Saturday, June 30, 2007

Somerville Poet Taylor Stoehr Participates in “Politics, Writing, and Publishing” panel at U/Mass Boston.

Somerville Poet Taylor Stoehr Participates in “Politics, Writing, and Publishing” panel at U/Mass Boston.

Every June the William Joiner Writers’ workshop convenes at U/Mass Boston for two weeks of workshops, seminars, and panel discussions. I attended the Workshop in 2000 to 2001 and I found it an invaluable experience for anyone interested in enriching his writing life and the practice of his or her craft. Michael Sullivan, the coordinator for the Workshop, and a native Somervillian invited me back to participate on a small press publishing panel, and to attend a panel discussion on politics,writing and publishing.

The “Politics, Writing and Publishing” panel met at the Harbor Art Gallery on the windswept U/Mass campus. The participants were Taylor Stoehr, Demetria Martinez, Bob Nichols, and Lady Borton.

Taylor Stoehr has taught at U/Mass Boston for many years and has a long and accomplished history of publication, translation and activism. His most recent book of ancient Chinese poetry translation: “I Hear My Gate Slam…”was featured recently in the “Lyrical Somerville” column in The Somerville News.

Stoehr feels that the current climate of the publishing industry is less than friendly towards political writing. Even if political writing with a historical context gets out there, there is so much “swamping” in the industry that a book of this nature would be lost in a slush pile of commercial books. Stoehr said: “TV has literally wiped out history.” The industry is interested in books that will make the most money. He feels the political and historical writers of today must like the great Russian writer Tolstoy; make their work come to life to appeal to a wider readership. Tolstoy, according to Stoehr, effectively used the common solider in his fiction to reach a universal audience. In his own class Stoehr tries to take current events and relate them to historical precedents in order to light a fire under his student charges. Stoehr feels that by giving history more a sense of immediacy, this genre of writing has a better chance to flourish.

Lady Borton, a noted translator, feels that “point of view” is very important in political writing. She told the audience the longer she is in a country she is writing about, the less she realizes she knows. Borton for the last ten years has been involved with editing an anthology of Vietnamese poetry “Defiant Muse” The book is to be released by both American and Vietnamese publishing houses, and is translated by Vietnamese Americans. The involvement of indigenous people is essential for the “point of view” and thusly for the spirit of the work to come across, she feels.

Most of the panelists agreed that to some extent or the other everybody is a political writer. If you live in a comfort zone like the suburbs, your writing tends to be more personal than political. The more comfortable the reader is the less likely he is going to read something that breaks convention. Breaking convention is what good political writing does. Publishers for the most part don’t want to take a chance, and that means an almost certain death for the hopeful political poets and writers out there.