Sunday, November 18, 2012

To Chasar and Beyond

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.  

Friday, November 9, 2012


Poets and literary scholars aren't necessarily used to filling our institutional research paperwork. Writing poetry and literary criticism often doesn't require human subject research. Until this project, I've never thought of seeking certification, but seek it now I must. In the very near future, I'll be interviewing, on audio and video, lots of people involved in poetry scenes around the country, starting in my home base of Greater New York and moving in January to Tampa and New Orleans; then on to Bay Area and to Appalachia in the spring; and then to Rochester/Buffalo/Cleveland in the summer of 2013.

So I am learning to be an ethical researcher, one who creates effective surveys and valid release forms; one who stores and destoys data responsibly; one who shares data when appropriate; and one who decides how many real names he can use in his non-fiction narrative.