[This was originally published by About.com in its Poetry section, back in 1999, in response to the release of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. It was retrieved via the Wayback Machine as About.com no longer exists, and I'm republishing it here for my own archives, but also in an initial response to Boba Fett's return, about which I'm feeling a little ambivalent.]
What started as a bit of a lark back in March 1998—when myself, Lynne Procope, and Roger Bonair-Agard took over the space at Bar 13 on Monday nights and started our own reading series—not only survived 16+ years in the deteriorating cultural landscape of New York City (and the fickle tastes of bar owners always looking for the next new shiny), but thrived, throughout myriad trials and turmoils—some external, some self-inflicted—as a weekly oasis of poetry that occasionally bent but never broke.
The slam isn't the automatic audience draw it used to be (for us, at least), and I can't help but wonder if that's partly because, a long time ago, the organized slam became much less about putting on a good show for the audience and providing an open forum for a variety of voices, and more about establishing an alternative career path for a select group of poets. The revolution gone corporate, as so often happens.
The original version of the poem, written back in 2003, was entitled Mozer, Bethea and I (as published in Handmade Memories), and it had a ranty, overly political ending that tried to be a little too clever and felt like a different poem from the opening, I tightened it all up, including a bit more nuance in Mozer's section, while heavily revising the closing to end up with what I think is a far stronger, more personal, more relatable work. Veteran's Day isn't a time for generic sentiments, positive or negative, but a time for personal reflection. I'm generally ambivalent about my time in the military because I met far too many people who defied easy stereotypes of what it means to be pro- or anti-war, and I've always had nothing but respect for anyone who has served, not to mention a fair bit of curiosity about why they did so.
I've always been fascinated (and frustrated) by poetry's "delicate snowflake" status, and how such a diverse variety of forms, styles, and voices often gets lumped into such a generic, cavernous category, like literary fiction and graphic novels. One of the things I've always loved about good anthologies and open mics is the inherent (or the potential for) diversity in those formats, something that's not clearly communicated on bookstore shelves nor the Dewey Decimal system.
I've noted often in the past that most of what I preach and practice when it comes to marketing and community-building, I learned during those four years of Mondays, and by the end of the night last Monday, I realized how big a hole I'd created when I walked away from that part of my life. So, I'm back.
Perhaps it's just the drama this week offered -- from the tragic and inspiring events in Boston, to some big things starting to shake loose at the day job -- combining with the unexpected introduction to some good poems, but I'm getting that feeling again, a tentative spark that danced unusually bright in my brain throughout my run this morning. It wasn't a full-fledged poem, just the beginnings of one, words and ideas tap-dancing to a vaguely familiar rhythm, a lucid dream that lasted for a couple of miles before threatening to fade if I didn't write them down. So I did, cheating my cooldown and stretching to get to the computer as fast as I could.
Interestingly, Spiegelman nails the underlying problem with poetry in general, though he seems to imply it's a flaw related more to a poet's level of experience with form rather than an inherent flaw in poetry in general, but especially that written for the page. While formal poetry has never been my cup of tea, the vast majority of poetry -- formal and free verse, written and oral -- actually bores me to tears for the exact reasons Spiegelman notes.
While many book publishers and academy types might argue otherwise, poetry has always been an oral form, first and foremost. A poem on the page is theoretical, incomplete; like a promising idea not yet vetted. Reading your work out loud is also one of the best forms of editing, and not just for poetry, but straight fiction and non-fiction, too.
Inspired more by friends like Chuck Wendig, Will Hindmarch and Jane Friedman than Joe Konrath, et al, and emboldened by everything I learned from working with Joshua Tallent while running Digital Book World, my goal for the project was two-fold: do enough of it myself to have hands-on experience of what it takes, what's "easy" and what isn't; and to get the monkey of finally publishing this particular book off my back!