From the Mad Mind
of Anthony Watkins
Every month, I move down a very conflicted path.
My calling is as a poet, and I take that calling very seriously, but because I also have decided to become a publisher of a literary journal, I feel the need to address our readers every month, and usually not through poetry. In my personal life, I am also a very committed social activist/philosopher. So, the things I usually really want to write about are not exactly what I believe our readers come here for. Except only tangentially, I doubt most of you want my take on gender, race, or global relations. You probably don’t tune into to get my latest on economic theory, either. The thing is, while I am very serious about poetry, and might, depending on who you ask, be pretty good at it. I am not sure I am the person to have much in the way of a useful opinion about it.
I could tell you the many exciting things going on at BTS, but if you are a reader, you probably already know most of them. You know we now offer an e-book and a print version. You know the print version is very inexpensive ($4.99 USD), and that, if you time it right, you can usually get free or greatly reduced shipping costs.
I have been giving a lot of thought to Race and Literature, with a sidebar on Gender and Literature. When it comes to poetry, or writing in general, there are two wars I have always been fighting, or at least since grade school:
1: Proper Writing
While I really do appreciate the work Vera does, I fight against the concept of proper writing. To me, if you can understand what I am saying, then I have properly written whatever it was I meant to write. I find the English language (this is true of almost all languages, I think, but I best know English) to be filled with archaic, arbitrary and inane rules and “cases.” Thusly, I have decided for the past 50 years to be as arbitrary and inane in my writing as I chose. It’s a bit like my take on God from about age 20-25. Before I became an atheist, I decided if there was a god, and he was the god I had been taught to believe in he was a very nasty evil entity, and, in my own self-righteousness, I decided I would rather burn in hell for eternity than toady up to the evil SOB. Eventually I came to the conclusion that whatever god there is or isn’t, the books and teachers I had heard or read didn’t have a clue, so I quit being mad at god and decided he/she probably didn’t exist, but if they did, I would likely be judged on whether I was a decent human being or not, so I relaxed and focused on that. Sometimes I am still a bit of a jerk, but I work on it. My point is that in the art of writing, I have decided the people who sit in judgment of what is proper writing are ignorant of the reality of the way words work, and so I have since just ignored them. (Here is a rule to think about. How many paragraphs should that last paragraph have been? How many of the run-on sentences should have been whacked and rewritten? I will not worry about that, but you are welcome to.)
2: Good Poetry
I started writing poetry at age 5, not because I was some sort of prodigy, but because I loved that if I wrote a poem, no one could tell me it was written wrong. Now for about 15 years, I tended to write rhyming poetry, often in conventional meter and formatting. Eventually I broke away from this, because, for me, I believe that form, rhyme and various other restrictions are not just a challenge to the active writer’s mind, but also require a certain sacrifice in the meaning of the words needed to communicate. I became unwilling to make that sacrifice. The funny thing is, after about 35 years of not writing or even reading rhyming poetry, with few exceptions, I have come to appreciate a wide range of poetry, much of which I still don’t LOVE, but I have begun to see what my old friend and our haiku editor has taught me for over 20 years, not with words, but with action: whether you find the poem a joyous experience, or even if it makes you grimace a bit, the fact that another human being put words to paper to express their thoughts in such a way as to consider it poetry, this is art, this is beauty, not always artistic beauty, but the beauty of the soul. The beauty of one human being hoping and believing they can communicate their feelings and their thoughts is the true grandeur of poetry.
This realization was reinforced through my studies of the poets Al Filreis offers us in the ModPo course. When I started taking the course 5 years ago, I hated most of the poets, now I either love them, or at least appreciate them and what they do with their poetry.
So, what is good poetry? It is poetry that is free verse, it is sentimental, it is experimental, it is formal, with rhyme and meter, it is a translation that brings us to the mind, of not only another person, but another culture, and often another time, it is international poetry written with a different sensibility to what most of us Westerners are used to in modern verse. We read a lot of poetry. Sadly, we reject more than we publish, but even the rejected pieces can be good poetry, even if they are what I, in my younger days would have dismissed as bad poetry, so no matter what you write, I hope you all keep writing it.
Back to my starting point, along with my overall concern that racism and sexism not only punishes the victim, I believe it also punishes the entitled abusing class. We all suffer if every member of our society is not allowed to function and flourish and to succeed in any field they choose and to the extent their mind and spirit will allow them. I first realized this as an economic theory, but now I see it as a literary philosophy, too. And not only do I believe we need to let everyone 'do their thing', not only do we need to make sure everyone has access to a broad public, we need to make sure as many of us read as diverse of a collection of writings as possible. The real beauty of a diverse culture like we have in America, and as is common in certain other areas of the world, isn’t just the fact of the diversity, and isn’t just the aspiration of equality for all the diverse population, but the fusion of African, European, Asian, the brilliance, the brawn, all the parts and pieces blending into new ideas and possibilities. I don’t think we are quite there yet, but I challenge you the reader, to read a few pieces by an author who isn’t like you, doesn’t look like you, who IS of a different gender, age, “race,” geographic origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And I hope you will remember to not read this “foreign” literature judging it by the same standards you are used to. Be prepared to perceive it in a different way. I truly believe this will enrich your life, and maybe more importantly our entire global culture!