Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The State of Poetry

The State of Poetry

          What you ask is the state of poetry? Well there are probably more outlets for the art than ever. Especially when you factor in the internet sites. In one way the business is booming. However is poetry popular? That is, is there an interest in the art outside of poets? I once heard that there are more writers of poetry than readers. How one can prove that to be true, I don't know. But understand what such a statement is getting at. Poetry has become an art for only those working in that medium. Or has it?
          William  Shakespeare was a poet. A very powerful and prolific writer. He knew and still knows immense popularity. I suspect that Shakespeare's sales today surpass the most popular poets of our day. William Shakespeare proves that poetry can indeed be popular. He was a play writer, you say. Well his plays are works of poetry. William Shakespeare became a wealthy man off of his art.
          Some will scowl and frown, saying, poetry will never ascend to those heights again. They are of course, dead wrong. All I have to do is present to you musical lyrics. True there is more to the song than the lyrics but the lyrics are essential most of the time to a song's success. Music lyrics are not at all like modern poetry. Rather they are a very strict form of writing. They have a set rhythm, a rhyming scheme and an overall pattern. Then you need a chorus and a hook as well. Song lyrics show that poetry can indeed be popular. Writing a great song is of course one of the hardest things in the world to do.
          So why isn't poetry popular today? Because the majority of the poems produced today are simply garbage. 'Free verse' has digressed into a saying that the poet interprets as 'I'll just write whatever I want'. Truly rhyming poetry and other formal modes of poems have been thrust out as being archaic. But this attitude is but a momentary phenomena.
          Let us look at art in the form of painting pictures. In particular Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso could paint a realistic picture. That is he was so talented that his work was almost like a photograph when he wanted to. So when Pablo paints these abstract pictures, I have no choice but to respect them. Even if I cannot understand them. Why? Because I know that he is a master of the art and every paint brush stroke is painstakingly put into place. But if some joker comes along who can't even paint a fruit bowl realistically does abstract work, should I respect him? Absolutely not.
          Let us look at poetry. It takes a good amount of talent to write a sonnet. There is both a strict meter and rhyming skill to it. Then beyond that it takes some artistic spirit. It takes that intangible known as creativity. Now let's compare poetry to painting. If somebody cannot demonstrate skillful control of words, why should I look at their free verse. If somebody can't play a simple tune on a piano, should I respect their improvisation.  Or is it a senseless clanking of the keys? So if you can't even write a decent sonnet, please don't show my your free verse. You haven't proven yourself.
          So let us look at what Walt Whitman was all about. Poetry had been inundated with rhyme to the point that it became trite. Then came 'Leaves of Grass'. It was labeled 'free verse' as it didn't rhyme. It wasn't blank verse as there was no strict rhythmic patter. But it was not as Robert Frost said about free verse. "Playing tennis without a net." Rather Walt Whitman created his own unique creature and there in he liberally adhered to the new pattern he created. Note that there was something there. It was not simply words thrown on a piece of paper.
          So let us diverge at this moment to consider the true purpose of poetry. As a sub genre of literature poetry is supposed to communicate something. It could make you sad, happy, reflective or whatever. Or it could simply just make you think. Also poetry could take the form that what is read is pleasing to the ear. Generally it encompasses more than one of these aspects in a small amount of words. But above all a poem should communicate something.  You should read it and something should be left with you.
          But what happens today? You get ambiguous words without any connection. The meaning, if there is one, is known solely by the author. So are you saying that poetry needs to abide by some strict set of rules to make it work. Not at all. As evidence I present Robert Hayden's "Middle Passage". Though  this poem holds structure it by now means has a clear formal pattern. That is it would be a struggle to write a formula that was adhered to.
          Still after reading Middle Passage one cannot help but stand back and be amazed. The drama of the work coupled with the beauty of the words are extraordinary. Clearly there is something communicated. At the very least a story is told. More than a simple tale Hayden gives us an ironic look at the hypocrisy of life. If one wants to write free verse, look at Middle Passage.
          So where is poetry heading? There is a struggle here. I firmly believe that poetry belongs in the hand of the main stream. That it's rightful place is in the hand of the common man. But in order to do so we must take the art away from those who have hijacked it.  Those who have made a beautiful and powerful force into a trivial and trite ordeal.
          How do we make poetry popular again? By writing poetry that connects. By writing great pieces. By disregarding the quick and easy way out, to please those editors who lack vision. Rhyming Poets International is a great organization that is attempting to bring back the artistic quality into poetry.
          Finally let us have a word about experts. A degree is nothing more than a piece of paper when it comes down to it. You can hold a degree in engineering but that doesn't make you like Tesla. The proof of understanding how to write is contained solely in the piece itself. A poem stands or fails by it's own merit alone. I don't care who wrote it, it is subject to the same criteria. Did this poem have an impact on me in some way?

