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“Young Poets Bare All: What Is a Culture?”

by Amy King

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Don’t swear so much. Aren’t we decorous? What
Is a culture?

It’s an enormous detailed lie lived in, wrought beliefs,
A loving fabrication. What’s good about it? Nothing.
It keeps you going, but institutionalizes inequality, killing,
and forced worship of questionable deities …

–Alice Notley, Culture of One

As an educator, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind myself—and others—that I’m always learning, and that includes when I walk into the classroom. Yes, I’m there to instruct, advise, and model, but it turns out that these kids today, as negative as we can wax about the future, are inheriting a world they didn’t shape and are rising to meet it in ways I don’t recall cultivating early on. And so, whatever it is that makes up a human—inner resources, social conditioning, cultural circumstance, familial love—is also what converges to address this hot mess of a planet and all that that entails. I guess I’m trying to say that every time I enter a room with “I’m the head honcho” mindset, I end up being humbled when someone younger drops a particular insight, observation or point I simply have not conceived yet. So the teacher becomes, as they say, the student, and sometimes the lessons are out of the mouths of young poets. And the poets here do not disappoint.

As a poet, I have felt myself slow for numerous reasons, many unrelated to writing. So when I’m ready to write, I dip into my favorite standbys to get the juices flowing again. But if more midlife and older poets were honest, we’d admit that it is the fresh innovations, playfulness and apparent freedom of younger poets that also ignite our pens and set, as they say, a fire under our asses. Perhaps it is even an envious challenge they spark, if we’re really baring all here. I recall in my younger days, I was less set in my poeting ways and hungry to try on many different styles, dive into subjects forbidden and simply experiment since I decided I was beholden to no one and turned on by a lot of poetry that came before me. I’ve been told, ‘There is no one Amy King poem’ for reviewers to cite, and I still hold that as a point of pride, though many see it as bad for a poet career, if I may oxymoron here. Now that I’m a bit more seasoned, it’s a great boon to be able to look at risks younger poets take and interests they move between. Just as I hope I give license as a poet, I also get permission from their poetry, from their determination and mobility, their graceful switching between styles and modes—and from their bravery.

As a person, I don’t always separate these roles seamlessly. I’ve never been into the whole “separate the artist from the art” distinction. I know we define boundaries, and these help us navigate the world and keep us from bumping into each other; nonetheless, art and poetry inhabit such ephemeral and ethereal existences, difficult to pin, and seem to move into the spheres of living without pause, intertwining culture with the materiality and behaviors of the daily. Poetry is words, but not all words are poetry. Art is life, but not all living is artful. Or something like that. What I do know is that poeting is a way of being, often defined by the individual but with models to mine and adopt. I’m finding the strong ethical and moral sensibilities among younger poets inspiring, and that gives me much hope that, even if the overall world doesn’t change for the better, there are still pockets of people imagining and working to create concepts and ideas, which lead to circumstances and contexts, that might help make moments of good in the world. We are not promised happiness or beauty, but I am the idealist who still believes we can look to poets for flickers of direction and insights that might enable a moment of strength or help us to conceive beyond our limitations and ways of seeing—and those crossroads and transformative moments, in and of themselves, are something beautiful, if they are not beauty outright.

With these thoughts in mind, I offer up the generous young poets’ contributions below to glean from, find some hope in and be jumpstarted by. The framework was simple and simply premised: I wanted to show a sampling of intelligent younger poets a little love with this forum and also to use the opportunity to discover the latest in their wheelhouses. Their numbered answers correspond with the questions directly below, which they selected from in this lightning round of responses. Read on, get motivated, learn something new and set some words on fire. This is good. You do not want to miss it.

Read the full post on Harriet, The Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news

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“What is Literary Activism?”

by Amy King

literary activism

This past summer, I was asked to talk about my literary activism as part of an acceptance speech for an award I was receiving. This request threw my current actions into sharp relief. Was I doing “literary activism”? How to define if this is a thing and not simply a medium used on behalf of another movement (I.e. a poem as vehicle a movement can utilize)? Or is literary activism stepping back and looking at how the cogs and wheels of the literary world go together or grind and crunch in order to respond critically?

First a little background: I’ve been engaged in various forms of activism since I left home at 17. These include marches, counter marches, clinic defenses, and on the ground actions (some illegal), with various groups like Act Up to feminist and GLBTQI groups, etc. I was also briefly part of the zine and Riot Grrl scene in Baltimore and D.C. back in the day.

