14th Street – Union Square Station

I couldn’t be more psyched to have the first poem, 14th Street – Union Square Station, from the new New York City collection I am working on be published on Visitant.

Visitant

14th Street – Union Square Station

Station after station
              of unmanned ticket booths
                            MetroCard swipes unlock another world.

The performers, dancers, musicians,
             the bootleg dvd peddlers,
                           the evangelical pamphleteers who are dedicated
                                       to convert all the New York heathens as they rush

             home from their soul-suffocating jobs.

Lean against the door
              balance
read Howl for the third time this week.


Andrea Janov is a punk rock kid who believes in the beauty of the ordinary, the power of the vernacular, the history of the abandoned. She strives to reveal the power in what we see, say, do, ignore, and forget every day. She holds Creative Writing degrees from SUNY Purchase and Wilkes University.

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Searching for a Poetry Community

It was weirdly hard to focus this…it addresses two different yet related problems that have been gnawing at me in relation to the poetry world. One, it is a dying artform and two, even within that dying artform, it is hard to find the subculture of poets I enjoy and I am represented. During the drafting phase paragraphs kept diverging and cross crossing, led by passion yet with very little restrain. I suppose that is my main issue with prose anyway, maybe that is why I love poetry just so much, every word is calculated, there is no room to go off on tangents. I love tangents.

From the time that I started loving poetry, I loved the outsider schools: the confessionals, the beats, the outlaws. From Marianne Moore, to Anne Sexton, to Charles Bukowski, to Allen Ginsberg, to Frank O’Hara, to Kim Addonizio to Jeffrey McDaniel, I loved the voices that talked about life, hard life in a beautiful way. They were relatable, they elevated the real human experience, they knew how to manipulate you.

The more education I received, I learned just how apt all of these writers are at their craft. You have to know the rules before you bend and break them to your will. They may use common words and vulgarities and talk about the common people, but they did it all with intent, they did it all to guide you into their space.

I respect the Robert Frosts, the e.e. cummings, the Walt Whitmans of the world. I just wasn’t able to relate, I wasn’t able to become lost in their nature, in their romance, in their forms. They made me feel like the outsider that I was, and I was more than okay with that. I had already found my mentors.

Or had I? I plowed through my undergrad like a girl on fire. I was writing, I was double majoring, I had multiple workshops a week, there was nothing going to stop me. Then I graduated, found a job, and started to live in the real world. That was when I started to realize how sparse the poetry community is, there were readings and open mics, but I never seemed to identify with any of the poets. There were spoken word poets who mesmerised with their inflections and their cadence, there were love poems that laid themselves bare on the floor, there were angry rich kids who believed that the more obscure the language the better the poem. Yet I never fit in with those groups. I couldn’t find the writers who spent their daylight hours hiding in a dark bar, those who absorbed themselves into loud thrashy music at night, those who were out living in the streets of today’s society.

When I was a kid I had punk rock, but I have never seemed to find that community  in poetry.  Where are the young Bukowskis or the budding Kim Addonizios? Where is the poetry that comes from the gut, the poetry that puts words together to make your heartache or to ignite revolution, the poetry for the rebellion, the poetry from the gutter, the poetry that distills the pure emotions and the complexities of the world into the perfect words, with not one extra character. Those are the poets that I want to read. Those are the poets that I want to know.

Poetry has been taken from it’s lofty position of Ancient Greece or Elizabethan England and dragged through classrooms and broken hearts. It has been sanitized and bastardized. It’s been forced into rhyme schemes by sticky fingers and panicked high school students. It has been dripped in perfumed sweetness of lovers and beaten with the fists of broken hearts. Until it lost its purpose, until it lost its power.

There are great traditional poems, the ones that though they are well well crafted and aren’t my style. And even those, which seem to appeal to the masses as they are read at open mics and workshops at the local coffee shop, still aren’t making a dime. Traditional or outcast, we are relegated to giving our work away for free or buying one another’s books, just to get out work out there, instead of creating a new space for the artform or demanding respect and a living wage.

But then, I think about the fact that poetry really is a dying artform. When was the last time someone names a new poetry school? When there was a collection of poets who were writing in the same style and making a mark on our society? Even the spoken word poets barely made a splash in the 90s with MTV and record deals in their corner. We’ll never get that recognition or living wage unless we figure out how to make this work in the internet age, with short attention spans, trivial memes, and people who aren’t looking up from their phones, even when they are at an event or out with friends.

