Monday, October 26, 2015

A Legacy, A Crystal Ball: Poetry in the DC Area - What’s Coming?

by Hiram Larew

A Splendid Wake (ASW) promotes a broad appreciation for the greater Washington, DC area's poetry legacy.  Bravo to ASW for doing so.  By recognizing the cumulative diversity of voices, efforts and ambitions that have built the region’s poetic presence, ASW provides evidence of our poetry’s regional, national and even international roots and impacts.  As our region’s interest in poetry grows, ASW tracks how local culture, politics and way of life have been both influenced by and affected by the poetry community.  ASW is all about being proud of our community’s poetic past. 

Looking back over our shoulders comes in tandem with a curiosity about what’s to come.  Or, said slightly differently, looking back powerfully elicits and compels a look ahead. 

And so, this blog leans out from the ASW-recorded historical platform to peer forward.  How might we expect the DC poetry community to change and evolve?  Based on our community’s culture and history, and considering current trends, what might we anticipate the Greater DC poetry community to look like in, say, 25-50 years?

Predictions are, of course, fraught with biases and blurry vision, and are humbled by frivolous chance.  But predictions, however far off-base, can be powerful tools for placing our current efforts in perspective.  They also are useful in shaping aspirations.   Surely, we become to some extent what we imagine.

So in that spirit, what follows are a couple of predicted features of our Future Poetry Community.  Your thoughts on these or suggestions of others are welcome.

Underlying the following ideas are notions of the DC area’s uniqueness.  Surely, the federal government’s footprint is large, and political drivers and mindsets motivate much of the area’s interests including its cultural expressions such as poetry.  Will such overlays continue to exert an influence on the area’s poetry, and if so, will the influence change over time?
Also, the IT revolution.  Wow.  As documented by A Splendid Wake, it has made and continues to make an incredible difference in the way that poetry is presented, delivered and shared both locally and beyond. This, coupled with an overall, ever-growing interest in poetry worldwide will undoubtedly affect the DC-area poetry community. 
Given such backdrops, let’s consider how the following may change in years to come. 
1)    The Network - At the heart of our community is the amazing diversity of voices that contribute to it.  That poetic range and network will only further flourish in the coming decades.  Yes, it may continue to specialize so as to provide resonance and needed recognition to each distinct groups’ voice.  But just as surely, such a variety of voices will influence each other as networks cross - as local readings and journals aggressively include and welcome a wide range of poets.  And, IT tools will tend to e-gather that diversity; readings will increasingly include virtual presenters from not only nearby neighborhoods but also poets from geographically and culturally distant points.  We will likely encounter IT- (robot-) generated poetry at future readings as well. In other words, the network will further mature to become amazingly rich.  We already see that range of offerings in online and print journals that receive and present a sweeping gamut of work. This trend won’t, of course, be unique to the DC area.  But it will be especially noteworthy here because of the many, many types of poets that thrive within the region.

2)    The Tone - We might also expect over the coming years that the tone of the DC area’s poetic voice will increasingly reflect its location.  For example, the proximity to and special relationship with the federal government will further mature.  This means that beyond the Inauguration, we should expect poetry to appear in a wide array of government’s hallowed halls – on the Hill, the Supreme Court, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, the National Science Foundation, etc.  (Note that the Hirshhorn has already opened its doors to poetry readings.)  Whether such venues will shape or require certain flavors of poetry or otherwise influence the community’s style remains to be seen.  But, it seems inevitable that more overlap will occur between those in our community who carry the muse and those who push forward the important business of government. 
Ditto the work already underway that promotes poetry awareness beyond cafes and college classrooms. Poetry will deeply infiltrate the community. For example, we’re likely to see more poetry in K-12 schools, assisted living communities, businesses, hospitals, food banks, places of worship, and sports arenas. Beyond posting at bus stops, poetry will start to pop up in all kinds of public and private venues. And while this tendency won’t be unique to the DC region, it will likely fledge fully here in our area.

And lastly on the tonal front, we should expect that poets will be courted to collaborate more and more by a much wider array of partners than we’ve seen heretofore. Beyond other artists such as musicians, sculptors, painters, dancers and the like, poets will find creative ways to learn from – and teach – lawyers, architects, doctors, business people, historians and on and on. The driver/motivator for such pairings is simple – it’s the sparks and insights gained. And while again, this trend will happen without regard to location, the DC area is ripe for such innovative intersections because of ever present turn overs and comings and goings.

Coda - Knowing how the DC poetry scene has changed in the last decades (thanks to A Splendid Wake and others groups that preserve that record), what do you think the future holds?  And finally, is there a role for organizations such as A Splendid Wake in recording the changes ahead and, perhaps, in promoting them?
BIO: Hiram Larew is an active poet in the greater DC area.  Recently retired from the federal government, he has published in several journals and books, and been awarded prizes including The Louisiana Poetry ribbon and Baltimore's ArtScape poetry award.  He lives in Upper Marlboro, MD and can be reached at hlarew AT