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Michael Basinski’s Response to Jake Berry’s Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion)


(Jake Berry’s interview where he responds to the responses can be found here) 



I am privileged by spending all of my work life in the endless presence of printed and published poetry and then my leisure time with poetry also.  Upon the great sea of poetry, I know my lens is miniscule. I live in a harbor, the Poetry Collection, but it is a part of our poetry. Jake Berry presents possible dilemmas and some tangible dilemmas in the realm of the poem. However, I believe that poets are more aware of the politics of our poetry than perhaps Jake wishes to admit. There is outside and inside and upper and lower and White, Black, Muslim, gay and lesbian, blue and giraffe poetry, and cowboy poetry too. It is very true that giraffe poetry is a very powerful poetic cartel on Tanzania’s plains. And their great big caramel spots! What is a hippo to do? And none of this ismthis, giraffeism, and schoolisms is of any relevance to the life of poetry in general, which seems to me to be much everywhere. And will continue. There are more poets than giraffe, lions, certainly rhinoceros and many more than tigers. All poets who are poets are already poets. Famous poets are good at the business of poetry and are poets. It occurs to me that poets are like plumbers or home-brew beer makers. They are one in the same with those who bake, my cake is bigger and more with much chocolate than yours, and I believe in jelly filled doughnuts. It is all sweet. Poetry is a very small beach with only a few pebbles and very large seals pummel each other for very small pebbles. Poets are people and that might be the problem in poetry, which is to say we are prone to greed, war, lust, envy, etc. Oh well. Let’s evolve.  


The academy is a big, easy target. The academy is where I have spent my entire adult life. And I feel comfortable as a 36 year resident to say that the academy, meaning academic poetry collectively, the programs, the presses, the faculty, the courses, the students etc. are by the second shrinking, the population is in decline. The gigantic problem that faces the academic wing of the realm of the poem is that there truly might be no academic wing. Who to be angry with? This little place, The Argotist Online, is a writing space of bold pronouncements. Therefore, I will write it is the end of the academic realm of the poem as we have come to know it. Get used to survival without an “enemy.” Recall the enemy of my enemy is my friend. As we live in our poetry, we are in a post-apocalyptic-academic realm of the poem. 


The States of New York, California, Illinois etc. faced, and are facing, huge budget deficits. The holes are filed with university budgets. University budgets are cut. The money will not return because the focus has changed. Medicine, the sciences, engineering, these are facets of the new normal academy where the majority of resources that exist are placed. These foci are where the money is at. They make money. They train people to fill jobs. People want jobs. This is no magic. We do not live in an idealistic era. This no is surprise. People are freaked, and so are politicians and administrators. The money will not return.


The ideal realm of the poem in this new normal is anarcho-syndicalist in form. It is a union of poets each adding in equal to the entire realm of the poem. All forms are an equal form and all opinions are equal. After more than half a life in a collecting library this is truer than ever, I believe. The best thing and the only thing to do in the 21st century is D.I.Y.


Optimistically, what can I do? Often I return to the Poetry Collection for imagination, inspiration, and for direction. Yes, it is time for me to toot my horn. As Woody Guthrie wrote, Horn goes BEEP BEEP when I am riding in my car.


In 1937, Charles D. Abbott founded the Poetry Project at the then private school the University of Buffalo.  Now the titled is fancied up and co-opted to: The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.  Talk about bending to survive!  Way back before there was an academic poetry to be a “problem,” Abbott established a short, succinct collection policy.  It remains as it was imagined, and it is to collect first editions of all Anglophone poetry beginning in the year 1900 without prejudice. No one else at that time (only 75 years ago), no one had dared to place faith in contemporary poetry and all of it. All poetry, I must emphasis, the big and small. It was imagination at work. The imagination still works and is at work. I follow Abbott’s prime directive every day. All Anglophone poetry comes into the Poetry Collection. There are circa four or five thousand books of insider and outsider and slider and rarifieder books of poetry or books about poetry published each year. The stacks are home for everyone. This is Noah poetry ark in the great flood of the age of austerity in poetry. Jeff Beck summed it up, “Hey, over, under, sideways, down. Hey, backwards, forwards, square and 'round.” There more than 140,000 monographs of poetry in the Collection. It is the largest in the world. It is the world of poetry. Everyone is included.      


To harvest, I view poetry as an elastic geographic realm in which all poetry is pioneering and all poetry exists. There is no territory to concur. There is just space, space as boundless as the imagination. Poets and poetries come and go as rapidly as little magazines.  Antagonisms are romantic. There are industries within poetry:  Beat publishing, T.S. Eliot publishing, and Charles Bukowski publishing etc. Once there was an Ogden Nash industry. All of this fashion comes and all of this fashion and trendiness goes.


There is space in the stacks for more.  Make an industry. There are gatekeepers but not walls in which there are gates to keep.  There are philosophies and points of view and there are many “clubs.” However, there seems to always be a new poetry network and a new poetry, populace, popular, obscure, stupid, mushy, unreadable, visual, old, meat, cowboy, lesbian, cabbage, tulip, cranberries, etc.  There is a group that wishes a return to only old-school Victorian rhymed poetry (the enemy is Joyce and Pound!). Not surprising! And why not?  All poetry makes more poetry. There are many empty seats in the house. Certainly, there is poetry that deserves review and scrutiny and some poetry is ignored. In fact, most is ignored. Our most renowned poets and renounced poets receive few if any reviews. It all waits, for you, for you to review. D.I.Y. 


Each generation produces a new unread and unattended poetry, an under appreciated poetry and many, many unrenowned or crowned poets. All poets are anonymous. Thank the gods! Rupert Murdock will never tap your cell phone. Poets, giraffes, and friends of poetry, poets and editors, if I don’t know about you, step forward. We wish your poetry. 




copyright © Michael Basinski




Michael Basinski is the Curator of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. He performs his work as a solo poet and in ensemble with BuffFluxus. Among his many books of poetry are Trailers (BlazeVox); Poems Popeye Papyrus (Slack Buddha Press); Of Venus 93 (Little Scratch Pad); All My Eggs Are Broken (BlazeVox); Heka (Factory School); Strange Things Begin to Happen When a Meteor Crashes in the Arizona Desert (Burning Press); Mool, Mool3Ghosts and Shards of Shampoo (Bob Cobbing's Writers Forum); Cnyttan and Heebie-Jeebies (Meow Press); By and The Doors (House Press); Un-Nome, Red Rain Two, Abzu and Flight to the Moon (Run Away Spoon Press): Poemeserss (Structum Press) and many more. His poems and other works have appeared in many magazines including Dandelion, BoxKite, Antennae, Unbearables Magazine, Open Letter, Torgue, Leopold Bloom, Wooden Head Review, Explosive Magazine, Deluxe Rubber Chicken, First Offense, Terrible Work, Juxta, Kenning, Witz, Lungfull, Lvng, Generator, Tinfish, Curicule Patterns, Score, Unarmed, Rampike, First Intensity, House Organ, Ferrum Wheel, End Note, Ur Vox, Damn the Caesars, Pilot, 1913, Filling Station, fhole, Public Illumination, Western Humanities Review, Vanitas, Talisman, Yellow Edenwald Field, and Poetry.