Monday, December 1, 2014

Slight Thoughts on the State of ‘Poetry’ (In the Art World)




I am not a poet. That is something I can say as easily as I can say that I am not an artist. These are both true and false things to say because being a ‘poet’ and being an ‘artist’ is as indefinable as being a ‘person.’ They are not things that are determinable in measurable ways like it is to be a doctor or a racecar driver. In most things in which one ‘is’ something there are measurable ways to prove knowledge and ability. Being a poet or an artist does have some of these measures such as degrees, published accomplishments, prizes, shows, and awards. But even today, the poet and the artist can be a ‘poet’ or ‘artist’ just through self-proclamation, belief and structural permission. This flexibility of being and claiming seems suitable and even subversive but there are things about it that are contributing to what I see as an ever-frantic race to the bottom currently happening in art and culture.

Yes, the gloves are off.  This race to the bottom is one I am specifically referencing to within the art world and when I say ‘art world’ I mean the visual arts. In this world there has been of late the very noticeable upsurge of poetry in shows and as appendages to shows. You know exactly what I am referring to. There are poetry readings, events, releases, marathons, gestures, references, presentations, lecture, and symposium with poets at center stage in galleries, museum and even art fairs. This is all fine and dandy; the mix of art and literature has always been conjoined and enlightening but let’s not get fooled by the histories of things to fog our perceptions of the present.

Not all, but some of these said poets are frankly my dears, not poets at all. Yes, yes, yes, who is anyone (and most certainly who am I) to say who is or who isn’t a ‘poet’ and what the heck does being a ‘poet’ even mean, but I will say it here and now that most of what I have been seeing, hearing, reading and witnessing at these art world poetry events are just artists and writers pretending to be poets or trying to be poets or training to be poets or delusionally thinking they are poets. It’s just too absurd to bear anymore.

Why is it not poetry? Well back to the problem where anything can be, but let’s keep to the point; just because it can be something doesn’t mean it is any good. This may be a radical notion but I do believe that there is a thing called ‘bad’ and there is a thing called ‘good’ in art and most people know this even without a ‘trained’ eye or mind and those that do have some training most certainly have some standard of this. To have some barely twenty something read me off a list of their drug intake, awkward sexcapades, remembrance of wearing ck one or listening to Third Eye Blind is just about the last thing I care about.

But as always, the kids are not the ones to blame. They are just doing this thing that they will always do. Also, there have been more then a few times these young ones have presented some mind blowers in the poetic form. Their youth is not the problem, nor will it ever be. The problem is the ‘art world’ and what they are doing with this creative drive and form. The art world is just so overboard creepy towards young artists that it is cringe worthy.  

To see how poetry is being inculcated as a new form of practice in the last two years one does not have to look very far as it is in the smallest to largest art contexts. Where this is happening is easy to see but why is it happening is another matter. I deduce that it’s because the art world is grasping for some form of legitimacy and they have cycled back into poetry as the outlet for this.

Before this poetry trend there was a performance art trend but with the overdose of Abramović, Biesenbach and Performa in the last few years there has been a tiring of it. What next to balance the grotesque state of the art world structures and markets? (Aka capitalism in its purest and most ideal state being achieved and incorporated.) The art world has answered by reaching for some poetry. They reach for poetry because it is a form that is structurally unpinnable and has an ephemerality that is hard to capture/consume. But like all things, if there is a capitalist will there is a capitalist way and that way is being accomplished through absorbing poetic form, personality of the poet and capitalizing on the brandable possibilities of ‘the authentic’ and ‘the outsider.’

So what to do about it? Nothing really, it will pass, all things do, cream rises and even when crap also rises, people get it.  I keep referring to Allen Ginsberg and the Beats when comparing this new poetry wave to those in the past. We all know who Ginsberg is but who gives a hoot about his actual poetry? I sure don’t and if you do than that’s just a-okay with me. All of this will fade and hopefully some of the people participating in it today will survive, grow and get something out of it all. At least the good ones, I hope.

There is something else you can do in the face of this as well.  There is so much amazing actual poetry and events out there and supporting these feels so different then the museo-gallery setting type of poetry. Support these as they are what is keeping the poetry flame so bright, warm and honest. Don’t know where to go? Ask a friend, the one that cares deeply about this sort of thing in that certain sort of way or I can recommend this for those in the UK, it’s a reading called Hi Zero and it’s on December 15th. It’s in Brighton and it’s a lovey reason to go there for a long night or short stay. This will be their celebratory 30th reading. They have been doing this for over four years. I went to their 29th reading last week and had the most invigorating time. It was how I like my poetry, convivial, necessary, surprising and causing shifts within my brain.

Poetry and art doesn’t exist so one can have a background in which to be cool, to be a part of some community or to have some sort of ‘practice.’ They are ways of living, ways of being and if you are honest about it, that’s hard and beautiful and most of the time private.

P.S. Prediction for what's next when the art world is through with the poetry trend: Land art. Get your shovels and bulldozers ready darlings.