I had Ron Whitehead on video performing "I Will Not Bow Down" with Southside this morning. It provided me with a much-needed, mind-cleansing dose of abnormality. Reminded me I was an artist … Ron has the ability to live and to work as an artist on no one’s terms but his own, whereas sometimes I see myself as I think others see me and internalise their prejudices about what I do, what I say, how I look. It’s a bad old habit which I acquired many, many years ago. A lot of Ron’s stuff speaks with absolute defiance about who he is and what he believes, like a blues song with an education, or Walt Whitman drunk on red wine jamming with a rock and roll band. It inspires me tremendously, and I probably embarrassed the hell out of him when I told him so.
I write well enough when the wind is fair and my dander’s up, but most of the time it comes out in uncontrolled spurts like the gyzm of Onan, and it ends up in all the wrong places. I should make an effort to get some of that stuff down in a poem or a proper prose piece instead of creaming all over the ephemeral medium of Facebook.
Although on Facebook a few people do read what I write from time to time. I can’t convince the poets and the publishers to touch my writing with a bargepole. I have literary leprosy, pretty much, as a poet/ writer/ blogger. As editor of BEATNIK I can at least get people to talk to me through the kitchen window of the Hallowed House of Letters, but I don’t think I’m the one who’s being served by that relationship, other than when I encounter (as I do from time to time) the work of fabulous poets previously unknown to me like Peter Marra and Eric Chaet. Everybody benefits then.
What’s the problem with the Bard of Semilong then, beside his probable reputation as a loudmouth, a bore and a Communist? (I will accept the first two, but anybody who believes number three is an idiot.) I don’t send a lot of work out because I want to be certain it’s good before it goes. But BEATNIK makes sure I have a level of visibility on the scene. And as I’ve already said, I write well enough, occasionally. I’m a terrible self-publicist though, and a pitiful networker … I have no interest in persuading anybody to go here or go there, or buy this or buy that, to read a poem by me that is no better or worse than a poem by some other bloke, and won’t keep anybody out of hell or get them into heaven.
I don’t have the time, the energy or the inclination to make friends with the editors of ten new magazines a month so they’ll publish my poetry either. I’ve got all the friends my semi-sociopathic mind can handle and I have an extremely hard time being false these days, having abandoned it as a career when I left care work. If they do publish me I’ll only wind up getting a submission from them to BEATNIK, which will probably be yawningly average, and I’ll probably be too spineless to reject it … I just don’t want to get into that. There’s too much of it goes on already in what I sometimes laughingly call the "alternative" poetry scene ("clasping assholes" was Bukowski’s phrase for the practice), and most of the poetry it produces would bore the rust off an old wire fence.
Envy! I hear you cry. Because no one loves you. Because you can’t get a book. But I’m not denying either of those charges. I’m not even denying that many of the poets out there write better poetry than I do, although an equally large number aren’t fit to carry my man bag. If you, however, are denying that there’s a game in poetry and that with a few notable exceptions the people who have the most success are the ones who know how to play it, then you’re either being disingenuous or pig-headed.
Poetry, like politics, is "the art of controlling your environment"; and I suppose I’m just not very good at control. Perhaps naively, though, I do believe that real quality will be discovered whether the game has been played, the ladder climbed and the asses clasped or not; and that (probable) fantasy is what keeps me working. It’s what inspires me to read more and to try to write better on these long nights in front of the laptop with no sound in the house except the humming of the boiler, and the rhythm of the line I’m writing making its music (on the good nights) in my brain.
Like Kerouac said about something else entirely Come back and tell me in a hundred years. Although if the governments and armies and weapons traders and economic experts of the world have their way, we’ll all have gone to hell in an overcrowded handbasket by then and none of this will matter. Not that it does now, either, actually.