Last week's column arose from my involvement with the upcoming 1999 Albuquerque Poetry Festival (we dropped the International part this year). The only reason that I'm currently involved with the festival, is that a little over two years ago I started a web page called The Albuquerque Poet. I did this so that I could publish some poetry on the web. I thought it would be fun to see what kind of material I would receive, and where it might come from, given the ease and immediacy of this ascendant medium. Since I was and am poetry-community conscious, I allowed the local spoken word and poetry organization some space on the web site to advertise events and promote themselves a bit.
I had not been exactly devoted to the web site in recent months. Up until this past Monday, 1/18, the haiku section hadn't been updated in a year. The last upgrade/addition, Zuzax, happened at the beginning of last June. That is until this last week. I have joyfully updated all sections with fresh material. I knew there would be visitors to look at the festival schedule. You know how it is. Ya gotta spruce up the house when company's coming.
If the poetry festival hadn't come along, that page may have descended into full ghost status.
And what a shame that might have been.
I've been receiving submissions of work all the time. However, I've been involved with other web projects, and since I have drifted from being physically active in the local poetry scene (read: not going to readings) I lacked inspiration to keep The Albuquerque Poet current. However, sorting through (and finding) all the submissions from the past 6 months to a year has been a real joy. There is some very good poetry up on that site now, that had been simmering patiently in my stacked up email inbox. And I've got more.
Receiving the submissions has been interesting. Last October a fellow sent me no less than 15 poems, and they were all separate MS Word .doc attachments. I was a little upset with this. I sent the guy a response expressing, in condescending terms, that I felt this a little excessive and that I may not even read them. Well this past weekend I did read them -- and damn are they good! I was so impressed that I broke my policy of only publishing one piece by a given author in any publication, and put up three of his works. In my original note to the author, I told him that he was dangerous and dubbed him the Unapoet. Well I still think he's dangerous but in a much more positive way. Bold and brazen truth tellers are the most dangerous people of all.
In the time since I first put up the Albuquerque Poet, many thousands of poetry pages have sprouted on the web. (I know because they've all asked me for a link.) This is the true miracle of the internet. Just within the pages of my site, there are perhaps dozens of writers, and talented ones, who may have never been published otherwise. Just seeing their work there or on another poetry site, can give them the confidence to pursue their chosen artform. All they is need is access to a computer w/modem to put up their own page. Then they can reach many more people than publishing a chap book, and for free if necessary. Everything: web space, email, and even dial-up, are available for free. This is one major reason that I put up my site. I could have some fun, promote poets and poetry, and for cheap. All it really cost was time.
The best part though is that it has kept me connected, albeit tenuously, to the art of poetry. I feel that every artist, for his/her own sake, needs to perform some stewardship in relation to his/her art. For a poet this could mean hosting an open mike, publishing a journal, or these days maintaining a web site. Playing the "keeper of the fire" helps one to be humble, as well keeping one involved. Several years ago I hosted a weekly open poetry reading at a house I shared with five other people (good thing they liked it). I call it an open reading because we didn't have microphones. In many ways that was better because of the direct interaction rather than the virtual. We would sit by the fire, drink wine, smoke, and hear each others deepest truths and darkest thoughts. We had some magical moments. I don't know what any of my web site contributors even look like (or sound like or smell like). But, I don't think I ever would've met that kid from China, or the Warhol fan in Melbourne, at my house. And those magical moments were fleeting -- the work on the web page need never ever go away.
I think the key here, as in all arenas that are both virtual and 3-D, is to keep a foot in both worlds. Smell the poets that you can, but interact in email too. Recently, I have been too lacking of the poet's sensory world.
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