The day before I performed at the Howl Festival (Saturday, June 1st) it was Walt Whitman’s birthday; I thought of Whitman; I thought of poetry; I thought of the POET, the American POET, and I thought about Allen Ginsberg. The Beats were writers. It was simply put by William S. Burroughs when he was asked about Kerouac, “Kerouac was a writer, because he wrote”. I, for many years, tried to understand this blatant statement of the man, and I probably still don’t fully comprehend all the layers of these words.
Whitman said of the American POET:
The expression of the American poet is to be transcendent and new. It is to be indirect, and not direct or descriptive or epic. Its quality goes through these to much more. Let the age and wars of other nations be chanted, and their eras and characters be illustrated, and that finish the verse. Not so the great psalm of the republic. Here the theme is creative, and has vista. Whatever stagnates in the flat of custom or obedience or legislation, the great poet never stagnates. Obedience does not master him, he masters it. (Whitman)
When someone asks me what I write, I feel the word “poetry” in my mouth, and it’s uncomfortable. I am not a fiction writer. I am not a playwright. I am a POET. How am I supposed to say this in a way in which people take me seriously? What do I do Walt Whitman?
And then June 1, 2013 happened—The Howl Festival! I was part of an army of POETS, armed with “soapboxes” (plastic step stools), poetry folded in our pockets, in binders, in our minds, hearts, souls; we were disobedient, “smear(ing) poetry in the air for hours” (Aimee Herman). The theme was creative. The theme was transcendent, and I felt proud to be a POET.
If he does not expose superior models, and prove himself by every step he takes, he is not what is wanted. (Whitman)
We were sweating, screaming loudly over music being flung throughout the park, taking back the space(s) which had once been where Ginsberg and company carved individual CITIZEN/POET identities into the concrete, the trees, the scarred avenues and building facades. We HOWLED! and ROARED! for hours, making our presence known!
Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private. (Ginsberg)
What did I learn from my experience as a Soapbox POET? I learned that poetry is much more than a bohemian novelty. I learned the MOTION and GESTURAL momentum a phrase of poetry can create, that it can bring simple park goers—people watchers—into PARTICIPANTS in a much larger CITIZEN DISCOURSE. I learned that my own POET identity is important.
I learned how to say, “I write Poetry”. I am a POET.