What is a Tea Poet?
"The poet descends low. He forsakes the parnassian assembly."
While the Parnassian movement—a reaction against Romanticism that called for a recognition of art independent of any moral, social, or scientific consideration—produced few poets of lasting renown, its significant influence has been recognized by artist and critic alike. Okay, I got that from Wikipedia…you see, during the AWP conference, there was an off-site reading billed as "The Best Reading" happening at a "secret" location from 10pm-1am. My curiosity beckoned, and subsequent contacts eventually directed me towards a penthouse apartment overlooking the Chicago river at 11pm on a Friday night. I coralled three of my poetry brethren on this adventure, convincing them of speakeasy bachelor paddyness after attending an issue launch of an established journal earlier in the evening—a collection of diverse readers excelling in the sum of our parts. We made our way through the high winds of a late night, basking in the glow of our mutual delivery. In pre-expectation of a Mad Men soiree, and with no known information on what exactly a "best" reading would consist of at a "secret" location…we were rightfully prepared to duck out if any wordsters dare drop an inkling of verse. We were about to descend low, sharing the elevator ride with a trio of cool hipsters. All of us, winking silently at each other, Yeah…AWP Baby!
After the trio got off on the wrong floor, adolescent mortality set in, Damn them...they had their own party. Ours was indeed a "reading" packed with like-minded secrecy searchers, silent but for the lone poet holding court against a picture window. We didn't say anything to each other as the host shushered us in towards the kitchen, away from the fray. We settled by the gourmet finger food and wine, content with our lot. Eventually taking in our surroundings, the question of "secret" and "best" gave way to an exquisite corpse on an iPhone being passed between the four of us, eg… "We done do the thing. // Dang done did it huh? // Doing the demo thing domed. // Duh)))now(((detest da lug." // ...and so on, our natural drift, oblivious to the rapt attention being given to the speakers.
I was witness to a mob mentality of sorts, the centrifuge of a crowd gone silent. A room of supporters, initiating a finger-snapping tidal wave where irony had gone out the window. I've been in readings before where I felt I was the lone goat but this had a different vibe. A self-important air that managed to frighten while leaving no memorable impression—why did that seem so familiar?
"The poet is a tea bag. Dormant in the golden valise."
Not a TeaBag-Poet more like a TEE Poet or a simple T-Poet or a true Tea Party Poet. See how the phrase "Tea Poet" captures perfectly the horror of an out-of-control sensation where the world you're in is escalating out of control and you have nothing in your arsenal to fight it? I should say here that the hour was late and I was biased against the reading because I was not receptive to a reading of any sort…that is, of course, after my fictitious buildup of an out-of-control shindig. But standing there, elbow to elbow in a sea of poets I drunkenly found uninspiring yet scary in their commitment to an imagined cause—my delirium consecrating the death of poetry right there, before the masses—brought up issues of community-as-cult…the individual poetry camps…the belief systems…the figureheads of movements throughout the alchemical roaming of language.
How passionate is the fight that defines our way? The groups we find comfort in, the ones that challenge—forever my balance gets the better of me. Maybe this is where a "Secret Poetry Society" could handle such terror. I thought I made that up, really I did, but then I found this. And the clash of fonts on my server speak to a higher miscalculation than merely having the wrong server…it's gotta be a secret poem, I know it! So, I scroll down to discover "THIS SITE WAS CREATED FOR POETS BY POETS" the pride radiating from those words, beaming a dare from a faceless font!
What is secret about keeping your work from the world, when the world is how you made it? Watching the Tea Poets unleash their agenda—my conjured vision driving poetry's hearse—I questioned the capacity for listening, for letting the world in. What separates a horde of like-minded revelers, from a gathering of passionate supporters? Maybe it's the ability to know how easily the winds of change can disrupt the action of moving limbs, the active body, churning whatever scribbled remainder chooses to keep itself embedded—a recognition, independent of moral, social, or scientific consideration, you see. It isn't my intention to level the chasm, to insinuate pleasantry, to obviate a missive for an unrelated cause…I just felt the shape of the evening lead me to question my own transformative shift. What is or isn't inspiring doesn't matter if we walk with our secrets, knowing they know us—as humans in transition.
A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...