January 2012

The Poetry Assembly

People's Mike Poetry Readings

One of the most fragile and most fascinating aspects of the Occupy encampments was the potential of a new culture evolving spontaneously. Occupy as a movement to fight injustice can endure without the camps, but Occupy as an evolving community with its own spirituality and its own art forms may find it harder to go on.

 

The “Poetry Assembly” was one of the cultural aspects of the Occupy Wall Street camp at Liberty Plaza in New York. The Poetry Assembly was like a General Assembly in that it functioned through the “people's mike,” with the audience repeating each line en masse. This is completely different from either of the two leading models of poetry reading currently out there.

American Anti-Intellectualism

And Its Effect On Poetry

“The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee. . . . Take off the fond doting . . . I say bee not deceived by these pompes, empty shewes, and faire representations of goodly condition before the eyes of flesh and blood, bee not taken with the applause of these persons.” - John Cotton

 

This quote is by a seventeenth-century Puritan named John Cotton, and it goes right to the heart of one of America's biggest problems as a culture. We have a legacy and a tradition of anti-intellectualism, as exemplified recently by Presidential candidate Herman Cain's “we need a leader, not a reader.”

Slam Poetry

Why Is So Much Of It Like Stand-Up Comedy?

I have decidedly mixed feelings about slam poetry. On the plus side, it presents poetry in the context I've always thought it ought to be presented in- which is to say, being recited out loud to drunk people. On the negative side, the use of judges from the audience to rate the poems has a very pronounced effect of dumbing down both the poetry and the presentation. Why? Because the need to quickly impress the judges encourages two equally bad tendencies.

Mythopoeia

And William Blake

“Mythopoeia” is a word meaning “invented mythology,” as in the mythology of H.P.Lovecraft's fiction or “The Lord of the Rings.” Nothing like mythopoeia could ever have existed in ancient society, because people didn't see themselves as autonomous individuals but as members of collectives such as tribes or nations. It was only right at the beginning of the modern world in the 18th century, when people were just starting to see themselves as individuals, that mythopoeia began to surface.