The poet Lew Welch wrote: “I like the idea of giving my readers a text they can perform, themselves. Far too many of our pleasures are spectator sports already…” (introduction to Ring of Bone). The way I like to perform poetry is to write out a fair copy of the poem.
A couple of weeks ago, Carol and I went to the city and stopped in at City Lights Bookstore. I sat in the Poetry Room leafing through books and found the poem “Global Warming Blues” by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, in The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). I almost bought the book, but I just got rid of four hundred books so we could fit into our new apartment; no way I could justify buying a new book for just one poem. So I performed the poem by writing out a fair copy on some watercolor paper. I tucked the poem into my coat pocket and forgot about it.
I carried the poem around in my coat pocket. The paper got wrinkled, and the poem got smudged though it was still perfectly legible. Maybe that’s a metaphor for what’s supposed to happen to poetry: poems aren’t supposed to remain captive inside the pristine covers of a book sitting on a bookshelf; poems are supposed to be out in the world: objects of use rather than useless objets d’art. I re-read the last paragraph:
now my town is just a river
bodies floatin, water’s high
my town is just a river
but I’m too damn mad to cry
seem like for Big Men’s living
little folks has got to die