Compiled by G. Murray Thomas
Next … Magazine covered the Southern California poetry scene on monthly basis from 1994 through 1998. In the process, it provided a ground-level view of a transitional period in poetry, in SoCal and nationally. “From the Files” will reprint articles which capture important but ephemeral moments, events and publications from that period. News Clips and Ego Trips: The Best of Next … Magazine will be published by Write Bloody Publishing this fall. This was our take on the ABA (precursor to BookExpo America) from 1994. Maybe we should have been futurists instead of poets. At the time, e-books meant CD-ROMS, a brand new technology.
By G. Murray Thomas
Orange Ocean Press attended the American Booksellers’ Association (ABA) Convention at the L.A. Convention Center last month. There were some 30,000 people there, representing all major and many minor publishers, distributors and bookstores from across the country and even around the world. And there were almost NO poets!
Sure, there were a few — Bob Holman from New York, Jennifer Joseph and Bucky Sinister from San Francisco, booths from City Lights and other small publishers that dabbled in poetry scattered around. But we were one of the few booths dedicated solely to poetry. More important, there was no sense that poetry was a vital part of the publishing industry.
Now, I’ll admit I’m biased in this matter. Extremely biased. But I do feel there is a poetry explosion going on in America right now, and these giants of publishing were blissfully unaware of it.
One scene stands out for me. Many booths had promotional gimmicks, such as costumed characters. While wandering the aisles, I spotted a Velociraptor chasing Barney around. This seemed an apt metaphor for the convention — dinosaurs chasing each other, while ignoring the mammals which will replace them.
It’s not just poetry either. The primary mammal here is electronic books. While there will always be a place for print (see last month’s issue for more on that topic), it is clear to me that the future of publishing is in electronic books. But here were the publishing giants of the world, paying lip service to e-books only because they could ignore them no more. It was obvious they had no understanding of their potential, and were frankly afraid of them. The only booths displaying any innovation on e-books were small, new companies.
This is, I believe, because the giants have no vision of the future. They base their decisions on what sold last year, not on what could sell next year. They are dinosaurs in denial.
If they are in denial about something as huge as e-books, it is easy to understand how they are oblivious to something as grass-roots as poetry. If is also clear that we cannot look to them to break poetry.
There will be poetry best-sellers in the near future. Huge poetry best-sellers. But they will not be books. They’ll be CDs or videos, and they will catch these dinosaurs totally by surprise.
After all that, I will close on a humble note. I may be wrong. We poets may not be mammals. We may be dinosaurs ourselves, but of a smaller, more tenacious variety. One that will evolve into something like geckos — an amusing sidelight in the animal kingdom, but irrelevant to the main action.
But not if we can grasp our own fate, and not leave it in the hands of these ancient monsters. (7/94)
And here, a couple of years later, are the details on the electronic books we discovered there:
Poetry In Motion
CD-ROM from Voyager
Reviewed by Lawrence Schulz
Three years ago a group of the poetry posse from L.A. gathered at the Convention Center during the American Booksellers Association convention looking for the “latest” thing that would put the old whore of poetry in a fancy dress and send her out into the 21st Century to turn some new tricks. All we got was lots of hype from a plethora of publishers who still believed that publishing poetry belonged to those stricken with severe dementia and about as useful as selling wool coats in the Mojave Desert during an August afternoon.
So when I went back to the goon squad with news that I had found a wholesaler with a CD-ROM disc that would simultaneously put the poet, his written work, plus his performance and an interview all one one disc that could be played on a standard Macintosh or Windows – they all laughed at me. Of course, it was the end of a long afternoon and they would laughed at me if I would have said “Rat Poison Is Growing At the End of Your Nose” (but that’s another subject for another article).
The CD-ROM disc was entitled Poetry In Motion by Ron Mann. It had been put out by Voyager of New York and was based on a movie by the same name which came out in the early 80’s. Poetry In Motion takes footage from the movie and rearranges them to CD-ROM format. It has been out for several years, but for the life of me I could not find it anywhere.
Until this year. Got a copy of Poetry In Motion Vol. II which — for my money — is why Bill Gates and the rest of the folks in Silicon Valley invented computers. Volume Two has the works of Jim Carrol, Robert Creely, Charles Bukowski, Gary Snyder and probably anyone who has been important to poetry in America during the last 15 years.
My words to you — get this CD-ROM. If you do not own a computer, go into debt and get one and get this CD-ROM. If that doesn’t work make a friend who owns a computer and get this CD-ROM. Break into someone’s house who has a computer with the CD-ROM and play it. It is why they (whoever they are) invented poetry. This is why poetry will be alive forever. GET THIS CD-ROM. Maybe I’m being redundant but…
Dig this: Seeing and hearing Jim Carroll read his work, seeing the written work next to his performance and then finding out what inspired him to write and perform this piece. Or hearing what looks like a nice poem become a terrifying monster when Diana di Prima performs “Revolution 9.” It is hilarious to find out why Charles Bukowski would rather know more plumbers than poets; or hear Robert Creely perform his work in a strong clear voice. Volume One features Williams Burroughs, Tom Waits and Anne Waldman. It looks good but not as wide in scope as Volume Two.
The disturbing part is knowing that people were making poetry videos 10 years before The United States of Poetry got off the ground. So what’s been happening in the meantime? In this writer’s opinion, Poetry In Motion puts United Sates of Poetry to shame when it comes to displaying the performance capacity of the individual poets. Somehow USOP missed the boat completely when it came to what poets are supposed to do best — write and perform their work in the most skillful and sincerest way possible. Poetry In Motion captures it all.
This is the perfect gift to anyone you know who thinks poetry is dull and thinks that poetry reading belongs to the nerds of society. It’s too bad that Voyager has not done more to market their outstanding products to poetry fans.
It looks like the old whore is ready, willing and able to take on the 21st Century. Who would have guessed it would be the computer that would take her off the streets and into cyberspace. (12/96)
Editor’s note: Lawrence Schulz was the author of American Streets, Say It Strong, Season of the River, and We Surf —the Spoken Songs. He passed away in 2010.