“What if poetry, currently mostly confined to cafes and alleyways, really had a chance to impact the main street community?”
“What if poets, as the therapists of culture, said what only they can articulate and the community responded?”
“What if poems, each an individual godlette, shone out into the community one every week to remind us all that life is not just work & news?”
“What if the literary arts, poetry & flash fiction & storytelling, became a part of everyday life?”
“What if, what if O Mnemosyne, people began to use those damn phones to write poems?!”
- Five Supplications to the Oracle, as per the Format of Plutarch
The Boulder Weekly (hereafter: BW) is rebooting its Poetry Section with today’s 11/9/17 issue to once again include local writers. I can think of no more appropriate way to demonstrate their new philosophy than by publishing one of Boulder’s most beloved poets, the late Jack Collom. Next week it could be you.
The success of the BW 3rd Annual 101-Word Fiction contest this past July inspired the editorial staff to begin talking about rebuilding the Poetry section of the paper with local voices. Success in that contest was measured by the quality of submissions and a positive community response. While the current running Poetry section was using the syndicated picks of an ex-National Poet Laureate, the editors wanted to bring the column back to its roots and feature local writers again. In the Fall of 2017 they started reaching out to members of the local writing community with a new Call for Submissions and by contacting some local literary organizations, including the Beyond Academia Free Skool.
The Five Supplications were necessary. There is a crux in the Tao, and few bright predictions on how the waters will break. Humanity en masse must re-cognize their narrow ontologies. Mighty consumer propaganda keeps the psyche pre-occupied. Children every day indoctrinated with abusive programming. What is the path of the Superior Man? What is the responsibility of the Poet?
As the Headmaster of BAFS, I felt it necessary to begin a dialogue with the BW editors to ascertain their intent in this reformatting. Emails & interviews followed. Whether I agreed with them or not, I needed to know what their positions were. In the aftermath of the saccharine Laureate picks, some serious questions were in order. The primary question revolved around censorship. The strongest voices in our writing community often deal with disturbing content. No better way to test their resolve than with a local example:
BAFS: “One of the most loved and stylistically unique writers in the County has been using his penis as a primary metaphor for 20 years. He’s also funny as hell. Should I tell him to send his work (let’s assume it’s A+ value-rated but NSFW) or is that farther than the Weekly is willing to go?”
BW “…expect this to give us a diversity of styles and variety of viewpoints. Lastly, yes have your friend send his work over as we are definitely open to penis poetry. I hope that answers your questions.”
The final riposte to the censorship question? There will be None.
The Oracle answers:
“When the Merchant is penniless; when the Warrior is defeated; when even the Priest is dis-graced; there stands the Poet unblemished, having no need for coin or sword or faith.”
So, who are the editors of the Poetry section, and how do they decide what to print? This is my favorite part. They are nobody in particular. They are everyone around us. Demographically they probably look much like the staff at BAFS, or the members of Boulder Poetry Tribe, or the general populace of Boulder County. They are just like us (age range 20s-60s, some can’t afford to live in-County, some have children, some might be queer); they are MeToo!, but they are (mostly) not Poets. And it’s about time!
In the 30 years that I’ve been performing poetry along the Front Range, there have been scant instances where our artform had any kind of impact on our greater community. That has been changing in the last few years, with poets at Fringe and Jaipur LitFest as examples. Now we have the BW editors, a group of professional non-fiction writers, asking for our participation in the primary local weekly news source. How will they decide which poems to publish? Luckily, they have no silly parameters around poetry that we might find at a literary magazine, no pre-dispositions. They will rate all submitted work on a blind scale of 1-5 based solely on the appeal to their personal tastes (and ‘professional’ execution – typos hit the Circular File unread). As a challenge, that is far more interesting to me than attempting to court a ‘poetry editor’ in any kind of publication. Can I, as a poet, offer value to my local community even when they may not understand the art?
Because I am a Poet, because that is exactly my job description, I must try. We – must do.
“The Superior Man rides a brood headless dragons
No destination but clarity.”
from “First Hexagram: Chien” –Marcus If
Due to the size constraints of the newspaper column there are some things to keep in mind when submitting. Their call for submissions requests only “clean” work, by which they mean fully proofread by the author. They will not censor for content; likewise they will not edit your laziness. Only one piece, poetry or flash fiction, will be printed each week in both print and on the BW website. You may submit once per week, 400 words max, 30-35 lines including biography. You will only be contacted by the staff if they are going to print your work – no rejection letters! Authors retain their rights entire after publication. If you submit a work that has already been published, you (or the publisher) must give rights to BW to republish. A brief bio may include internet links but should be “one sentence” of not more than four lines. You may include an image with submission, which may or may not be used, and will not alter the judging of the work itself (I suggest noting in your submission whether the image is your own work).
The unfortunate length parameters mean that haiku, extremely long lines, and longer poems will not likely be published. However, much like the 101-Word Stories has gotten its own issue of the BW, if the Poetry section has a strong showing there may be whole Poetry issues in the future that would be able to print poems that don’t ‘fit’ the weekly column. Weekly submissions which score high enough but are not printed that week will be held in a “reserve pool” for future weekly or Poetry issue inclusion. You do not need to submit any particular poem more than once. Where do you send your work? firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the second in a series of op-ed essays on the State of Contemporary American Poetics, as opined by Marcus If, BAFS Headmaster, to be disseminated by the Boulder Poetry Tribe. Comments and counter-arguments are encouraged and valued by the Tribe. Further inquiries into the nature of the Beyond Academia Free Skool or the Headmaster are directed to loveshovelranch.com.