To celebrate National Poetry Month in the US, Polari features three poets writing about what poetry means to them.
April is National Poetry Month in the United States. (In the UK it’s October.) To mark this, Polari Magazine asked Indiana based poet Walter Beck what poetry means to him. And in turn he asked his friends. Here are three personal visions from three poets.
Poetry for me is a personal exorcism, a way to shine the light on any dark rotting beasts hiding under full ashtrays and empty whiskey bottles. Its creation is as ritualized as any mass by the faithful; it is best done in isolation, with the proper music to channel the muses and a burning cigarette to send the prayers towards them.
v, etc. It can distill our blood and sweat into a medium that anybody who’s literate can understand. It can form the endless banners, press releases and news coverage into a flesh that can be felt by all.
Poetry for me is living on the edge; you can still shock people with it, you can push boundaries and break down walls, my own words and performances have been banned, toned down, censored, labeled “outrageous” and “dangerous”, this is one of the purest forms of free expression out there, you can write about anything you want and in any style you want, upside down and backwards if it fits you.
Poetry for me is a family; we speak a distinct language and have been here since the dawn of time. We can be found anywhere, from college classrooms to gas stations, we don’t do this for money, since there’s usually not a lot for the likes of us, we do it because we love it, because it gives us hope and expresses our humanity.
National Poetry Month is the one time of the year where we try to put aside our egos and embrace the art we love, we read the old masters, discover new gems, offer encouragement to our brothers and sisters as we all work on our own projects, we introduce our friends to poetry, we introduce our family to poetry, we try to take our work to areas most don’t associate with poetry, looking for that new frontier and that new group of open hearts and minds.
I could sooner quit cigarettes than I could quit being a poet.
Outside of his work as Gonzo Correspondent to the Colonies at Polari, Walter Beck is a fast-rising young poet, known for his intense verse and bizarre live shows involving stage blood, make-up and semi-drag. Called “shockingly brilliant” and a “gritty original”, Walter’s work has been featured in such publication as Off the Rocks, Phoenix Rising, The Q Review, Assaracus and others. His books Life Through Broken Pens, Some Assembly Required, As the Cannons and Muskets Roar and On the Midnight Stage/High Ground Valley Flashback are available from Writing Knights Press.
Though I’m sure it’s been said before, and more articulately, I find poetry to be similar in a lot of ways to taking a healthy shit. This is not to discredit poetry, but in fact, makes it more vital to the human spirit, because after all, everyone shits. Shitting is as much a biological impulse we have no ultimate control over as making something is to the creative mind.
In the same sense, poetry wells up inside of us, composed entirely of things we have digested and need to expel in some form. Much the same as we can’t choose to defecate, but only when, the creative mind is only in control of when it decidse to let loose. Poetry was defined by William Wordsworth, in Lyrical Ballads, as being “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, and the key word in the idea is “spontaneous”. The worst thing you or anyone can do is sit down and say, “okay, I’m going to write this and here’s how I’m going to do it”.
Horse shit. Poetry needs to run out of your fingers like a line of water in the shower. You need to stand in the middle of the lightning storm waving a metal rod. Let it hit you, let it run through you, and get it all out. This is not to discredit editing or consideration either, but ultimately a poem should be like an explosion, a powerful banging together of images and ideas, one where the reader must create their own forest after reading the trees.
Much like a vigorous bowel movement, poetry is an ugly and natural expulsion, a way of purging on the page and ridding yourself of the toxins of anonymity, loneliness, fear, mortality, and anything else swimming around in you. Poetry is a big bang where you set the spark, let it explode, and make sense of it all later when the dust settles.
Carrick McDonald is an occasional author, living in Evansville, Indiana. When he isn’t providing direct care to adults with developmental disabilities, he is hard at work as a curmudgeon/poet.
So much of culture is carefully crafted by professionals, for professional purposes. The advertisement is the spirit of our age – TV, movies, most music and magazines are basically accessories to advertisements. And some of that is great art despite it all.
But there are also corners of amateurism. Real people trying to convey real things about themselves and their lives via their own fumbling efforts, for the benefit of no master on high. There is music like this, indie zines too still I suppose. Blogs were like that for a while, and a few still are, but the medium is professionalizing fast. But poetry lives and breathes its amateurism.
You want honesty in a world where people carefully manage public images of themselves as much as corporations do? Poetry. Amateur poetry night may be a predictable mix of people struggling with their wounds, and beginning to come out to themselves, and reveling in their own pretensions. But it is one of the last bastions of the genuine.
This poet, who asked to remain anonymous, is a housewife living in Indiana. She is an ardent amateur poet, who has been involved for decades in poetry nights, street poetry, and little local publications, and more recently contributed poems for the We Happy Trans 7 Questions project.