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 a glimpse of what it meant to connect with other poets fifteen years ago. Note, there’s only one short paragraph about the Internet. Ah, the good old days.
1995: The Year Poets Got Hooked (Up)
By G. Murray Thomas
With Lawrence Schulz, Charles Ellik and Victor D. Infante
We almost passed on the “Year in Review” idea. While there were plenty of noteworthy poetry events in 1995, we could arrive at no consensus on what was important (Seamus Heaney to one person, Rita Dove to another; slams to him, high school students to her). However, as we looked back, one thread emerged to link all the disparate developments. That thread was the very notion of linkage. Poets were eager to connect — with each other, with other artists, with a growing audience — and used every tool at their disposal to accomplish that.
The first tool, we feel obliged to admit, is in your hands right now. We encountered many writers in venues far from home, and their newsprint smudged hands gave them away before they could even say, “I saw it in Next…”
This increased contact lead to events such as Tearing the Curtain and Words Xing the Line, in which veritable busloads of performers invaded distant venues en masse. New friends were made, and the words celebrated in fresh atmospheres. It began to feel as though there was actually a community of poets in SoCal.
Next… was not working alone. Every month brought some new poetry newsletter to our PO box, from New York (The New York City Poetry Newsletter, which expanded from a single dense sheet to a sixteen-page magazine this year) to slam headquarters in Boston (Slam) to surprises such as Minneapolis (Shout!) and Dallas (The Word). There was barely room left for such favorites as Poetry Fly and Speer Presents.
Not everyone relied on Kinko’s to get in touch. The Internet has swept up a number of artists, who are now out there hanging ten with all the hackers and techies. Web pages and BBS’s are being set up by writers and publishers so rapidly we’ve lost track already. Web pages combine all the publishing options of a newsletter with instant links to other pages. Unluckily, those of us with ancient technology (computers with a pre-1994 vintage, say) missed much of the fun.
Ma Bell to the rescue. Even such ancient technology as the telephone provided new outlets for poetry, such as The Daily Word, a local phone line with a new poem every day, and other similar lines around the country. Leaving a message was like submitting to your favorite zine!
Ah, yes, zines. Again, we’ve lost track. They are out there in droves, stacks of new freebies in every coffeehouse. And we wonder why paper prices are going up. (Like we have any right to talk, we just doubled our circulation to 10,000).
Of course, most poets were not satisfied just reaching others like themselves. They wanted new audiences, new readers, new fans. As soon as they got together, it seemed, they put on a big, dramatic show, or even a festival. There was at least one festival per county in SoCal this past year. When Words Collide, the largest of them, brought in crowds of up to 1000 to hear local and national performers. Other festivals across the country, such as The Taos Poetry Circus and the National Slam Finals in Ann Arbor, produced audiences of similar size.
The second urge which hit poets this year was to travel. They were drawn by the festivals, or the knowledge that there was a coffeehouse in Dallas, Denver or Seattle that would give five minutes or maybe the moon! Tours were suddenly the thing to do, even our own editors joined in. Many of these tours were set up using the networking tools (newsletters, e-mail, phone lines) already discussed here. Not only is our local community developing, there are hints of a national scene!
While Bill Moyers’ PBS special, The Language of Life, brought poetry to a national TV audience, many poets continued to use a more primitive method to reach their audiences: publishing chapbooks. This lead inevitably to marketing. We’ve seen poets go from saying “This is my chapbook, please buy it,” to “Buy this sucker … Cheap!” in less than a month. While many of the chapbooks we’ve seen this year are in serious need of editing by another set of eyes and ego, it is great to see this kind of initiative. And some of them have been quite good.
On a larger scale, 1995 saw some impressive anthologies of and by SoCal writers. Primary among them were Grand Passion, edited by Suzanne Lummis (Red Wind Books) the anthology of the L.A. Poetry Festival, and Revival, edited by Mud Baron and Liz Belile (Manic D Press) the Lollapalooza anthology, which included many local names. More are promised in 1996, starting with Midnight Special’s Foreshock. We have even detected hints of an informal competition to see who can produce the definitive SoCal poetry anthology. We say “Good luck in trying” and we’ll just enjoy them all.
Finally, to many poets, just the word seemed insufficient, and they established links to artists in other genres. One of the primary goals, and successes, of When Words Collide was to bring poets, musicians and storytellers together in one place, to share and celebrate their similarities rather than segregating themselves over their differences. Spoken word has linked firmly with music, and most of those putting out chapbooks feel obliged to include artwork. Even most poet Web pages have some graphics on them.
What all this will mean in 1996 is still unclear. Maybe, together, we can all inject some new excitement into the scene, producing larger audiences and inspiring new leaps in our art. Or perhaps, like the Balkans, we will suddenly decide we can’t stand each other.
In any event, we hope you hooked up this year, and that your connections, whatever they were, will last long and serve you well in the future. And we hope we remain one of them. (1/96)