          Obviously poetry is failing. Where are the great poets of our age? Where are the William Shakespeares of our day? Unfortunately they are buried in a massive garbage heap. But do not be dismayed for in the struggle the artist is made. If one truly has talent and the heart of the champion they will achieve, God willing. Understand we almost missed out on Emily Dickinson didn't we? 

Signing off for now,

John 'FeatherLeaf' Kaniecki 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Guest Blog- Raymond Nat Turner Presents a Poem

I am very happy to present a poem from Raymond Nat Turner. I first became aware of Raymond's art from the pages of Struggle Magazine. I find his work poignant, thought provoking and moving. Above all I appreciate the call of righteousness when so many others conveniently look away in complacent silence.

Defense wins championships,
War profiteering bleeds budgets & People

by Raymond Nat Turner

Enough ale the color of
Leaded water in Flint to
Flood the Lower Ninth Ward
Enough Bud brewed to drown
Governments in bathtubs
Enough melted cheese to sink
Manhattan multiple times
Enough pizzas to feed every
Occupy, springing up 2011, for a week
Enough chips to stretch from
Earth to Uranus and back again
Enough heartburn to backlog
Every emergency room still open
Enough gas to forget about fracking;
and power an armada of nuclear subs
Enough bullshit to flow Brooklyn Bridge
to Golden Gate Bridge and back again,
Pausing “Send In The Clowns—“
$election 2016—2/4 Dance where a dime’s
Difference resides in war dancers,
Bailout engineers, extraordinary renderers,
Enhanced interrogators, collateral damagers,
Drone devotees—Guantanamo groupies!
thickness of a Trump card separates
Warheads of a Cruz missile from those of a
Golda-plated Iron Lady plundering Haiti
Grieving families still feel the Bern of Boeing’s
Products and learn Northrup-Grummond’s another
Name for death…

Grandiose spectacle of declining empire, the
Warfare state, causes chickens to tremble in terror
This time of the year
thinking of their wings, breasts, other body parts
stuffing the Colonel’s buckets; chickens shudder
at being stuffed in pepperoni holes of cops, klan,
militia and poor black, brown, and white
Working-class men in Couch Potato Pose
for four hours…

A week deep into African-
American History Month—shortest
Month of the year, and another
Newton leads Panthers on Ohlone Land,
Golden State, world stage, this Sunday—
Not the 9.0 earthquake, 1960s…

He entertains endless babbling about
Arms, “arm-strength—“ armed self-defense
Stuffed behind class war’s line of scrimmage
like a failed fourth and one run; he addresses
chatter of “moving the chains—“ Removing the
Chains is out of bounds, like a receiver failing to tap
dance before the white line…
Pigskin pursuits like opponents clipping, chopping
Black Lives down on streets, are out of bounds—so is
Tackling land, bread, housing and other 10-Points
Panthers played Sudden Death overtime for…

Before Broncos or Panthers wake up,
Before buses caravan from hotels—before
Coin toss—heads 1% wins, tails 99% loses:
Playing field ain’t level, dice are loaded—
Game’s rigged, fix is in:
Fat Cats, too big to fail, stuffed Single Payer, strip-
Sacked schools, jobs, pensions, 4o1Ks, blocked
Housing, threw drinking water, air we breathe for
Losses; bailed-out bull-rushing banksters on quick-
Counts—ran endless, no huddle wars… And 64 people
Own more wealth than all eyes viewing Super Bowl L!

