What I like most about the Poetry is Dead Magazine Society is how serious they take their role as the poetry imp. You can almost hear the stifled giggles breaking as you begin to catch the joke. “Poets tend to take the art form a touch too seriously,” writes Editor-In-Chief Daniel Zomparelli. “Try it next time you are around a poet… Just say something like, ‘the only true form of poetry is lyrical’ or ‘conceptual poetry is here to kill off the fossil we call lyrical poetry’ or ‘if it’s a project than it is not poetry’ and watch their faces turn red.” Art Director Easton West writes in his letter, quoted here in its entirety: “I gota actually wrtie some shit [sic].”
Zomparelli says that the issue is meant to run away from nature, the stereotypically Canadian theme, and plunge “head first into lowbrow culture.” Key features of the magazine include Kenneth Goldsmith’s essay on Conceptual Writing (something every writer should consider reading), a tongue-in-cheek survey regarding poets’ beer, TV, and video game habits, and a cut-and-paste excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on “Digital Poetry.”
Yet, curiously, as a document that is meant to challenge the traditional, sentimental ideas of poem-worthiness, its poems reside in sentiment. Work about television and video games—like “Cathode Ray,” in which Jacob A. David’s speaker could only afford “thirteen inches / of black and white / t.v.” as a kid, or “Lessons in Horticulture” by Catherine Owen, featuring cacti named after the Fonz and “that handsome cop from CHiPS”—are pure childhood sentiment, citing the shows and games in front of which writers like David Brock and Billeh Nickerson grew up.
Even beer, although legally adult, refers back to the memories of childhood, at least the coming-of-age. Josh Neely writes in “Synesthesia II”:
Sometimes the taste of good beer is all
foothills and flooded fields.
Sometimes it is the odor
of the barn my grandfather built
from pine, near a pond
At the end of the day—about 5a.m., or whenever you’ve defeated Ganondorf—Poetry is Dead provokes a debate about low- vs. high-brow art. Their rhetoric assumes a dichotomy, but the work presented, flagshipped by Nikki Reimer’s “tv vs. the real,” has high- and low-brow comfortably achieving the same goals. And if those two can successfully run a co-op mission, then is there a need for the line between them at all?
Finally, Zomparelli interviews Donato Mancini about, among other topics, “accessibility.” Mancini answers:
I chew off my own thumbs with frustration every time I read the word “accessibility”. Like “_____ is dead,” tagging something as “inaccessible” is mainly a shock-jock style rhetorical gesture…Are clichés accessible or inaccessible? Is a person who wants to be friends with everyone trustworthy? Should poets try to write for every imaginable sensibility?...Isn’t tagging a work inaccessible like calling the audience stupid?...With 15,600,014 under-read books of poetry awaiting a reader, why would it bother you to find one you don’t grasp?
Speaking of television, I remember a long time ago, probably the first grade, hanging from the jungle gym at recess with a bunch of guys from class, all of us making fun of Barney, the singing purple dinosaur. The bell rang; as the others ran to get in line, I hung back with Dan, who turned to me and said, “I actually like Barney.” I get the feeling that for all its teasing and troublemaking, Poetry is Dead really, really cares about poetry. Oh boy, do they care.
(P.S. Props to the PIDMS for a TV, Beer, and Video Games issue that has a balanced representation of contributions from both men and women.)