What makes a poem when all the traditional forms or rules or what we think of as poetry is not there? I began to think about this more after my art history class when we discussed performance and conceptual art and I realised the same questions applied to poetry. These questions include (now adapted for poetry!) who decides what is poetry, the poet, the reader, the critic, the publisher? How do you display it/sell it/perform it?
Performance art and conceptual art was a huge break from tradition. Art works were no longer confined to a gallery and became 'street entertainment' using new skills and media coverage but even artists had to make a living so they had to film the performance or do other works that could be shown in a gallery. Conceptual art often had explanatory notes, some quite long making it more a piece of writing than art.
Experimental poetry is similar. It break boundaries and uses new skills. At the Poetry Fair in September there was a free guide which contained a page each dedicated to the different publishers attending, their website and details of their history/what they publish and alongside one poem from one of their collections. Here I found several experimental poems - one was done as a sort of art work which I couldn't understand, a picture with different shaped 'boxes'. If it was meant to represent words I couldn't see it. What was I looking for? This was art in my book, not poetry. Another poem featured a sort of text-speak which I gave up on. Another was in signs such as @&£>. What's that all about? It can't be read, makes no sense to me and could be just randomly put together by anyone on a computer, even a child. Now someone tell me if I am wrong! If I have to decipher codes I at least need an explanation on how to do it. Perhaps it's clever and I'm just dumb but this is like modern art gone mad. Anyone can throw paint at a canvas and say they did it when their subconscious was at work. We only have the artist's word for this and some art works done in this way could be done by a kid in nursery (and sometimes their imagination is better!). Some poetry seems to be going this way. I'm all for new ideas but I fail to get this. How do you perform a poem in nonsense language of signs? Who buys it? Can anyone make any sense of it? And what about the publishers? What are they seeing in this that I can't?
It's hard enough getting into print. I wonder how these 'poets' do it. I bet if I tried something off the wall no one would look at it twice.
I am reminded of the scene in an art gallery. There is a chair which looks a little like the one in van Gogh's painting with sort of basket weave seat. On it is a book. Now is this a piece of installation art or the chair for employee from the gallery who watches over the room?!