October 30, 2007

What If They Gave A Blog & No One Shut Up?

I make it a practice not to weigh in with my own responses to other's comments on my Blog: I said what I said, now it's your turn. But I feel with the recent volume (& vivacity & virulence) of comments here I should respond in some way, other than just saying, "Thanks for reading." I'm cherry-picking among the posted comments or more specifically, among my memory of my reading of the comments on the issues that resonated for me, presented below as separate paragraphs in a somewhat random order.

As usually happens with Chat-rooms, Blogs, even Comments on MySpace, etc., the discussions can easily get side-tracked on issues that were not in the original text -- this is a descriptive statement, not a value judgment; I think the Comment sections function as Blogs for people who don't want to put in time on a Blog of their own (pace, Virginia Woolf). My actual comments in my posted Blog were directed to a specific audience, i.e., the members of the HVWG, & to "literary-types" who never show up. I was not speaking about the poetry community at large, who were proportionately well-represented at this event. In fact, I'm quite satisfied overall with the way people attend local literary events. Some events are better attended than others, some months of the year they are better attended than others, but overall we have a vibrant, interactive community, with lots of people coming in & out, & always new people showing up. As with the October 20 event, those who show up are the ones who benefit, whether there are 10 or 50.

As to readings v. open mics, I've said this to some people but have never put it in writing: quite frankly the open mic component of my Third Thursday Poetry Night is a scam to get people to hear the featured poet: they come to the open mic to read their own work but have to listen to the featured reader. Unlike some areas of the country, people here do stay to hear the featured poet, not just to hear their own voice.

& while I'm on that topic, the poets that I feature at my open mic are those that I like: perhaps they have shown up regularly (one of my goals when I started this series back in 1997 was to give first features to poets -- I was 40 years old before I was featured anywhere), or I had heard their work someplace else & I think the local community should hear him/her, or they are someone who is working hard to promote poetry/build a community either here or elsewhere. I don't have to think the poet's work is the next new school/wave/movement, or even like their work, just that what this person is doing for/with her/his art is positive, human, keeping us going.

As far as celebrity poets go, there is a huge difference in the dynamics of attendance at their events from our community events. America is a celebrity-driven culture. You can be famous for having done nothing at all (where did David Letterman come from, or Paris Hilton, or Anna Nicole Smith, & what did they do to become famous other than showing up?). Many people go to the Writers Institute readings (a wonderful asset for this community) on name-recognition only. For me, if Billy Collins was reading here & at the same time there was an open mic I liked or a local poet featured somewhere that I wanted to support, I would go to the local event; I can get Billy Collins in the library, but with the local poet, like Eric Dolphy said about jazz, "... after it's over, it's gone in the air, you can never capture it again." I'm not saying that the celebrity poet shouldn't be heard, just that sometimes the choices are difficult. I grew up in this area when there were no choices & I'm grateful that now we live in a time of choices & conflicts.

As a parent, former spouse, worker, active community member I am as aware as anyone of the "pressures of life." In fact, "life" is all there is: if Art is anything it is about the lives we live. We need to do these things: I've missed many events because I was at a Little League game, taking kids to ballet lessons, had to go to Binghamton for work, at a birthday or anniversary party, on a family trip, at a meeting, or just wanted to be with the one I loved (ah, yes). I would have been at the recent Behind the Egg reading but I was in NYC that day in the rain trying to stop the War. And as someone has already pointed out, sometimes the other "pressures" are those of organizing events. There are always the few who are concentrating on their own navels, but most of the folks here who organize events are recognized enough in the community to even show up in these Blog comments.

Finally, just an observation that such a discussion as we have experienced here would not take place in a vacuum -- there's something going on in this community. Thank you to everyone.

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