Tuesday, April 11, 2017

THE POET AS A MAKER

Hello there,
I am (ceteris paribus, as my old professor used to say) making my way through an MA in poetry at Lancaster University. It has me thinking about what kind of poet I have imagined myself to be - about language and interests, about the ways in which I (am) read in the world literally and figuratively. Lots to say here but lets save it for the classroom.
In his essay Blueprint for BreakBeat Writing (Poetry Magazine, April 2015), Nate Marshall argues for "Why hip-hop has everything to do with poetry"  and states that "We write to assert the existence of ourselves, to assert our right to our own lives and bodies. These considerations influence not only the subject matter but also the aesthetic approach to making poems". 
He lists a kind of 7 point manifesto of how this ideology is evinced in the work. You can find his essay online, I am invested in his idea/l/s especially his first which makes a wide space at the table for performance and video etc alongside the page. It is this point which for me underpins the rest... it demands what is live, present and (based on my personal experience) therefore what is likely responsive and inclusive and open-sourced. 
I'm undertaking an MA in part because I value rigour and structure. Perhaps I'm lazier than your fave but I have read more broadly and ...deeply since beginning this MA. Not just others work, though I had to look at theory much more than I otherwise would have, but my own. As someone with more than a decades worth of performance history for various audiences in multiple continents/countries I know a thing or two about reader's (listener) response and many other critical thinking practices than I thought I would. With the fear of (academic) gods in me I underestimated the value of being a practicing poet. It is nice... productive to be able to name all those working parts, to speak about them formally when required and to challenge the status quo when it doesn't fit my skin. To demand that the canon stretch outward and backwards and forward to acknowledge the masters I have chosen and who have in turn been through textual conversation with me. No one sanctions BS but they are open to the self in the work as long one 'privileges analysis, argument and example over mere assertion'. I've never been particularly overly emotional but its a bit like learning a new language entering the academy from the bottom up, all that consistency and clarity and such. Ain't nobody got time for run-on sentences in the 'room.  

I've a chapbook to my name Mandible (Slapering Hol Press, 2014)  courtesy of The African Poetry Book Fund. One of my friends called its voice 'completely unexpected' we talked about how much of a self confessed rambler I am and how that and my spoken word background led her to expect something else from the book. She loved it but wondered if I had 'left something of [my]self' out of it. That is reason number four that I am very glad I published that work. I am also able to deal with my work far outside my body and its (actual) voice - or whatever other props I employ consciously or otherwise - because that distance has been very productive. And to retire some poems because there was the self imposed obligation that once I thought a poem was done I wanted to share it live, some over and over but once they were published I could free up that head space. I'm not making an argument for books as some sort of literary graveyard, thats just how my head works/ed at that point. In many ways the publishing was not an end in itself but a clear way for the work to live in different ways.

I  began as, and still am, a spoken word poet in the sense that I love to read my work out loud and often write poems that would present themselves as ...unusual (depending who you ask) were they to be placed quietly on the page. That said, in hindsight, I don't like to hear my own voice. I suspect where we meant to we would sound just as we imagine ourselves to on and off recordings but that's not been the case for me. It's easy enough to pseudo-distance myself mid performance/reading because I am engaging outward, I aM invested my listeners' experience not (primarily) my own. I'm notorious for slipping away if some recording of me starts to play because all I can do in that moment is be a critical listener though it is I who am speaking, but like Marshall and his BreakBeat poets I very much "believe in the necessity for poems to live in multiple 
media (page, performance, video, audio, various multi-genre presentational forms)."

I've thus far recorded 2 CDs (including one with my band Sonic Slam Chorus) and been featured on others' projects, as well as on websites such as lyrikline where the work appears in English alongside its German translation. There's also a lot of unsanctioned material on the web - plenty to humble any ideas of self aggrandisement.

And I've shot two videos. Both Neon Poem and Dreams were filmed in Cambodia by the talented Masahiro Sugano (Studio Revolt). Neon Poem borrows its opening line from Amiri Baraka's controversial poem Black Art. Do take a look and listen and read through the lines.

Yours, as always.