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“Young Poets Bare All: What Is a Culture?”

by Amy King


Don’t swear so much. Aren’t we decorous? What
Is a culture?

It’s an enormous detailed lie lived in, wrought beliefs,
A loving fabrication. What’s good about it? Nothing.
It keeps you going, but institutionalizes inequality, killing,
and forced worship of questionable deities …

–Alice Notley, Culture of One

As an educator, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind myself—and others—that I’m always learning, and that includes when I walk into the classroom. Yes, I’m there to instruct, advise, and model, but it turns out that these kids today, as negative as we can wax about the future, are inheriting a world they didn’t shape and are rising to meet it in ways I don’t recall cultivating early on. And so, whatever it is that makes up a human—inner resources, social conditioning, cultural circumstance, familial love—is also what converges to address this hot mess of a planet and all that that entails. I guess I’m trying to say that every time I enter a room with “I’m the head honcho” mindset, I end up being humbled when someone younger drops a particular insight, observation or point I simply have not conceived yet. So the teacher becomes, as they say, the student, and sometimes the lessons are out of the mouths of young poets. And the poets here do not disappoint.

As a poet, I have felt myself slow for numerous reasons, many unrelated to writing. So when I’m ready to write, I dip into my favorite standbys to get the juices flowing again. But if more midlife and older poets were honest, we’d admit that it is the fresh innovations, playfulness and apparent freedom of younger poets that also ignite our pens and set, as they say, a fire under our asses. Perhaps it is even an envious challenge they spark, if we’re really baring all here. I recall in my younger days, I was less set in my poeting ways and hungry to try on many different styles, dive into subjects forbidden and simply experiment since I decided I was beholden to no one and turned on by a lot of poetry that came before me. I’ve been told, ‘There is no one Amy King poem’ for reviewers to cite, and I still hold that as a point of pride, though many see it as bad for a poet career, if I may oxymoron here. Now that I’m a bit more seasoned, it’s a great boon to be able to look at risks younger poets take and interests they move between. Just as I hope I give license as a poet, I also get permission from their poetry, from their determination and mobility, their graceful switching between styles and modes—and from their bravery.

As a person, I don’t always separate these roles seamlessly. I’ve never been into the whole “separate the artist from the art” distinction. I know we define boundaries, and these help us navigate the world and keep us from bumping into each other; nonetheless, art and poetry inhabit such ephemeral and ethereal existences, difficult to pin, and seem to move into the spheres of living without pause, intertwining culture with the materiality and behaviors of the daily. Poetry is words, but not all words are poetry. Art is life, but not all living is artful. Or something like that. What I do know is that poeting is a way of being, often defined by the individual but with models to mine and adopt. I’m finding the strong ethical and moral sensibilities among younger poets inspiring, and that gives me much hope that, even if the overall world doesn’t change for the better, there are still pockets of people imagining and working to create concepts and ideas, which lead to circumstances and contexts, that might help make moments of good in the world. We are not promised happiness or beauty, but I am the idealist who still believes we can look to poets for flickers of direction and insights that might enable a moment of strength or help us to conceive beyond our limitations and ways of seeing—and those crossroads and transformative moments, in and of themselves, are something beautiful, if they are not beauty outright.

With these thoughts in mind, I offer up the generous young poets’ contributions below to glean from, find some hope in and be jumpstarted by. The framework was simple and simply premised: I wanted to show a sampling of intelligent younger poets a little love with this forum and also to use the opportunity to discover the latest in their wheelhouses. Their numbered answers correspond with the questions directly below, which they selected from in this lightning round of responses. Read on, get motivated, learn something new and set some words on fire. This is good. You do not want to miss it.

Read the full post on Harriet, The Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news

Filed under: Essays

About the Author

Posted by

Jeremiah Walton is wary of bios, but there's the current sign they're flying: “Jeremiah Walton is founder of Nostrovia! Press & traveling bookstore Books & Shovels. They’ve featured at the NYC Poetry Festival, Oakland Beast Crawl, San Francisco Lit Crawl, Death Rattle, the Kansas City Poetry Throwdown, Cleveland’s Guide to Kulchur: Snoetry, among other lit fests, street corners, & living rooms across the country. They loath-themselves, & are struggling to find a healthy extension of the poem that incorporates publishing. Consistently confused, & trying to make space for compassion for the parts of myself I hate.” That feels like tattooing "love me" across my neck, but hopefully you get to know me thru my poems, not the accolades that are nothing more than memories to let go of.

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