Good Poetry Is Like Good Food: How to Find It ... and Savor It


Patrick Jones

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the value of verse in the 21st century. Read the first three installments here, here, and here.

In my last post, I looked at how "flarf" might help provide us with a new model of poetic "accessibility" for the 21st century. I'll now turn to another model: Slow Poetry. Slow Poetry will refer less to any specific group of poets or kind of poem than to a different way of framing reading (read: consumption) practices. In the age of monocultural food production* (+ the age of growing awareness about the need for local, diversified food production) can poetry help us transition away from monocultural reading habits?

Slow Poetry; or, The Opposite of Airline Reading

Imagine: you've just gotten a job, and you're required, by this new job, to fly places. In your rush to pack clothes and make sure you have the right-sized toothpaste container, you forget your in-flight entertainment. So you stop in one of the airport stands, and purchase a book. And a banana.

Now, besides the fact that you're emitting a little bit of carbon into the atmosphere on this trip, who cares?

Well, a poet out there cares. You know—every family has one—a brother, or a cousin, or an aunt, or an in-law, or a friend—who is a poet. And you've just insulted them by buying Dan Brown's latest super-best-seller, instead of reading their obscure, high-brow lit. But you don't have time, and you like Dan Brown, and you hate know-it-alls telling you what you should be reading.

Okay. But then, sometimes, you actually want to read those other books. You're interested, maybe, but they're not getting sold at the airport...

It's in this context that poet and critic Dale Smith's provisional term Slow Poetry is useful.** Slow Poetry does not describe a school of poetry or even a kind of poem, but rather a new kind of attention to our reading practices. It takes its cue from the Slow Food movement—which as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have eloquently written, is not a matter of swallowing the bitter pill, but rather a restorative, pleasure-driven awakening. Yum.

Small Presses and "Chapbooks"

In the world of literary culture, the small press is probably the closest equivalent to your local farmer's market. (The carrots might look funnier, but, after you're used to it, they taste about five times better.) There are tons of small presses, spread out over the country, and they're often run at either no-profit or a loss. These are labors of love—not engaged in the production of commodities for consumption, but something closer to Lewis Hyde's notion of "the gift." Hand-sewn chapbooks take time to make, the poems in them take time to read, and the poets (most likely) took a lot of time to write them. Their production occurs on a smaller (and less grandiose) scale, and like the Slow Food and broader Slow Culture movement, they want to restore to us a sense of time that our current world system strips away from us. Perhaps they wouldn't want to be in the airports, even if we let them. But they can, like the local food economy (which is growing at a spectacular rate, nationally), become viable alternatives with our support.

Here's a list of some of my favorite small presses, and links to their websites.

Ahsahta Press

Belladonna Books

Edge Books

Fence Books

Flim Forum Press

Flood Editions

Nightboat Books

Palm Press

The Song Cave

Ugly Duckling Presse

Feel free to weigh in on the comments section with more! And check out SPD (Small Press Distribution), where a lot of these (and a whole lot more) can be ordered.

* Patrick Jones writes, in his "Freedragging Manifesto": The arts of industrial civilisation are intrinsically linked to industrial agriculture—that what industrial agriculture does to our bodies (and to the landbase), industrial culture does to our minds. Fairly consistently the resultant pathology is a kind of intellectual diabetes that derives from the over refinement and over processing of materials. Where the seduction of the reader/spectator is paramount, the common understanding is that as long as there is food preserved by synthetics and refrigerants, we can afford to indulge ourselves in transcendental medias.

** Browse, also, Smith's introductory anthology to Slow Poetry here.

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Adam Roberts is a poet, educator, and post-graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. More

Adam Roberts is a poet, educator, and post-graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He encourages you to check out 350 Poems, part of's 2009 day of climate action. More of his writing can be found online at The Beagle, The Bee, And The Sea.
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