I keep wondering how I’m going to start this. Do I rehash everything that has happened in the last few months in poetry or do I just dive in? What can I impart that will illuminate a new thought to someone for a change for the better? I can’t really add much more than what I feel. I am person full emotions. They cloud me sometimes.
For now here are a few pieces I’ve already enjoyed and empathize with:
* Vanessa Place, The Mongrel Coalition and Sector 17: Notes on Poetry, Violence and Community http://jackkerouacispunjabi.blogspot.ca/2015/05/vanessa-place-mongrel-coalition-and.html
* On Being-Hated: Conceptualism, the Mongrel Coalition, the House That Built Me by Trisha Low: http://openspace.sfmoma.org/2015/05/on-being-hated-conceptualism-the-mongrel-coalition-the-house-that-built-me/
* On Vanessa Place, Gone With the Wind, and the Limit Point of Certain Conceptual Aesthetics by John K: http://jstheater.blogspot.ca/2015/05/on-vanessa-place-gone-with-wind-and.html
The first time I wrote about the poetry world was when I had finished reading Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing. It prompted me to start my James Joyce projects. A new world had opened up to me in writing. Soon afterward I met Goldsmith and he introduced me to some of my local poetry heroes. I was so taken aback. He introduced me like I was “a very interesting and important poet.” I was overwhelmed with his kindness. Around the same time frame, I met Vanessa Place at an art show here in Toronto that featured conceptual poets and artists. We were both in line for the washroom and she asked me if I was a poet too. She suggested I should visit Los Angeles and take in the poetry scene there. I started reading on her work and it inspired me greatly.
I took on my lyrical and conceptual projects with fervour I hadn’t had since I was a teenager. A combination of writer’s block, a desk job, and then becoming a mother put all my writing on the back burner. It’s still very exciting to me to be in a world where I can produce work for myself and have others critique it, let alone be interested in it. I really haven’t done much, but film and literary criticism help me practice and expand my avenues. I would never have thought of turning my nerdy pursuits into a career. It’s a career I feel very passionate for and drives me. Words mean so much to me and I am very protective of them. Letting them go is cathartic and I’ve since learned it’s important for me to keep writing.
Then in April this happened: http://jacquelinevalencia.com/2015/03/15/thoughts-on-kenneth-goldsmith-and-michael-brown/
Not only had that happened (I can’t even bring myself to appropriate that child’s name on this post. He’s suffered enough.), but conceptual poetry was to blame for all the problems of the poetry world which included racism, sexism, elitism, and add all the -isms you want here. Conceptual poetry had to be abolished because it was the platform of the rich, white, and privileged. Not only that, but somehow my words ended up in different news media platforms. Some of them had misconstrued and cut up my writing to suit their opinion and agenda, misidentified me as a Goldsmith student (I looked up to him as if he was mentor), or black (I’m mixed Hispanic and I don’t appreciate that a paper took it upon themselves to identify as they saw fit without consulting me first), while entirely dismissing my reasoned defence for conceptualism. I got a lot of support for it, but it didn’t feel right.
The one person that could have answered my confusion ran away because their work was being continually questioned and he was being continually burned. I still wait for an answer. Not that I’m owed one. I may have a lost a friend/mentor in the process.
I have no regrets.
I’d known about the @VanessaPlace twitter account and added it on because I was interested in reactions to it. I was surprised no one had already. I wasn’t offended by it because Gone With The Wind is already so offensive. I also didn’t see it as my place to say anything because as a woman of mixed heritage, I’m still navigating that part of my identity with an awareness of my own privilege. I live in mixed girl limbo and that has it’s own problems that most don’t concern themselves with. No one speaks for me and I don’t speak for everyone. The outrage against Vanessa Place’s piece is right and I understand it. Everyone has the right to react the way they want to against racism or if they feel an injustice. No one wants to hear the art behind it (you can read the art behind in those links above). No one wants to hear what VP or KG were thinking and why they did what they did. They just want to condone and abolish.
That’s well within their rights to condone and call for action. Abolish? I’m not sure of that yet.
I am very grateful for the discourse this has provoked. My eyes were partially closed and now they’re wide open. Decolonize language. Decolonize your soul. But only against conceptualism? Really? So which poets of colour are being taught in school? Are we positive that no lyrical poets have ever been racist, sexist, or elitist? It’s all the same boiling pot of vanilla and we have a giant problem all around with this right now. Poetry has always had their cliques, it still doesn’t make it right. Decolonize all of it. Restructure all of it. No holds barred and no excuses. I demand you decolonize your own worlds for you.
No one prepared me for the onslaught of hate against a creative/uncreative process. For years I’ve been hearing the death of poetry, the death of lyricism, or the death of conceptualism. Pick a side and kill the other. Denounce and silence the brand of poetry that you hate. The “I” of lyricism will fall at the hands of conceptualists and the robots of conceptualism will be beheaded at the hands of the lyricists. Poetry right now is filled with feuding families pointing smug fingers at one another. At first I was amused, now everyone is hurting. Guess what? Poetry is personal again now.
The thing I’ve always loved about poetry is that I get to play with words. I get to experiment despite the colour of my skin or the constraints or traditions I utilize. I want to use both English and Spanish to explore the languages I grew up with and add a new one: Chibcha (the extinct native language of Colombia). Whether that be creatively or un-creatively, I have every right to do what I want.
Is conceptualism stained by racism? Yeah, it is, but so is lyricism. All of it is stained. I grew up speaking Spanish at home and learning English at school. These are two languages brought by conquerors that eradicated my ancestral people and their native tongue along with it. We use English every day on social media. At least most of us do.
I’m still very confused and hurt by all the things said against all the camps. Seriously, poetry camps and coteries! Not that I matter in all of this any way. But Poetry (with a capital P) matters to me. It’s where all my forms of expression originate. It comes from a mind that aspires to be a poet; one that still has problems saying, “I am a poet,” because to say that means you earned a mastery of words. It’s an audacious claim. I don’t not hold a mastery of words. I’m a writer and deciphering the world with writing poetry and reading poetry is part of my learning process. It fulfills me and delights me. It will continue to do so. But now I’ve got this anger. This angering energy empowers me to make a deep change in how I use lyricism and conceptualism. I mean, look at this awesome work!:
I love the idea of decolonizing language with conceptualism. You can do it lyrically, but the possibilities become limitless in a cut up and paste world. KG and VP have offended and I hope that more poets offend and provoke. I don’t believe in art that’s sole purpose is to offend. I believe in art that opens eyes, changes perspectives, or makes people see things they were once blind to. As it is, these controversies have made me think about the world of criticism, how it must change and how it must start proving its worth. But that’s another world altogether.
You will not repress me because I have a voice. You may judge my methods of expression, but I have a strong voice, and I will use it as I see fit. You may critique me or condone me, but no one will silence me.
I come from people that matter, my parents, my family, my chosen family, my teachers, my mentors, but I follow no one. And I continue to learn. Full heart, clear eyes, and pen at the ready.
Learn to know thyself.
Poetry is freedom. There is freedom in speech. The poet is the world’s unpaid politician.