Between my participation in such groups and my Women’s Studies, and, later, American Studies classes, along with the campus Feminist Collective, these engagements and activities helped to foment much of my early understanding of what it means to be an activist. I bring some of those ideas into my own poems now and, even more so, into the classroom—and consider this transition, especially as an educator, a natural extension of my activism. In conjunction with those groups, the writers and educators I also learned from set examples, broadened the scope of possibility and legitimized the attention I felt ever more committed to devote.

Beyond that period of intense and dynamic growth, I was writing a blog and heavily critiquing “Best of” lists about seven years ago when I pretty seamlessly fell into working with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts at its inception. My recognition of literature’s value and primacy and how it shaped me had become an almost unconscious imperative as I contributed to looking at gender in the literary publishing world. I began to participate on panels and give talks, and these invitations inspired further research into the historical facets of women in the publishing world.

As I’ve continued on as an educator and graduated to becoming a member of VIDA’s Executive Committee, I began to recognize a need for greater consciousness to shine a light on the gaps where certain voices were either outright rejected or passively ignored. This includes even looking where women’s voices are featured since there is no universal woman.

Read the full post on Harriet, The Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news

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Nostrovia! @ 2015 NYC Poetry Festival + settling East + where to now?

I write this in a Manchester, NH cafe, caffeinating, quietly gnawing on bread I snuck in.  The past couple months have been the usual Nostrovia! chaotic.  A four-day Greyhound transported Neeko Ford & I from Oakland, CA, to New York, NY, where over-stimulation snatched the flesh under our eyes and pulled till they bruised like Southern Coasts.  I am absolutely exhausted.  Buckling down on the East Coast, stepping out of the lack of routine of being on the road, and into the working world again, I am going to recap on Nostrovia!’s 3rd year hitting the NYC Poetry Festival.

Nostrovia 2015 NYC Poetry Festival

2015 has been a crazed year for Nostrovia!.  Early on, Christopher Morgan & I launched Nostrovia!’s first Chapbook Contest, for print publication & debut at the Festival.  The successful publication of the winners was the result of a small press coalition’s collaboration between Nostrovia!’s co-manager Christopher Morgan, Fruita Pulp editor Kyle Harvey’s design skills, and Bottlecap Press founder CA Mullins bringing the publications from the digital realm into reality thru the mouth of his printers.  With the group’s cooperation, the books ended up landing in N.Y.C. for their debut looking beautiful.

The winners, Bob Schofield’s Moon Facts / August Smith’s Bird Lizard Horse / Sarah Xerta’s Juliet (II), successfully debuted to the excitement New York’s literary hungry that ended up browsing Nostrovia!’s table.  All 3 publications are currently available online at a ‘pay-what-you-can’ rate, the same as at the Festival.

nostrovia poetry chapbook contest

Between touring with Books & Shovels, our traveling pop-up bookstore, editing manuscripts, social media promotions, soliciting reviews, and pushing Nostrovia!’s manifesto of Passionate Living > Making a Living, we’ve created a solid hearth in the literary community for us to rest in the warmth of as we plot our next moves.

There’s always more coming, but let’s go over the mushy asshole with a big heart that is New York.

jeremiah walton poet

Subway hobbits never stop

We crashed on 149th street in Harlem on a bunk bed we stained with skin muggy like Florida, spent one night cuddle puddling for warmth on Coney Island sand,  lugged over 80 lbs of books on Neeko’s & my back throughout the city, and had a wonderful cuffed experience for hanging around a park after dark.

We landed here border-lining broke. Drinking energy drinks to kill belly grumbles, we finalized materials for the festivals & roamed as much of the city as possible, unhealthily wringing experience out of the passing hours.  2014’s NYC Poetry Festival went incredibly well w/ the traveling bookstores’ debut, so we took a gamble.  We threw all of our cards in on making it to the East Coast for the event, hoping to sell enough funds to reinvest into Books & Shovels and break even for the project’s futures.

& well, that’s poetry.  We didn’t make it economically, but shit, that was a side note, a hope that isn’t a valuable focus to us.  There were more than double the amount of vendors there were last year, and the large number of tables created internal competition between publishers and t-shirt sales.  $$$ has never been a primary goal of Nostrovia!, the bookstore, or any of our projects.  We wouldn’t be doing this if $ was at the wheel. We will never deny anyone literature because of $.  Monetary drive is the noose of creativity, the imagination & soul.

