[iDC] Report on ePoetry 2007, Paris.

john at johnsobol.com john at johnsobol.com
Sun May 27 18:43:39 EDT 2007


I'm kind of hoping that this thread will lead to a discussion of ePoetics
in which others will join rather than an argument about the meaning of

But, forward...

Your argument, Simon, about Hitler and Stalin as performance poets, does,
as you realized, kind of support my earlier argument about the creation of
a temporary state of cultural homogeneity when masterful poets are
speaking to crowds. That this plays to the strengths of fascists is
certainly true, though La Pasionara's eloquence in the Spanish Civil War
also helped create solidarity among leftists, so all we can say for sure
is that being a masterful performance poet does not indicate or determine
one's politics. Tho on some level, if some souls did feel insecurity in
the midst of one of those Wertmullerian Third Reich spectacles, they
certainly had a damn good reason for doing so, and it wasn't because of
their 'tastes'.

My point is that successful oral poetry is not a matter of being right or
wrong, but of being able to create a sense of community among diverse
individuals. I think that's what successful oral poets do, for better or
worse. And I'm not making this argument about all art but about a very
specific, ancient and fundamental art form - that of poetic oration. Ong
refers to orality as a 'totalizing' medium of communication, and McLuhan
of course wrote of the fracturing of consciousness (and thus the origin of
taste) in the literate age. Robert Bly's introduction to his excellent
critical anthology of pre and post-industrial nature poetry, News of the
Universe, also addresses these ideas in a very interesting way.

I agree that there are many different reasons for not liking a poetic
performance, but I think that in the presence of a great oral poet (and I
am not saying that Kathy Acker always was one, perhaps the conditions were
exceptional the night I saw her in performance) none of them are 'taste'.
A stomach ache, a bad date, a significant linguistic or cultural
dissonance can all do it, but none of these are a matter of preference but
rather of physical or emotional necessity, or of cultural disorientation.

You say:

> I find the idea that artists have a right to inflict their practice and
> thoughts on the world offensive. They have the right, like anybody, to
> express themselves. They have no right to force that on to anyone.
> Inversely, nobody has a right to silence an artist, they just have the
> right not to listen.

But it seems to me that there is a logical fallacy in this argument. If
nobody has the  right to shut up an artist how can an artist not also have
the right to inflict their practice on the world? Poetry isn't just about
being polite.

I think this statement is an expression of a literate notion of atomic
individuals colliding in the marketplace of creative ideas, regulated by
self-interest (don't censor me and I won't censor you and we will both get
to express ourselves) if not by taste. But it has little to do with oral
poetics. In oral cultures it is not the right to speak that determines who
speaks, but the need for necessary words to be spoken. Call-and-response
is not about the leader calling and the flock responding, but its very
opposite. It is the community that calls and the poet who responds.
According to your standards, who's in the right if I stand on a street
corner and shout poems at passers-by, as I used to do quite often? Am I an
inflicter? Should I be quiet? Or silenced?

I'm probably sounding more rhetorically hostile than I mean to be here. I
am quite enjoying our discussion so please continue to not take offense.
Personally I think that we can and must shout down those who are
corrupters of poetry. I don't mean the novices finding their voices, or
the quiet souls finding satisfaction in personal poesy. More power to them
I say. But I'm speaking rather of those who have the public ear and
despoil it with inanities and self-satisfied poetic practices that
challenge neither themselves nor their audiences, or who fail to aspire in
the moment to more than a pat on the back or another cocktail.

And although I sound like a young pissant I'm not. And I'm not talking
about all art here, but very specifically about poetry in performance,
where everything is at stake, everything is in play, there is no tomorrow,
there is only today, and the challenge is to use all one's skills and
sensitivities in the moment to raise people to sublime heights. And they
will, and do when things go right. It's not a matter of taste, or in my
opinion of debate. It's hardwired into our cognitive apparatus. The
entrancement, the inspiration, the energy surge  that can be attained
communally by a preacher, a singer and in some cases by a single
individual simply speaking, is both familiar to us all, and somehow 
invisible from the landscape of poetry as the vast majority of us know it.
Which is why I'd like to know what ePoets hope to achieve. What they are
seeking? Simply a better book? Or more? Much more?



john sobol

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