The official weblog of the little-poetry-press-that-could, Plan B Press. Specializing in chapbooks, we have published of over 40 books from authors both local and international.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

my response to "Langstongate"

I am still a relative newbie in Washington, DC (a transplant from Philly back in 2004) and have been a reluctant participant in the poetry scene here owing mostly to my being a Stay-at-Home Dad these days. However, I believe that changed permanently when Plan B Press brought out Kim Roberts’ Full Moon on K Street last year.

Coming from the original U.S. capital, as I have, to Washington has been curious to say the least. In particular, how does creative expression exist within the Federalist buildings, how can one find poetry in a city devoted to the running of the last great Superpower on earth? (watch out though, China is coming on fast!) Another thing that I have noticed is that the fissions I was used to in Philadelphia between poetry groups, and of reading series “centralism” is here as well. As Ice Cube once mused in his version of Bop Gun, “party over here, fuck you over there.”

There are a few key bookstores in DC where poetry is spotlighted, the most pronounced is Busboys & Poets. However, they aren’t the only one. In fact, Busboys and Poets is not primarily a bookstore. Politics and Prose is a bookstore with food service, Busboys and Poets is a restaurant with a bookstore at one end and the performance space at the other. The middle of the space is for EATING. It’s a commercial endeavor; make no mistake.

Having read the various special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, I see that there have been many venues, poets and small presses that have, and do, grace this city with their presence. In the case of poetry VENUES, the problem with longevity is that the poetry host/poetry curators do no own the “means of production.” They are guests in someone else’s for-profit space. Poetry doesn’t own property in this city; and I am sure that if it did, some freshman Congressman from Wyoming would launch an investigation into how that could happen here. You think Langston Hughes left Washington DC because he wanted to?

Which, leads me to Langstongate – the removal of a cardboard cut-out image of Langston Hughes that cost, by my reading of events, $150.00. Does the owner of Busboys & Poets also own the exclusive ghost of all things “Langston”? Has the owner of Busboys & Poets paid a live poet $150.00 to read in his space? I hope the answer is YES because otherwise a cardboard cut-out of a dead poet would appear to be more valuable than any living poet to Busboys & Poets. The irony is too rich for my blood, I gotta tell you!

In his response to this situation, Dan Vera, who has recently launched “Poetry Mutual” with his collaborator Michael Gushue, has created a map of the DC area with all existing poetry reading series. It’s on the poetry mutual blog. I believe it’s instructive that poets and other interested parties get familiar with that map and make a point of visiting an event in a space they have yet to attend. Interact with poets you don’t know. Get the energy flowing. The sooner the poetry community in DC stops thinking of itself as a literary backwater, the sooner it will no longer be true. There’s an incredible array of extremely talented poets and spoken word artists living here right now. Isn’t it time that we rip a line from Walt Whitman and celebrate ourselves a little? It certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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