Patrick Rosal has a wonderful post on joy and poetry, specifically the joy which poets bring to audiences at readings and/or performances, and the joy which poets feel to connect with audiences, that this connection is most apparent in an audience’s visceral responses to a poet’s words or combination of words, to interesting, unexpected lines or images.
I tend to think it’s a very fortunate thing I did not come up in the poetry world in an institution whose constituents are bled of their joy as they are trained to exhibit a “cool” pretentious intellectual distance as a poet from an audience, or as an audience member from the poet sharing her words with a room full of interested or even just curious audience members.
As an undergrad at UC Berkeley which was surprisingly hostile towards folks of color with strong knowledge bases on-of-about institutional racism and post-colonialism, I came into poetry via Ethnic Studies classes, reading Audre Lorde essays, namely the seminal “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” from Sister Outsider. I come from a generation of young women of color who read Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and Gwendolyn Brooks in Barbara Christian’s Contemporary African American Women’s Literature classes. I participated in talk story with Al Robles and the Flips for FANHS, the Filipino American National Historical Society, and in pre-dot-com-boom-and-bust SoMa art and jazz spaces with Jessica Hagedorn, who improvised with movement and a chick-a-boom chick-a-boom refrain from the late Serafin Syquia’s street smart poems. I read protest poetry through megaphones at local political demonstrations.
Likewise, I was growing in poetic consciousness as I met Eugene Gloria at UP Diliman, where I read Marjorie Evasco, and where I found Merlinda Bobis’ Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon / Kantada ng Babaing Mandirigma Daragang Magayon: Filipina feminist poetry in one woman theatrical performance, rearticulating hero epic and mythology. A bilingual edition book, accompanied with visual art, published by a Philippine, Catholic feminist publisher.
I say these things now to offer a portrait of the poetry world that I came to grow up in and inhabit, a poetry world and community with which I was happily surrounded, where it was not uncool to express joy at hearing the word and its many many wonderful possibilities, at being given word as gift, at being uplifted and nurtured by my elder poets, encouraged that my own poems however inchoate at the time, were important and would one day mean something, not just to my “small” community but to this embattled thing in flux we call American Poetry.