I've started reading Mike Chasar's Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in America, an American studies take on the consumption of poetry in various commercial forms across the early and mid-twentieth century. So I'm bridging the gap in my knowledge between traditional critical history of American poetry, like Parini's and Millier's Columbia History of American Poetry, and volumes like Glazner's Poetry Slam, Eleveld's and Smith's The Spoken Word Revolution, Algarin's and Holman's Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe', and the introduction to Cannon's New Cowboy Poetry. Dana Gioia's essay collections Can Poetry Matter? and Disappearing Ink begin to address the aesthetic differences between stage and page, and well as the relative health and status of different varieties of poetry in contemporary American, but they are just a beginning. Just as helpful, as Chasar points out, are Nelson's Repression and Recovery and Rubin's Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America. These studies focus on the history of American poetry as resistance and as popular culture, but they are, in the end, about what's past.
What I'm seeking to do here is write a book about the impulse to write and perform poetry in our society as it is today, or at least very recently, since, say, the advent of slam poetry in the mid-1980s; a book that tracks specific poets, performers and audience members as they live through and for poetry, and as they do so in different places, under different circumstances. I believe there's also room in the book for a brief study of the aesthetics of performed poetry in these different places, under these different circumstances. So it's onward to Chasar, and to New Orleans in January.