One, as you may have noticed, we are featuring the interview with Michael R. Burch for a second issue in a row. This is dues to a couple of reasons. One, our two potential interviews for February both were delayed, but equally as important, for we could have just removed the interview for this issue, but I felt it was a strong piece, and it presents a point of view that varies widely from the mainstream, both of this magazine and from the current state of poetry, in general. It also is a very well represented piece from the POV. Rhyming poetry, is to me, like religion: It holds little attraction for me but I respect that it is important to others.
Poetry serves a multitude of functions, almost all of which are valid, from communication, to therapy, to personal challenges, as in a game, to an experiment, a study of the human mind and how it is the same and who it is different from one person to another. Therefore, given this spectrum, rhyming and formal poetry is alive and well for a rather large, if somewhat underserved segment both of poets and poetry lovers. Burch, and our own Vera, who conducted the interview are both dedicated to preserving, writing and showcasing this traditional form of writing. Just in case you thought otherwise, “formal” poetry does not mean stuffy, black tie and ball gown “formal” though you can certainly write stiff stuffy poetry free verse or formal, but it means instead a poem that follows a form, usually rhyming, but technically, haiku or a limerick is a formal poem.
Second, the one of two interviews we thought might be available and hopefully will be our March and April issue interviews are with a very interesting translator of poetry, to be interviewed by our own S Ye Laird! The other is my interview with a member of the PEN Prison Writing team. I admit I am a little frustrated. Not at the inability to pull off the interview yet, they are as overworked as we are, so I get that, but at my own inability to get my act together and follow-up on the method of contact with the writers in the program. I take for granted I can correspond with anybody anywhere on the globe via email and have responses within hours, or sooner. Along with so many other basic freedoms we routinely deprive our fellow human when they are incarcerated, is free and easy access to the internet. On one level, especially if they are part of a larger criminal enterprise, I can see this, but for the most part, I think much of what we do is punitive and petty.
America is the nation in the “free world” with the largest prison population, as a share of it overall population, the free world is defined as places that are free enough to report, which includes China, but does not include North Korea. As a nation, so fond of locking people up, it would behoove us to learn how to improve the persons we lock up so that when they come back into the larger community, they are prepared to deal with society in acceptable manners. I guess if we had that sort of forethought, we would have better intervention programs and we would look up a lot less of our fellow citizens in the first place.
If you drill down, you see two things, skin color and education, the paler and more educated you are, the less likely you end up in prison. Black and Hispanics without a high school diploma make up the majority of prison populations. In fact, Black folk, who are 13% of the population make up 40% of the prison population, and white folk who are 64% of the U.S. population are also 40% of the prison population, while Hispanics, who are 16% of the population at large, are roughly 20% pf the prison population, so overall, whites are represented at a 66% rate of U.S. population share, Hispanics at 125%, and Blacks are 300%.
While we have the question: do Black people commit more crime, or do they get arrested more often, or do they get less fair treatment once in the legal system, or as a vestige of slavery, (since 1865, Blacks have been disproportionately locked up) are all of the above true? But the thing is, whatever part of the equation each piece is, the things we need to work on are the same. The truth is whatever you can say about Blacks and prison, you can also say about poor uneducated whites (Black people in professional jobs with a college degree are almost as unlikely to end up in prison as white people in the same category). The problem is not as much race, though it certainly plays a factor in lack of educational and economic opportunities, from Pre-K onward, people of all races with a 4-year degree make up 30% of the general population, only 1% of prisoners have a 4-year degree.
All this to say, the PEN Prison Writing program is only a band-aid, but it is a critical one. In our tiny little way, I look forward to contributing to helping those writers who are overcoming all the issues of being imprisoned, and are writing and creating amazing work!
Lastly, speaking of writing, we have added a new poetry page for experimental poetry. Experimental poetry sometimes takes the form of extreme form, and sometimes is almost without form. I have been playing with experimental poetry, since somewhere around first grade, only I wasn’t aware it was a “thing”. In the end, I tend to end up back at what I normally write, but experimental poetry is a great exercise at thinking, and sometimes thinking in new ways. As I am more of a poet than a poetry thinker, I have invited two very clever and intelligent students of poetry to join us as editors of this new page. I think they are both rather intimidated at the concept. Until they accept, I will edit the page, with little or no commentary. I would love to hear from you, the reader about any and all of what we do here.
Oh, lastly, part two, as part of the new page, I have come up with a couple of experiments of my own, the Chosen, or the Poetic Sudoku where one draws a grid of 12 squares by 12 squares and fills each square with a letter or a word, so that reading across or down one achieves a poem. I have not completed any of these yet, but I intend to.
The other of the ultimate in “blank verse”. I have just completed a chapbook titled Silent Poems or a Book of Titles. I hope to get it out and into the hands of a few educated poetry critics. I will publish their comments here in an upcoming issue. So far, the only critic who has seen it is our General Poetry editor, Suzanne, and her response was, “well, I have never seen anything like it!” Which I took to be a good thing, until she pointed out that about 90% of my life falls into that category. Now, I am not so sure. I thought the rest of my life was pretty ordinary. This new chapbook is nominally priced at $5.95, but I will send out a few to those who are interested enough to write in and request a copy for review.
By sending in a note requesting your free copy, you are promising to write an honest critique, to be published in BTS at a future date. There is also a writing assignment within the book. You are not required to do that part, but if you do, please send a copy of your writing, also to be published here.