Voting is like talking12th Man, Terrible Towel, Cheese-
head claptrap, rant, rodomontade—until Colts become
Broncos; Jaguars, Panthers; Raiders, Patriots— or some
Slave Phone app is invented for saving the planet,
Saving the working-class masses—February 31st…

We claim we want another world—say it’s
Possible, we can hear it on a clear day, and
can’t wait, and other incredibly beautiful things…
Yet, classmates succumb to cancer and we talk
“transitions,” “home-goings,” avoiding the
hermeneutics of suspicion, not outliving our
parents—our children not outliving us…
We claim, “all lives matter” knowing some
Have never mattered—and never will…
We say, “Save the children,” watching fifty-four
Schools closed, twenty-three prisons built—
celebrating life, slicing 60% of the pie for death
We say, “organic,” instead of calling out war-
Poisoned Frankenfood; we say, “mainstream media,”
knowing it’s minority, multibillionaire, big-lie
We say, “becoming a police state,” like $4.99
Becomes $5.00— because bald-headed buffoons and
lil’ fellas with funny mustaches are MIA—though 25%
of all humans caged are under stars and stripes; some
are gunned down daily!

We speak truth to power. Yet, power creeps like
Weeds into our lexicon:
“boots on the ground” isn’t a Barney’s blowout
sidewalk sale; “enhanced interrogation” ain’t discourse
on Douglass intersecting Du Bois, in Robeson’s
Cultural Work, or King’s ‘67 Riverside Church speech;
“signature strikes” aren’t ILWU refusals to
Unload South African and Israeli apartheid cargo
“high value targets” ain’t good department store deals

Game planning from the Peoples’ Playbook—
Marching holes in soles, walking out, sitting-in,
Striking, boycotting—meeting more than four corners;
Nurturing the new—paying attention to children in
Chitown, babies in Baltimore, front-liners in Flint and
Ferguson—remembering Occupy, drawing lessons—
putting forehead to history, theory getting us to the
Red Zone—struggle for socialism’s our Super Bowl!

Raymond Nat Turner © 2016 All Rights Reserved

Raymond Nat Turner is a NYC poet privileged to have read at the Harriet Tubman Centennial Symposium. He is Artistic Director of the stalwart JazzPoetry Ensemble UpSurge and has appeared at numerous festivals and venues including the Monterey Jazz Festival and Panafest in Ghana West Africa. He currently is Poet-in-Residence at Black Agenda Report. Turner has opened for such people as James Baldwin, People’s Advocate Cynthia McKinney, radical sportswriter Dave Zirin and CA Congresswoman Barbara Lee following her lone vote against attacking Afghanistan. Read otherarticles by Raymond Nat, or visit Raymond Nat's website.

“…one of the most prolific, consistently beautiful and unabashedly radical voices writing today - Raymond Nat Turner. If you ever have an opportunity to see him perform, just do it."
—Writer, activist, organizer, Makani Themba    

“The cadence is rocking; the rhythm, haunting; the message riveting; the urgency for righteousness, profoundly compelling!”
—Writer, Georgia Webb
Upsurge! is another entity that brings politically radical words to the stage, albeit woven into an amazing fabric of jazz…. more akin to modern theatre than anything else. This is the kind of theatre that I would pay Broadway prices for. And we got to enjoy it as a part of this Festival. Thank you all for something so special.
—John Pietaro, Founder/Director Dissident Arts Festival, NYC