It didn’t pay off economically, but damn, it was one hell of an adventure.  We’ve been consistently enabled to continue doing what we love; poetry & working to inspire others.  That’s why Nostrovia! is temporarily settling a branch in the East, to financially recuperate from this excursion, and refocus forward towards an upcoming traveling bookstore relaunch. Shout out to the wonderful souls, Chris Salas, Christopher Morgan, Jennesy Herrara, Zarina Zabrisky, Simon Rogghe, A. Razor, among so many others, that have kept our idealistic notions afloat.

I whole-heatedly believe it’s better to chase shooting stars than drown in a stagnant pond. Passion is a noose in its self, but I’d rather hang from a rope of star dust than drown quietly.

2016 NYC Poetry Festival

Jennesy on deck

Due to travel complications, Nostrovia!’s original stage line up for the event was changed. Sadly, Sarah Xerta & Bob Schofield were unable to make it. Rather, Neeko Ford + Leah Mueller + August Smith + myself hit the stage.

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August Smith killing it on his birthday

Leah Mueller poet

Leah Mueller laying it down upon the youth

Neeko Ford rapper

Neeko Ford ripping bars

Nostrovia! Poetry’s table was managed collaboratively by myself, our San Francisco homie Chris Salas, Yonkers creative Jennesy Herrera, and a new friend & poet, Michael Ganjehlou.

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Chris Salas

Michael Ganjehlou poet

Michael Ganjehlou

Our last moments in New York were spent watching the sun set quiet over the noise of Harlem bopping below:

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We send <3 to the cats that have supported us cross country, and given us opportunities to chase our dreams.  We send <3 to the cats in the streets, the traveling kids, those capitalism has not afforded the ability to chase their dreams, the folks we’ve been having street poetry ciphers with, and those that are too stubborn to surrender their dreams even with society stacking weight against them.

Upcoming this October is Lit Crawl San Francisco, where I’ll be performing, and Books & Shovels will be kicking it w/ a surprise new project, and new potent voices.  We’ve crossed the continent, East / West / East, and it’ll be time soon to do so again.  More information coming soon.  Nostrovia!

w/ love,

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Nostrovia! + our traveling bookstore at Beast Crawl Lit Fest 2015 + the road East

I write this on a Greyhound, passing through the Midwest with Neeko Ford, en route to New Hampshire, lugging backpacks full of books.  The bags under my eyes are steeping in exhaustion.  Greyhound windows have framed desert, mountain ranges, open plains of flat, bumps of hills, and now thick green forest as we pass through Ohio.  Once we hit New Hampshire, we’ll be camping alongside the river and train tracks of my childhood, as we make final preparations to hit the New York City Poetry Festival.

Books & Shovels, our traveling bookstore, kicked off our most recent journey in Tucson, Arizona, in mid-June.  Neeko Ford, Sam Lennon, and I climbed into Sam’s pickup truck.  Under desert sun, we began racing boredom and passion to the Pacific.  We met a group of girls camping at San Onofre Beach, an hour or so North of San Diego, and had a couple beers around a campfire sharing stretched travel tales.

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Sam Lennon & his ukulele

We drove into Los Angeles without much transition.  We set the traveling bookstore up on Venice Beach to try and get the gas money to make our way further North.

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Neeko @ Venice Beach

Venice Beach did not treat us well, but we met some interesting folks.  We were the new kids on the boardwalk.  Veterans and cats who had been doing this for years, people who make a living, support their kids with street vending, had initial claim.  Some of the older guys  showed us the ropes of their community as we set up.  After a good seven+ hours of cooking in the sun, and not many sales, we packed up the store.  That night we found ourselves in the back of a smokey short bus as a new friend bumped jazzy beats for us to free style / yell poems over.  We dipped out in the morning for Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is saturated with traveling kids.  We arrived in the late hours of the night, wandering downtown, whiteboxing food and trading jokes for smokes.  I was the first to wake in the morning, dazed with caffeine dependency.  I walked into a cafe, soaked up coffee with cinnamon + no cream, hungry, but killing that gurgle slowly.  I spent the morning writing.

