Monday, 5 August 2013
Interview with Editor Russell Streur
8 Fundamental Questions for Russel Streur, Poetry Editor of the Camel Saloon
PP: Given the ways contemporary authors have been trying to compose all kinds of poetry, how would you define ‘poetry’?
RS: To me, it has to be more than typing thoughts in partial lines on a page. Give me a central image, something I can see or hear or taste; a progression from premise to conflict to resolution to insight; or a compelling story. Down those streets, it is poetry enough for me. Anything with a good old fashioned grounding in nature and the land works too.
PP: Many people say poetry is dying. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why?
RS: When the guardians of western culture say something is dying, it’s a pretty sure bet that they’re afraid its vitality is strong enough to toss them out of the towers if the truth was ever told. So they have to sell lies in Burger King whopper bags to the media dupes to keep the crowd below distracted. Those doomsters won’t own the last word in this debate. In fact, those guys are in hock to the Bank of Mediocrity up their necks. Pay no attention.
PP: What defining features do you think ‘best’ poetry should possess? In other words, what is your personal or working definition of ‘best’ poetry?
RS: An honesty deep and sharp enough to draw blood, and an unbreakable commitment to the Muse. Totally beyond the ability of the ivory poets to discern. If those self-congratulatory wigs had ever heard of Lin Zhao for instance, they wouldn’t be so quick to declare the craft on life support.
Who’s Lin Zhao? Chinese poetess, trapped by Mao Zedong’s honeyed and duplicitous Hundred Flowers Movement back in the late 1950s.
Mao’s gang tried to sweet talk her into admitting she was out of step with the Party. After declining several increasingly insistent invitations to renounce her writings, she was finally sentenced in 1965 to twenty years in prison where, hewing to China’s long tradition of poetic impudence toward imperial edicts, she continued to mock her captors.
Her refusal to touch her forehead to the dirt for the pleasure of the Great Helmsman is captured in the sardonic lines of her most-cited poem, “A Day of Suffering for Prometheus.” In it, Lin has Zeus ask the Titan who brought the a gift of fire to the human race at the cost of his liver being made into bird food, "Is your head made of granite?" To which Lin has the hero promptly reply, "No, but it is protected by the truth."
Truth didn’t protect Lin. On an April day in 1968, Lin was taken to Shanghai’s Longhua Airport and executed with a bullet to the back of the head. Per custom of the public security bureaus, the lieutenant who pulled the trigger presented Lin’s mother with a bill for the cost of the ounce of lead that stilled her daughter’s earthen voice: five cents. Lin’s devotion to the iron-willed and unrepentant muse of her personal Mount Kaukasos has attained an immortality of its own. During her years in custody, the story goes, Lin wrote thousands of poems—at first in the traditional manner, on paper, in ink; then later, after her warders took away her notebooks and her pen, on the walls of her cell, in her own blood.
What are the most important makings of a ‘great’ poet? – please name 3 greatest poets the world has produced thus far.
A language of nature. A collision with the established culture. An abandonment of life. My votes would place these three among the best: Issa, e.e. cummings, and Tu Fu. Each is interchangeable with others: I could just as easily say Neruda, Zhao and Rimbaud.
PP: Who are the 3 most important or noteworthy contemporary poets according to your personal/working criteria.
RS: For a language of nature, Li Po. He’s immortal so contemporary too. For collision with the established culture,Woeser, the Tibetan poetess. For abandonment of life, Daniel Ladinsky, who does great translations of the Persian crowd of mystics.
PP: Considering the contemporary poetry writing/publishing reality, what are the most important changes do you think should be made to promote poetry as a worthy cause?
RS: Immediate abolishment of National Poetry Month and the total elimination of all Laureate posts. These are carnival tricks to artificially manufacture a false elevation and an unnecessary separation of the poet from the rest of mainstream society. Horse wax, with apologies to the horse. Publishing on demand and online poetry blogs and sites will return the craft to where it belongs, as a common discourse among the people. Can’t happen soon enough.
Which 3 poetry editors or magazines would you like to recommend to all poetry lovers? Or, which 3 are your most favorite poetry editors/journals?
RS: Ross Vassilev, who ran Opium Poetry 2.0 and Asphodel Madness a few years ago still inspires me. He keeps the archives up at (http://opiumpoetry.blogspot.com/ and
G. Tod Slone of The American Dissident, who does not compromise, period. Abandon your groupthink, all ye who enter here: http://www.theamericandissident.org/.
And Mgcini Nyoni from Zimbabwe runs a great world poetry site at Poetry Bulawayo, http://poetrybulawayo.blogspot.com/
PP: What are the most important or interesting things that you have you learned about poetry writing/publishing as a poetry editor?
RS: About poetry writing, how important it is to use season, place and color and other tactile elements.
PP: What is the most or least enjoyable part of being a poetry editor?
RS: The most enjoyable is the ability to give a platform to people who have something to say. What could be better than to share a voice with the world? Drink up.