Unbuttoning ‘Button Poetry’: A Poetry Movement That Is Gaining Mass Popularity

Posted on February 24, 2014 in Culture-Vulture

By Shamvabee Chakraborty:

“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known as private.” — Allen Ginsberg.

The art of poetry can be traced back to 1700-1200 BC, the time when the Vedas originated and since 800-675 BC when the Odyssey came into being. This ancient form of art has undergone different radical changes, has been divided into many spectacular genres, which gave more spectacular poets of the time, making this expression of art timeless and universal.

To limit our focus to American Poetry, it is a storehouse of riches; from Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson to the revolutionary Modern stalwarts like T.S Eliot. American Beat Poetry gifted us with versatile poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg who redefined life and its hassles, making themselves an inspiration for many. The poets of ‘Beat Generation’ were the group of American Post World War II poets, who renounced the stereotypical notions of contemporary urban life, who were open about their alternate sexuality, used recreational drugs and were referred to as ‘bohemian hedonists’. Kerouac introduced the phrase, inspired after a conversation with the writer John Clellon Holmes where the adjective ‘beat’ colloquially meant ‘tired’ or ‘beaten down’; Kerouac edited the meaning and added the further connotations like ‘upbeat’ and the musical association on being ‘on the beat’.

Beat poetry has encountered a revival in the last two decades in the form of poetry slam, that is, urban poetry performance competition which is judged by the audience. This form of poetry stresses on a style of writing that is provocative and easy to understand. Poetry slam has opened horizons for new generation of writers and spoken word performers like Saul Williams. Though critic Harold Bloom has commented in an interview in the Paris Review that ‘it is the death of art’, still the fashion of poetry slam is paving its way to be a youth movement. Youth Speaks founded in 1996 by James Kass is regarded to be the largest poetry organization in America.

Button Poetry, founded in 2011, is a part of the poetry slam family based in Minnesota. Sam Cook and Sierra DeMulder are the founders of this group. Cook himself is a National Poetry Slam champion and DeMulder too was a two time National Poetry Slam champion. Rachele Cermak and Heidi Lear joined later and then they launched their first website and blog. Under the supervision of Cook and another member named Dylan Garity, Button launched Button Tumblr and Button Youtube in 2012. In March 2011, they released Button Poetry: Volume One featuring Sam Cook, Dylan Garity, Sierra DeMulder and a few other city poets; the second album was released by Sam Cook and Michael Lee in October 2012; the third album was released in February 2013, titled The Good News Poetry Tour 2013. In July 2013, Button launched their first perfect bound book named me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun, which is available for sale on their official website (buttonpoetry.com). The manuscript was written by Aziza Barnes and this was the work that won her the first chapbook competition conducted by Button in 2012. Other chapbooks like Mill, Railway & General Castings by Sam Cook, Blueprints by Dylan Garity and Clatter by Neil Hilborn are also available for sale on the website.

Their audio records are also available for sale or can be heard online. Their ‘mission’ is to develop ‘a coherent and effective system of production, distribution, promotion and fundraising for performance poetry’. They are envisioning a new kind of poetry, ‘one that lives in books and bars, magazines and theaters, the mind and the mouth.’ In April 2013, Button Poetry captured dozens of poets performing in College Unions Poetry Slam International because they believe that documenting it plays an important role in ‘growth and innovation of poetry’. They have also published an e-book named Viral which has the collection of nine poems that topped 200,000 views in YouTube. They have also introduced their own line of merchandise t-shirts for promotion.

In an idiosyncratic web of stereotypes, Button Poetry upholds an ideology that is devoid of sophistry and pretense. It mainly encircles around the honesty and the directness of one’s mind and its thoughts, that is naked and raw, which isn’t sugar coated. They talk simple, that can be easily felt as well as easily gulped in. They are propagating to think freely and express freely as well. There has been a wrong idea when it comes to reciting poems. Many a times, we think that while reciting, to extract the real flavor, we should add more color and let it be dramatic. The result is that it proves to be over-dramatic. Button Poetry poets recite their poems in the exact way they had felt whether it was rage or sorrow, the platter is presented in the very exact way. When you hear Sierra DeMulder recite The Unrequited Love Poem, you will feel the pang of a demented love from her voice, which is diametrically opposite when you hear Shane Hawley’s In Restaurants, where you feel the deep utter disgust through his recitation. This proves Ginsberg’s quote above. Poetry is not a platform of emotions that are stretched out of limit and is presented in an over the top manner. It is the basic and fundamental way of expression which needs to be honest and true, thus infinite, and Button Poetry has attained its infinity.