We hit The Art Bar & Cafe open mic, set up Books & Shovels, and began doing our thing:

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@ The Art Bar & Cafe

The Santa Cruz poetry community really had our backs, and Books & Shovels received financial + morale support.  The real kick to our travels came after the show, after the store was packed up, and after the open mic’s after party gathering.

When we began this trip, we were gambling finances and time.  Setting out with enough money to make it almost to the Bay Area,  we had no where near enough in our wallets to fill the gas tank for the trip to New York City.  July 11th was Beast Crawl, Oakland’s Literary Festival, and July 25 + 26 is the New York City Poetry Festival.  We needed to get to the North East early enough to set up and make final preparations for the event. That did not leave us with much felixbility.

Now, with that in mind, Sam received notification of an emergency he had to attend to back in Tucson.  We were in Santa Cruz with time tock-tock-talking, never shutting up.

I wasn’t sure what the devil we were going to do.  There’s no way in hell we were going to ditch the books folks across the country had donated to Books & Shovels. At bare minimum, we needed to get up to the Bay Area to hit Beast Crawl.  We could figure out our next moves from there.  Christopher Morgan ended up saving our asses.

Christopher lives up in the Bay, and we already had plans to meet up, grab a drink, and discuss the chapbooks we’re debuting at the poetry festival in New York.  Christopher drove down to Santa Cruz, picked Neeko + I up, along with the crates of literature we’ve been carting around the country.

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Christopher Morgan + me

With the books safely stored at Christopher’s, Neeko and I backpacked around San Francisco, street performing, wandering Mission St, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, getting lost in City Lights Bookstore, and performing at a house show at the end corner of the Mission.Shout out to Chris Salas for chatting it up with two dirty traveling poets at City Lights Bookstore.  Chris lodged Neeko + I thru Beast Crawl, as we waited for July 11th, and with that day, Beast Crawl.  Our little Bay Crew hit roof top ciphers, disenfranchised poem walks, garage shows, street corner open mics, and a slew of adventures that would ramble this blog post into a novel.

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Good morning

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San Francisco

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Reading poetry to the sunset

& then July 11th hit.  At Beast Crawl, more than one hundred writers performed for the 4th literary take over.

I performed during the First Leg with Word Performances, alongside poet and author Zarina Zabrisky, dancing poet Cybele Zufolo Siegel, cabaret singer Nikola Printz, novelist Sabrina Seidner, wordsmith Todd Siegal, and violinist Autumn Turley.   Christopher Morgan and I set up Books & Shovels, and watched the artists unfold on stage.  Our Venice Beach smokey short bus friends, Alex and Brendan, had made it out to the Bay, and joined us.

After the gathering depopulated, we packed up the books into a padded tote bag.  Christopher left for prior engagements, and our odd ball Bay Area crew began mobbing.

jeremiah walton beast crawl

We bumbled over to an open mic where you received a shot of bourbon for performing.  We shared poems out front with other cats gathering from Beast Crawl as the open mic set up inside.  Here I met Clay Bugh who’d read at Beastly Be About It, curated by Alexandra Naughton.  Clay, Alexandra, Neeko, myself, our smokey short bus friends, Brendan and Alex, among other great poets, after that shot of bourbon, performed.  There was a young child that giggled every time someone said fuck or shit.

Rolling through the mic’s performances, Neeko + Clay + Alex + Brendan + Chris gathered our dis-coordinated crew, and rushed to the after party of people group sweating and cramming into the tight patio space of a restaurant.  Thoroughly drunk on the day, evening, night, and beer we’d been wandering with, we caught BART back to San Francisco and walked Mission St. through the night into the sunrise’s foggy hello.

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Neeko + Chris + me

Neeko and I had tickets for Manchester, New Hampshire, from Oakland, departing at 1:30 am July 13th.  Before we said goodbye to the Bay Area crew, we had a dirty poets cipher in San Francisco.

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me + Neeko + Clay + Brendan

We are to arrive July 16th in the mid-afternoon.  It’s the afternoon of day three riding among artists, writers, youth, junkies withdrawing, stoners, babies screaming, bangers, traveling kids, well worn people, bags-under-eyes people, people of America, cramming into a confined space, dazing away with the miles.

Soon we’ll be back East, soon we’ll be at New York City, soon soon soon these new chapbooks will debut.

Cheers!

jeremiah walton poet

Earlier on Greyhound in Kansas: