Monday, July 11, 2005

The page wants to stay white

First sentences are always the hardest - where you begin determines where you'll be able to go. But using my first sentence, in my first post on this new blog, to mention the challenges of first sentences - well, it handles that problem nicely doesn't it?

I should start by introducing myself and laying out the purpose of this blog (besides joining the modern chorus and creating a monument to my accomplishments, of course). My name is Brian Howe, I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I cobble together a living as a freelance writer, a barista, and a projectionist. Interesting but not entirely practical skills - a carpenter can walk into any town and find work. This only applies to me if someone in said town happens to need their album reviewed, their milk steamed, or their intermittent sprocket aligned. Mainly, I identify as a music critic / poet.

Right now, I contribute regularly to and Paste Magazine. I also participate in a group mp3 blog at I am a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group, an affiliation of modern / post-avant / experimental poets. Our membership spans the country, and on the whole our main activity is an email list for poetic discussion. But our activities are really centered here in North Carolina - we make chapbooks, have meetings, perform publically here and elsewhere in the country, and drink. In late July we'll be striking out on a reading tour through Baltimore, Philly and NYC - more on that later this month.

Right now, music blogs and poetry blogs are mostly segregated. Many poets I know are very interested in modern music, but fewer musicians/music fans seem to be interested in modern poetry. This I attribute, at least in part, to the fact that vital, interesting music has a much higher profile than vital, interesting poetry. Many people who participate in music at the ground level - the ezines, the blogs, the online communities - don't realize that there is a similar sphere in poetry. It's a sphere you wouldn't find unless you're looking for it. I believe that many people, particularly youngish people who are into cutting edge music, would find untold riches in modern poetry if they knew where to look. I'm not out to smite high-profile, academy poets. But I would like for people to know that for every MFA candidate placing lyrical meditations with seemingly arbitrary line breaks in high-end lit journals (even when these are finely wrought they might smell awfully musty to someone looking for excitement), there is a poet dreaming at the periphery of language, casting away the old forms, and creating vital, challenging, visceral work of pure linguistic energy.

Actually, strike that - I don't want to paint this as MFA poet bad, oustider poet good. There are many trained poets using their education to create astonishing, groundbreaking work, just as there are many writing capital-G Good poems that are completely devoid of new ideas and boring as hell. There are many outsider poets writing inane drivel, just as there are many who are creating some of the most novel, geniune, salient poetry around. Your education or lack thereof isn't the issue - how honestly and urgently you deploy your particular sensibility is. There is a lot of baseless self-satisfaction going around in poetry. I would like to see poetry become less sure of itself. Encyclopedias are for facts. Poetry is for poking and prodding at unknowns. But I'm wandering off topic.

The parallels between underground music and underground poetry are so strong that I'm always shocked when music critic friends ask me "Why do you bother with poetry? It's dead," (this happened), and when I venture to mention poetry in music critic circles, it's often as if I've walked into the room and farted loudly - uncomfortable silence ensues. There's nothing wrong with the latest Billy Collins poem in the New Yorker, but I would like for people to know that if it isn't your cup of tea, there are many other options, limitless options in limitless forms. To me modern poetry is similar to hip-hop, a territory that's growing to encompass all around it, and a matter more of intention than form. It seems like there's nothing you can put in a hip-hop song that makes it not hip-hop - hip-hop devours everything it touches. So it is with poetry. Poetry's popular face would have you believe it's about observing boundaries. I believe that it is about destroying them.

It's difficult being a music critic and a poet - to excel at either is a full time job, and as I've said, rarely do they intersect. I don't expect to change that on my own. But I would like for this blog to sit right on the cusp between them, to create a tentative portal via which they might interact. More to the point, both are important parts of my life, and so I'll blog about both. If some crossover happens because of it, all the better. Of course I don't want to be dogmatic, which is death to good poetry and good music, so this formal creed may wind up abandoned. I should like for this blog to be surprising and organic in its evolution. If it starts to venture elsewhere I doubt I'll be able to stop it.

That should suffice for today. I hope to update daily, so I hope you'll come by again. If you'd like to swap links, or if I've linked you and you don't want to be linked, please let me know.