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Is The Poetry Prohibition Coming To A Close ?

Updated: Mar 2

It's never easy to watching something you love die, for me that love is poetry. In recent years the art has been on life support, trying to survive underground while waiting for a world to come to its senses.

Poetry means different things to different people. When people think poetry, they might imagine Shakespeare in tights, a feathered hat, and maybe a candle-lit skull.

My love of poetry is deeper than poetry itself. Maybe It’s more about the essence of poetry - the rebelliousness of improper grammar, the romanticized poverty-stricken, outcast, hunched over a typewriter, desperate to finish a book before the publisher burns the contract.

The poet is a rare breed of human. A pinch of narcissism here, a dash of clinical depression there, add a little substance abuse and Wa-La. . These poets are rare, but still exist on the fringes of society, observing the common man while struggling to assimilate in the public life. Sadly in recent years, the poet has been driven even further underground, forced to retreat by the rise of social movements that seek to sanitize language.

The safe space has become the mantra of a new culture of individuals that have been rising in the literary world. Don’t get me wrong. Poetry spaces can be a haven for vulnerable groups. However, when these groups become overly moderated they can counter act as a lobotomy for the art community.

This sterilization of art is the opposite of the punk-rock mentality that poetry is meant to embody. Artists have grown afraid to step on the toes of the powerful, and take their audiences to uncomfortable places due to cancel culture. Which ultimately is a disservice for community, and society as a whole.

Five years ago, you could find me in Maine, half-in-the-bag, reading poems about my testicles on stage. The poems brought audiences amusement and laughter, and also provided a contrast to a culture that seemed so focused on pain and suffering. The moderators however did not share the same enthusiasm for my work.

Despite my peers believing I was being provocative only for shock value, my behavior was rooted in a much deeper issue. Let me explain.

It’s Tuesday night, 2018, I’m at a poetry reading in Maine. Glasses are clinking, beer is flowing. The room is quiet after a barrage of lackluster poetry. Then a man takes the stage to read, but makes the fatal mistake of using the word “Gypsy" during his poem. The moderator interrupts immediately,

"Um..Excuse me! We don't use the G word here!”

The moderator yells while scolding the man in front of the audience. The poet is confused, the audience is confused. Hell, I’m confused..I lock eyes with a fellow poet sitting near by in the audience, we both shake our heads in disbelief that a performer was stopped mid-performance for saying something that seemed harmless in context.

This was the moment we both knew a new era of censorship was about to sweep the country.

Fast forward to present day. I've seen writers heckled, alienated and boo’ed off stage. All for reading things that could hardly be categorized as offensive.

Which leads me to the big question. For a community founded on the idea of acceptance, why then, can this community be so rejecting towards others?

Fortunately, there is a small revolution of writers leading the fight against the status quo. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire you can find up-and-coming poets at events like the Beat Night Poetry Series. And if you drive your sorry ass 45 minutes north, you'll hit Portland, Maine - a city with a vibrant poetry scene where you can find events hosted by Portland Poets Society. A group somewhat still ingrained in PC culture, but still providing an opportunity for writers to speak their mind.

Poet Myles Burr Performing In Portsmouth, NH Photo taken by Joel Carpenter

Luckily there's an ever growing movement of artists standing against the censorship of expression. Perhaps the clouds are parting, and this era of artistic prohibition is coming to an end. In a country getting wilder by day, we need writers who are unafraid to speak truth to power. Let us embrace the uncomfortable, the taboo, and delve into the weird and controversial.

Article by Joel Carpenter

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