber. Rhythm is impetus. The content and form of this work is mutable, mutating, regenerative, stained, tainted, visceral and gross. Post-thrash maybe--all about animal, less mineral-based than previous work, though the smattered components of stars do glitter in and amongst animal postures--so it is a vascular, pulsating, decaying, spouting, spawning, oozing continuum of utterance.
It has to do with the illogical separation of humans and animals (in language structures, social structures, historical consideration, etc.). After viewing the documentary film Winter Soldier, I engaged with the modulation of this piece: Remembering Animals. 100 returning Vietnam Vets decided to have their testimonials of witness recorded by a group of filmmakers because they wanted in some way to stop the atrocities being committed. They frankly described their participation in torture. The stark, incredible admission so many soldiers offered had to do with the framework of positioning the "enemy" as an animal and also their "having to become animals" in order to commit these crimes. It seems that this weird dichotomy has much to do with the eco disasters caused by humans, especially in the West, where animals and humans are separated out. I've been doing a lot of research into how animals are portrayed in the visual arts--how humans visualize animals, as well as mutually being animals. The work takes on slavery and that direct dehumanization. As well it forms empathies with animal otherness and is a reflection on hierarchies assumed. And...
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
Grassroots, hands-on local community efforts interest me greatly and I participate whole-heartedly. I'm involved in environmental activism, peace activism, issues of equality, helping local politicians seeking office, and offshoots from all of this. It feels positive, active, very real, very happening. All of these participations feed another and another. The poetry I write and publish and distribute is connected to these communal interactions and efforts for change and equality. Generosity and energy gets things going. None of this is single-handedly accomplished and this is one aspect of the activist paradigm that feels very holistic and deviant culturally in this land of individual achievement and heroics.
A poem for the land
Corridor after corridor of land
The passage is wide
tied to a tree
Our blond hair
I sinister since
Way before hotels
Along comes a brave
Checking what the land
Large; variegated buff
. . .
. . .
How has your first book changed your life?
26. Christopher Salerno
I had been living the "always a bridesmaid" scenario before placing Whirligig, with a half-dozen contests or presses calling the manuscript a finalist or semi-finalist in the previous year, and a few other presses writing kind little notes. So I had begun believing that it might actually happen in the foreseeable future, that the arc of the book perhaps had been realized to some degree through revision, and that maybe this validation meant that the manuscript was reading now as a book and not simply a collection (one can hope). Anyway, I was getting weary of sending my hard-earned money off to all those contests, knowing that even if the manuscript gets into the final rounds for, say, the Walt Whitman or whatever, that someone like Mary Oliver might never dig it--or, at least, the final judge was always going to be a wholly different, subjective entity than the pre-judges (naturally).
I first heard of Spuyten Duyvil a few years ago while browsing the bio notes of some anthology of younger/new American poets. I've always tried to trace poets and presses back, especially in the days of thinking about placing a manuscript. I'd really admired the small Indy presses that I'd seen, especially vibrant ones like Spuyten Duyvil. It's not a name one forgets. Anyway, a little investigative work and soon I realized that they had an impressive and capacious catalogue of different genres and wide-ranging styles. I had known a few Spuyten Duyvil authors, actually, and was excited about the possibility of being in their company. Tod Thilleman (editor) is a force, by the way. I sent him the manuscript and he wrote me a wonderfully perceptive response to it after a just a few weeks. Things went from there. I'm excited to be (finally) meeting him and reading with him at the Bowery Poetry Club in September.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I returned to my apartment one afternoon to find a knee-high box in front of the door. It had been shipped straight from the distributor, and of course I knew what it was immediately. I carried it in, opened it, and I remember making a sort of high-pitched sound as I lifted the first one out of the box. Then I did the robot. Then I breezed through the pages to look at the layouts of some of the poems which were meant to be more "by field" than others. That stuff always worries me, and since it had been several months since seeing the galleys, I was unsure how we'd left things. In the end, it definitely had all ten fingers and toes. Funny, it's one thing to get the book in your hands; it's another to get 100 books all at once. The cover looked so shiny and glossy.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I had no delusions, of course. I assumed any change would perhaps be in the form of more access and credibility in the small but tight-knit world of poetry journals and readings, though mostly in other locations. Living in North Carolina keeps me at a slight distance to the book's publishing house and local network. Most of the journals in which I placed individual poems from Whirligig are in New York. I'm hoping, however, to get more involved around here with readings and other local poets as well.
Personally, I was already as serious as I could be about doing the work, and I didn't think I would suddenly have to get new tweed outfits or wear a monocle or anything like that just because I had this glossy book with the ubiquitous earnest author photo. I'm always prepared for relative obscurity, and always surprised and delighted by its opposite currents.
How has your life been different since?
Life hasn't changed too much, post-publication, although I've increasingly been spending more time in the email zone. I've also had some good connections: invitations to read here and there, an invitation to take on an associate editorship, a few new mail correspondences, a complex status amongst local friends whom I've never told I write anything (let alone poetry). It's only been a month since the book has been out, so I suppose I can be optimistically brief on this one. But I think that in the year before the book was shaping up, I published almost half the book's poems in a smattering of different journals. I tend to choose journals I admire, many of which publish a number of authors I had been reading and recognizing already. The result of this I suppose is a kind of minor recollection ("I think I've heard of him, sure") amongst people who read or publish in these places. All told, that's probably the best feeling. I hope I get to meet them and buy their books and ask them to sign their books for me.
