If poetry is more than a decorative, leisurely art (it is), to what use can it be put beyond leisure and decoration? For Patrick Herron of Carrboro and Ken Rumble of Pittsboro, possible answers include political protest, instigation, and perhaps the most potent form for political subversion: community.
Patrick Herron has enjoyed a banner year, and he completed two years as Carrboro’s Poet Laureate earlier this month. His first book, The American Godwar Complex, was recently published by BlazeVOX and directly engages the current political climate of violent mayhem. Heidi Lynn Staples of Verse writes, “Herron employs … the subversion, devaluation and re-use of present and past cultural production to demolish its message while pirating its impact.”
In an era of polite, apologetic, navel-gazing poets who rely on the cynical political stance of ignoring politics, Herron’s poems often generate a visceral, unsettling shock. According to Rumble, “It is Herron’s passion, whether expressed in his poems as anger or fear, that makes Patrick such a worthy and dedicated advocate of poetry and authentic human interaction.”
Perhaps Herron’s most striking creative act is his transformation of the Carrboro Poet Laureateship from a polite, decorative title to a vital office for our cultural and political community. The Carrboro Poetry Festival, which just recently enlivened Carrboro with 39 locally, nationally and internationally renowned poets, has been Herron’s major means to making the Triangle one of the most talked about regions for innovative poetry.
In just two years, Herron has introduced enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowds to dozens of the world’s most exciting poets. Some of these poets include Christian Bök, the acclaimed Canadian poet who performs Dada-inspired sound poetries and who had the first book of poetry, Eunoia, to ever make Canada’s bestseller list; K. Silem Mohammad, who uses Google searches as the means of sculpting outrageously insightful texts; Lee Ann Brown, a North Carolina native who mixes elements of folk ballads, streetwise New York School sensibilities, and traditional Japanese literary and dramatic forms to create a completely idiosyncratic aesthetic; and Carl Martin of Winston-Salem, a strikingly original poet of a growing cult following who writes rich, meditative poems that evoke the absurd, the lyrical and the sublime.
Also among the featured readers at the Carrboro Poetry Festival has been Ken Rumble, a D.C. native whose arrival in the Triangle area two years ago is perhaps the best thing to happen to North Carolina’s underground poetry scene since Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Jonathan Williams and others set up camp in Black Mountain 50 years ago. A consistently challenging and evolving writer, Rumble has become the major catalyst for the burgeoning local poetry scene, which includes the Lucifer Poetics Group, an affiliation of writers interested in contemporary writing with an emphasis on avant-garde, innovative and experimental poetry.
The Lucifer Poetics Group began as a handful of poets met at each other’s houses to share poems and talk about contemporary poetries. Over the last year, the group has ballooned in size and ambition, performing readings in the Triangle area and traveling to D.C. and Philadelphia for group readings; additionally, members are beginning to collaborate on various writing/film/sound projects, literary journals and small presses. Another aspect of the group is the constant conversation and debate on its active listserv (lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/lucipo), which has spread by word of mouth to include scores of poets from all across the country.
At the center of all this generative action is Rumble, who performs a variety of roles as director of the listserv, organizer of many of the readings, the founding editor of a new chapbook press, a contributing editor of the forthcoming online journal Fascicle, the organizer of this fall’s North Carolina Writer’s Network conference, and a board member of Carolina Wren Press. Perhaps most significant among Rumble’s contributions has been his own writing, which has been a constant presence in many of the most interesting contemporary literary journals. At turns hyper-intelligent, analytical, whimsical and musical, Rumble’s poetry is constantly exploring both the most subtle and extreme measures the medium offers.
In addition to the above, in the last year Rumble has organized, promoted and funded the Desert City Poetry Series, which runs from September to April (the name’s a pun on the nickname of Winston-Salem, where he started the series). This last season, the series’ third, saw full-capacity audiences at Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill once a month. Each reading pairs a poet of national prominence with an established poet of the Triangle region. Happily, Desert City Poetry Series looks to have a promising future as well: The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and the Orange County Arts Comission recently bestowed grants funding next season’s series.
Each reading is not just an excellent chance to hear our best poets read their work–after the readings, Rumble, the poets and the audience head over a few blocks to Todd and Laura Sandvik’s “Blue Door” after-hours reception, where the Sandviks open their home to one and all for drinks, art, film, music, more poetry and conversations that often run late into the night.
If you head over to the Blue Door on a Saturday night after one of the readings, you’ll likely find Herron, Rumble and many other active, engaged minds cajoling and provoking each other to further explore our intellectual fabric and reassess our most basic assumptions.
Roll over Dana Gioia. Tell Rumsfeld the news.