Literary politics


September 24, 1980


Iíve made them angry.

It isnít hard to piss off the poets at WPC. All you have to do is miss the first poetry reading of the year.

I didnít see Mikeís face, but could well imagine its image of outrage and disappointment, and expression that will likely be tempered by the time I actually see him when he comes up to ask: ďWhere were you, man?Ē

As kind as Michael can sometimes be, he rarely shows understanding beyond his own sphere, and would not have understood why I missed the reading just because my girlfriend needed me, and that I needed to spend time with her just to prove that I was not a stranger.

Things are not as they once were, and we struggle to keep connected, and had I wandered off to be with my poetic friends, the connection might have vanished entirely.

Michael would not understand that. He would have screamed something about the integrity of art, and stomped off with an air of indignity and disappointment.

But this is his problem, not mine.

I do understand the frustration he must feel with the change of culture going on at school as the literary population shrinks in favor of much more practical-minded business majors. The poetry scene is disintegrating, and fewer poets coming out to support public events like these. Even those he used to count on have found excuses not to come. Some of this has to do with the increased costs associated with school, rising tuitions by a greedy administration, forcing many formerly privileged arts students to seek part time jobs.

But many of the remaining poets simply donít like Michael (or even Joel), thinking heís too radical and not in a political way (whereas they see Joel as a literary snob and donít like him for that reason.)

Neither Michael or Joel are part of the old order of poetry at the school, but fringe characters that inherited the scene after others have moved on, particularly those previously associated with the school literary magazine before Michael and I took it over.

Michael seems to think I have the same low opinion of him as the other poets do, when I do not.

I see him as lost in a fading society, a punk rocker poet at a time when punk like poetry itself appears to be waning and he is scrambling to find a place to stand, literally a rebel without a cause. He aches for originality, looking for a way of thinking that no one lese has thought up before, trying to force as original voice instead of letting it come naturally. While he shows distain for books and tradition, may of his ideas come from those very places, a kind of ironic inconsistency that casts shadows over his public persona. Sometimes, he seems downright silly, when he aches to be taken seriously.

While he is less imitative than Joel in this regard, Michael likes to think he isnít imitating, when we all start out that way. Even Shakespeare took ideas from other places, and the real literary crime comes when we fail to acknowledge our influences and try to pass them off as totally original Ė a crime Michael is sometimes guilty of (and Joel almost always.)

Last night, Michael was supposed to read a work influenced by Ginsburg. Ginsburg is cool. So we can readily admit being influenced by him. But what about all the less than cool influences?

Itís not a question I can ask Michael, even when he stops being angry with me. I have lost stature in his eyes.

Iím not Ginsburg, and frankly, donít want to be.

I rarely want to be anybody but me, even though I spend a lot of time trying out different literary suits to see which one fits best.

I also need to my girlfriend, and do not want to risk losing her because of all these literary politics.

So yesterday, I gave up going to a poetry reading that I would have liked to have attended to show how much I do care Ė even if it meant losing respect of people like Michael.


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