It's been nice to get emails from strangers about Whirligig. It's also surprising to hear which poems people have liked. Poems I suspected were B-sides have connected with certain people. Who knows? Meeting other poets and selling copies after readings is rewarding as well, even if I don't always appreciate all readings (at the risk of being uninvited to my future reading engagements, I'm starting to wonder if there isn't too much emphasis on getting yuks). All told, I think I'm OK at reading publicly, because I try to avoid the pitfalls of the "poetry voice" or whatever, which gets on my nerves. I like to read slowly and matter-of-factly.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
My ex-wife Robin is a freakishly gifted graphic designer always winning awards, getting her work in PRINT magazine, and so I always knew that my book would be well designed. Thankfully, Spuyten Duyvil let her do the cover. The funny thing for me is that while I'm not always certain if the poems are any good (because they're mine) I always knew that the book design was tight. I was literally kneeling next to her computer chair for the entire design process. We broke up shortly afterwards.
What have you been doing to promote the book and what are those experiences like for you?
I've been doing some readings here and there, and am gearing up for some fall gigs. I've got three or four in NYC in September that I'm very excited about. I recently read at the Burlesque Poetry Series in D.C. which was very enjoyable--it was my first reading from the book. Otherwise, I'm not a great promoter. Most poets probably aren't, all told. Spuyten Duyvil has been great about sending out review copies, and their beautiful catalogue/mailer, etc. They also have a strong website. There are a handful of reviews coming down the pike, and that's always exciting, and one hopes it will spark some interest. I still think readings are the key, though, however ambivalent I might be about them. I also have a blog.
What was the best advice you got?
Honestly, any advice I received was in the "how-to" part of placing a book. Post-book, I have had some particularly savvy friends suggest I ignore the Amazon sales ranking (I agree, it's useless, and not a strong indicator of anything). Some other good advice has been to find the people you like and make sure they get review copies. There are some key places, and those places are probably online these days. I also recommend some personal online activity, whether a simple blog or a website where you can connect with other poets and let people know what's up.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
About a week or so after receiving my copies of Whirligig, I sat down and read it. There's this scene in "Cool Hand Luke" where Luke's mother tells him about the moment that a mother dog ceases to recognize her pups. I had been waiting for that moment. As precious as that sounds, it took having the book in that form (as object) for me to finally appreciate some of the poems, and to see them without seeing my own hand.
At the same time, I have been trending in a different direction since before the book was accepted for publication. I'm governed more by sound now, I think. My work and process are both a bit different these days. I wrote a bunch of experimental poems last year while waiting for the book to be published, because I felt that freedom, but I've recently found something I'm more comfortable with. I'm having fun now. That said, I find that I'm always tripping over my old conventions or ways, and of course I'm slightly worried about writing "Whirligig! Part Deux." And I'm slightly anxious about BOOK as BOOK now, and about having an overarching "project." Shouldn't I have a PROJECT? Don't you have a PROJECT? You have to have a fucking PROJECT!
As of now, I have about 40 pages of something new, and I've recently placed some of the poems from it, which has been encouraging. On the other hand, the poems I'm writing now are so vastly different from each other; I may be starting five different books. Otherwise, I've learned that I'm a reviser, and most of a book's realization will undoubtedly come when I write INTO a full draft, coloring it then with whatever the hell I'm into at that time.
Do you want your life to change?
I'm one of those typical fellows who are so in love with Poetry that they want to make it their job to discuss it, to "teach" it, and watch other people discover it. Will the book bring me this? Probably not, but it might help me get there. I teach currently at a local university here in Raleigh, but I only get to teach a workshop once or twice a year. It's a big department, and suspect the establishment and creative writing department would probably go on ignoring me even if I had won one of those hot contests.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I'm just going to keep writing at my normal pace, and trying perhaps to poke my head into the job search scene here and there. Maybe I'll start schmoozing a little bit, making a point to touch elbow with left hand while shaking hand with right.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
I'm thinking of a bumper sticker that reads, "Art is Not the Answer." I'm also thinking that, while probably not a consistent driving force of social change, poetry MAY get to hop in and steer the bus a little bit from time to time. Now would be a good time.
I do think that one answer is to start exposing junior high kids to the poems they deserve. No more 17th century for them. No more lock-and-key poetry lessons. How about we start them on Russell Edson, give them that piano making a huge manure! Then, by the time they get to high school and college, they'll be hungry to find out where the late 20th century poets came from; but most importantly we'll all find them less intimidated by poetry and more willing to track it all the way back to the 17th century. I'm shocked every semester to face a number of students with a strong aversion to poetry based solely on a past experience of intimidation and confusion.
On another level, I think the small press spirit and community might change the poetry world, which in turn might affect the broader consciousness in some way. As soon as one realizes that all poetry is small time, then it becomes much more realistic to turn to and (also) support the presses and communities that aren't all about the contest and the big advertisements with the gauzy curtains and the postwar typewriter (as stamp of approval). This isn't a new argument by any means.
Don't get me wrong, I do think it's important that every young writer (with a first book) go through that stage of thinking big, of taking their cues from their academic situation, of sending the wrong work to the wrong places, of sending work to the desks of absolute strangers. And why not try to win prestigious contests? You certainly will be read with more frequency if you win, and your book will probably deserve the attention. However, it can be an immense distraction to live with this mindset exclusively.
That said, the beat-down of rejection one gets in that world can be enlightening if you let it, especially if you have the right community of poets around you when you do open your eyes to the broader scene. I live near and around the Lucifer Poetics group in NC, and hanging with them and digging into their work took me immediately out of the post-MFA haze I was in. It's suddenly like, "Oh, I had no idea this was going on...how fucking stupendous!"
The hurricane digs for its salt white dress
Forms a crude 9 Our place
Is like empty drams for it The hurricane dreams
The miles in profile swing stroked over dress
One form most blessed in aft--
Uphill. February. It had to be something small because a day was all you had.
Vestibule. Psyche. Memory.
One place and then the next.
. . .
. . .