April will be here in a few hours, which means 1/4 of 2009 has passed, and we at Kendra Steiner Editions are trying to make it a great poetry year for you . New projects, new blood, new concepts, new distributors, new artistic challenges, and a steady stream of new chapbooks.
These are challenging times, and many small press poetry operations are cutting back or going on hiatus. Fortunately, KSE is a low-budget operation and we also have a core of dedicated readers, so we really don’t need to make big sales to continue the work. People will look back on this period and scratch their heads in disbelief, so it’s important that we provide poetry from the trenches, capturing both the texture of reality and the seemingly ineffable spirit of 2009 and beyond. The majority of internet and “small press” non-academic poets continue to write talent-free imitations of Bukowski with a twist of Carver or Burroughs or Kerouac or Patti Smith (take your pick), not realizing that these folks were originals when they did what they did. They created their own forms. Those of us who are stretching, who are trying to go beyond those who went beyond in previous generations, who think tough-guy posing and ass-kissing clique-building have nothing to do with creation and everything to do with insecurity and mediocrity—-we feel that poetry, an art that emphasizes succinctness of expression, sensitivity of form, and multiple layers of form/content weaving, has a place at the table in the alternative arts community. Whether my own work is mediocre, fine, or lousy, I do feel an obligation to those poets of the generation or two previous to mine—-the Ted Berrigans, the Paul Blackburns, the Diane Wakoskis, the Stuart Z. Perkoffs, the Robert Creeleys, the Joanne Kygers, the William Wantlings, the Larry Eigners—-an obligation to take the valuable lessons they taught, and then bend and extend and rethink and multiply them, in the process creating my own unique system of poetics. Better to fall on one’s face attempting to create something that did not exist previously than to find immediate acceptance polishing derivative turds.
Poetry is about expressing the inexpressible. Writing juvenile scatological prose or bumper-sticker quality aphorisms, and then arbitrarily breaking them into artless “lines” that are chained to the left margin is not poetry, no matter how many of your friends review your books or how many facebook entries you write.
Free verse does not mean without form, and it doesn’t mean having the rhetorical qualities of prose or aphorisms. It means being free TO CREATE A UNIQUE FORM. I tend to respect poets who create new means of expression, and then use those means as a foundation on which to build a sparkling new poetic building full of rooms and halls and closets and windows and basements and cubbyholes and open spaces. And there are lots of poets out there doing lots of great work in that manner: poets as diverse as Mark Weber and Misti Rainwater-Lites, as Paul Corman-Roberts and A. J. Kaufmann, as M. K. Chavez and Richard Wink, as Christopher Cunningham and Michael Casey, as Glenn W. Cooper and Zachary C. Bush, as Ronald Baatz and Bob Arnold, as Julie Lechevsky and Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal. And many others, some of whom I’m sure I have not heard about, and my life is no doubt poorer because of that.
Time is short. Every day is precious. Go for it now. Do what needs to be done, start your own press in your basement, and get it out there BY NON-TRADITIONAL MEANS. And piss in the face of the self-appointed gatekeepers of “alternative culture.” Don’t validate them by sending them your work. Become what your artistic heroes were or are. I can assure you they weren’t ass-kissers or “joiners” or people who gave a f*ck what others thought about what they did. They were not competing with their contemporaries; they were competing with Hart Crane or William Blake or William Carlos Williams or Picasso or Charles Ives or Eric Dolphy.
You/we/I can do no less.