A few weeks ago, I realized I was starved for a poetry community. There were a ton of readings in my previous place of residence, and I blew a lot of them off for reasons I can’t really remember. I worked with people who could talk about poetry. At one point I even had an active poetry group!
I thought the River Valley (as my friend calls it) would have a more active poetry scene. And there is some, but it is limited in a range of ways that I feel would be too mean to go into detail on a semi-public, semi-anonymous forum. (Ask me in person, and I will regale you with stories.)
So I signed up for a poetry workshop, which is something I haven’t done in a long time. I had no idea what to expect, but I liked the subject and had bought the author’s book a few months ago. Author began by saying he recently realized his research interest was deeply connected to the American poetic tradition. Always distrust a poet who thinks finding connections is somehow a novel concept in and of itself, because poets find connections everywhere. What’s significant is what the poet does with these connections.
Then I realized when he said, “the American poetic tradition” he meant “all white male canonical poets.” The audience asked him why he didn’t include any women in his anthology. And he moaned that this was a terrible thing and that he almost ruined the book for himself because he couldn’t find any women poets who fit the tradition he was describing. But, my friends, he published it anyway. And that is what I find inexcusable.
If you can’t find women poets in the tradition you are looking for, then it might be time to rethink how you are defining the tradition. It’s a time to be creative, to do archival research, to expand upon your white-male-poet knowledge and seek out poets who might not have fallen into your lap by way of the Norton Anthology.
On top of that he was relatively incoherent. He did not listen properly to the questions he was asked. He mocked a woman about Emily Dickinson. (Never mock a woman about Emily Dickinson, especially in my northern neck of the woods.) His explanations were inconsistent. This man teaches at an Ivy League university, and he could not even say the words cultural appropriation even as he was talking about that very act.
An hour in, I decided that I was a grown-ass adult, and if that I didn’t enjoy a gathering I could leave at the break even if I had paid (a relatively small sum) to be there. I politely lied to the organizer about a family obligation, thanked her for her work, and fled.
The drive home was beautiful. The weather had been unsettled; the creeks were swollen and orange leaves were blowing everywhere. I saw two rainbows, one of which I pulled off the road to observe in a graveyard. It was New England gothic at its finest.
I decided to redeem my day by driving home by way of a newish poetry-positive bookstore. It turns out one of the owners had sold books at the event, and we began talking about poetry and anthologies. We talked about race in our neck of the woods. We talked about the economics of living in river valleys. We talked about MFAs and workshops and poetry readings.
Over an hour later, I drove home, buzzing with poetry talk, pleased to have finally made a strong poetry connection. We talked about building a more inclusive poetry community. I hope to take steps to make that happen. It was a good day.
Do you have a local writing community?