I suppose now I’ll have to keep searching for that community, those poets whose work is meant to be read in the bar, or on the street corner, at a punk so, or in AA. Keep searching for the poems that are dripping with whiskey, the ones that don’t mind a little blood and are always caked in dirt, all the while, showing the beauty of those places and people. Yet I have no idea where to start looking. What do I look for? What keywords and tags to I use to to discover those poets. DIY has been taken over by crafters, zines has been taken over by comics, punk is music exclusive these days, outlaw has more of a southern twang,outsider , underground, and alternative are relatively quiet. Maybe we can take over them? Create our own community with a name that can attract other like minded poets, hell, even other like minded artists. We have to find our community without having someone to rally around. We have to start it from the ground up, true DIY style until all the smaller communities ignite into the next movement.

Oh, and, if anyone wants to give me ideas for tags or keywords, if you want to point me to a community, or start one, let me know, I am an island here.

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The Power of Being Outside the Mainstream

I never fit in. Not in a Hollywood depicted way, but in the way where I never liked what that my friends were into or what was playing on the top 40 radio station, in the way where I always felt like I stood out as just slightly off, in the way where I never wanted to join in. It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that I started to find things on my own that did interest me. I was drawn to anything that was different, weird, or in some way designated as “other”. I searched out any book, zine, piece of art, music, movie, or movement that was as far away from your mainstream culture as I could get my hands on (I will not go as far as to say that everything I found was “good”, some simply were embraced for shock value). I wanted art that was raw. Art that was honest. Art that I had a visceral reaction to. If you didn’t like me, that was fine. I didn’t want your pop music, your best sellers, you blockbusters. Oh, this movie/book/album is banned in America, how do I get a copy? Will my name be on some government list because I have acquired a copy? 

I idolized those who were able to make this art they knew would not be accepted. I listened to the Sex Pistols, Cocksparrer, the Buzzcocks, Bad Religion (there seemed to be double points if the band name could incite a reaction regardless of what they sounded like, which meant you also just neeeeded to have the t-shirt too). I read the Marquis de Sade, Irvine Welsh, Bukowski, and Oscar Wilde (what I wouldn’t have given to know about Kathy Acker or Daphne Gottlieb back then). John Waters was making movies and had an arsenal of past work to dive into (and man, Divine was just unbelievable), Harmony Korine’s Kids and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting battled for the most efficient way to terrify your parents and teachers. I watched Suburbia, The Decline of Westerclivization, and Another State of Mind. I found Bettie Page and Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

I wanted to create a great dividing line between me and you. I wanted you to know I did not like you, I did not stand for the things you stood for, I had no interest in ever being like you. And you know what, let’s do one better, why don’t I give you some reasons not to like me? I colored my hair, got tattoos, dated guys your parents have nightmares about, my messenger bag was covered in pins and patches, my hoodie was a DIY screen printed Screeching Weasel logo. 

I found other outsiders. Other freaks. Other punks. Whatever you wanted to brand us as. I knew who was on my side by the books they carried, the clothes they wore, the patches on their bags, and the pins on their collars. We found our own culture, outside and opposed to the dictated norms. Iggy cut himself open and bled for us on stage. GG Allen threw shit. Johnny Rotten spit in our faces and we spit right back. Greg Graffins lyrics expanded my vocabulary. The Clash and Jello Biafra politicized us all. 

We did just fine building our own community. Building a community that you couldn’t access. We ran local venues, put on local shows, formed bands, wrote zines, and made our own skate videos. We wrote to labels to order albums from bands we had only heard about, we mailed zinesters cash in exchange for a subscription and hoped for the best. We passed videotapes copied from videotapes, bootleg cassettes, burned cds, and dog eared books from friend to friend.

Smelly kids in dirty vans drove from town to town finding other pockets of outsiders and played a show for one night, then someday soon those kids from those bands would come to our small town. We created our own history and passed it down generation to generation. To the next group of kids who knew that they simply didn’t fit in. The next group of kids who wanted to stand for something more or just something opposite than the mainstream. 

Eventually the shock value wore off, but the ideals, the questioning, the middle finger to authority’s face always remained. We held food drives as shows, joined Students for a Free Tibet, attended Food Not Bombs meetings, and protested the circus. We wanted to know the world, the whole world, not just the one presented by our parents, teachers, small town, america, and media. We knew there had to be more. We knew our voices could matter. We still didn’t want to be part of the mainstream system. 

All these years later, I still feel like I don’t fit into most groups. Even the punk ones. I still struggle to see what people are attracted to in most pop culture. I still would rather talk to you about Kim Addonizio than Beyonce. 

Am I better for always being an outsider? I think that I am. I may not be that headstrong snobby self-righteous kid anymore. But I do still question. I take things on their merit. I know what it is like to not be in the majority. I always consider the minority. Even if I don’t know what it is or understand the point of view. I know that it is there and it should be explored because even though there may not be as many people, it is equally as valid.