Poetry Center San Jose is one of those organizations that transcends the hip, quietly toiling away in the background to nurture the poetry community of the South Bay and assure a place for literature in the daily lives of many ‘ordinary’ people. They do a good job. They stand firmly in the tradition of poetry and letters as a social institution, tied to the welfare of the community, committed to community values.
It is appropriate that they are housed in the Edwin Markham House. Edwin Markham was an influential poet in the early 20th century, although his work seems dated now. Importantly, though, he was a voice for social justice and labor and for the popularization of poetry among ordinary people. He was a founding member of the Poetry Society of America in 1910—making it the nation’s oldest poetry organization. It’s stated mission is “to build a larger audience for poetry, to encourage a deeper appreciation of the art, and to place poetry at the crossroads of American life.”
For many years, poets like Markham and organizations like the Poetry Society represented an alternative to the stuffiness of academia and an honest attempt to bring poetry to “the people.”
Since the Beats, however, these very same organizations often appear to be old fashioned and stuffy.
Nowadays, for many enthusiasts, poetry is something akin to rebellion and rock and roll, best experienced in bars and on street corners, focused on an outsider ethos, and being part of the poetry community is something emotionally kin to joining a motorcycle gang. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Meanwhile, the older, more staid institutions continue to toil and do good work. Institutions like The Mechanics Institute Library of San Francisco, for example, and, of course, the Poetry Center of San Jose whose work set me off on this digression.
What do they do? They say: “we offer programs and services to stimulate passion for the literary arts and to inspire and support emerging and established writers.”
These showcases are nothing like the wild nights we enjoy so often in San Francisco; they are traditionally dignified and—dare I say it?—suburban and perhaps even a bit bourgeois. But the work is very fine and well worth our attention. Looking for a change? You could do worse then to stop by San Jose’s Willow Glen Library on a third Thursday. You’ll surely hear some good poetry.
And, as an excellent example, here is the fine performance of Keith Ekiss, Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University, where he was formerly a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry, from Thursday, 6/13/11.