Saturday, June 4, 2005

Taking the Poetry to the Mainstream...Worth it or Not?

Let us assume, for the sake of this blog, that poetry is not part of mainstream culture, unless you count books like The Best 100 Love Poems, which I received as a gift once and liked, actually. What efforts in your city are there to get it there? Does it even matter if APA poetry emerges beyond cool readings where cool poets read great poems? I don't know. No, I do know. It should be read by a wider audience, plain and simple. And there is no part of my argument that says it should be a watered down, romantic verse that finds its way onto the Barnes and Noble shelves. It should be the difficult books, the beautiful and tragic books, the challenging and strong ones.

There is no large independent bookstore in Fresno, California. None. There are some small ones with Louis L'Amour and Grisham galore, but nothing like Logos in Santa Cruz or Moe´s in Berkeley or City Lights in SF, much less Powell's in Portland (oh, the books I found in Portland). So how to get good books in the hands of people in cities like Fresno, Modesto, El Paso? I like the poetry on busses idea...and I like to give books as gifts. I know of some colleagues who avidly read poetry---they teach ESL or philosophy or art, listen to NPR and would welcome a good, thin volume of poetry by someone besides Whitman or Neruda (assuming they are already a little familiar with these essentials). Last Christmas I asked for Inada's Drawing the Line, which my sister bought for me. With no birthday in sight, I may have to buy Of Thee I Sing soon, but I am sure there will be more books to buy some November (yep, I'm a scorpio).

If you're feeling philanthropic, give them as stocking stuffers or for other occasions. Host a reading if you're in a town other than SF, LA, or NY where they are more common. Spread the word. Make a bumper sticker. Or at least post to this blog about an idea of your own. Cheers.

p.s. Izalco, El Salvador, is a beautiful village.


barbara jane said...

good post, lee. i agree with you, that it's the "difficult" books, as you say, that ought to get more exposure, rather than the vanilla.

though in the case of one recent asian am poetry anthology which came under fire for its lack of 'diversity,' its relatively small #s of poets and styles represented, it also seems to garner a lot of attention, and this might be one way into apa poetry.

i do like yr ideas of how to disseminate and circulate work, very grassroots. also, i've never been to powell's but love ordering from them online. that's one place transcendent of geography, yes?

i've recently emailed you an announcement about some asian am poets coming to fresno in july. also, when you are back in town, do feel free to give yr mailing address for gifts (certainly, some of us would be interested in your reading and teaching our work? that's great incentive for writers to donate their books).

Roger Pao said...

Hey Lee, yes, I agree with Barbara -- nice post! Giving Asian-American poetry books as gifts is an especially good idea. I think, if we know our friends well enough, we can probably match them up to a book that they'll more likely than not enjoy.

Lee Herrick said...


I will definitely send you my mailing address when I return home. I would love to see some of your work and would love to incorporate it into my classes.

and thank you for the word about the Fresno readings. I have seen posters for both events...I am looking forward to hopefully seeing both of them.

I like Nick Carbo's poems.


Bryan Thao Worra said...

A few suggestions then-

I think it's important just to take a friend aside once in a while and show them a poem that you like.

Have a good, fun casual conversation about it.

Instead of using a trite pop culture reference, alluding to a line of poetry in the course of everyday matters does wonders for the soul, and is effective in demonstrating poetry's day to day applicability.

The object is not to lord over others that you've some higher erudition, but rather to make a space in the everyday where a poetic allusion is as commonplace and no more difficult as quoting the Simpsons or Seinfeld.

If you can say "Ay Carumba!" you can just as easily cite Yeats' The Second Coming- "The center cannot hold..." etc.

And we mustn't be afraid to email a good poem from someone else, or even one we wrote ourselves.

Nor should we balk at answering questions like "what the heck does this mean?"

At least they want to know.

I find it works best to send shorter pieces usually.

Post a poem on a company bulletin board, a cafeteria table or a bathroom stall once in a while.

Have more fun with it. This is poetry, not a funeral.

Try a theme week, where a particular theme is chosen and friends and colleagues are challenged to find a poem that fits that theme. At the end of the week, share the results.

From an Asian American poet's perspective there's many of us who have samples of our work available online.

Send a link to a few friends- it's usually a no cost proposition.

Ask your friends to send links back of Asian American poets and their work that they run into.

That's just a few ways to start.

Lee Herrick said...


Great ideas here. I especially like the one about posting a poem on a cafeteria table or wall somewhere. I do that one on my office door. I'll usually print one up and change it about once a week if I am on the ball.

I also like your comment about having fun with the poetry.