The Greatest Living Poets Project
by Mark Chandos
"That there is poetry is the only
The Latin American poet quoted above was wise beyond his years. He had the luxury of participating in a culture that still prized the power of the written word as incantation. A machine can be programmed to make everything a man can make - airplanes, pictures, prose, music - but only one craft still requires exclusively the active participation of a human: poetry. Only a human can create and judge great poetry. Yet no poet currently living can make a living from his labor. This is because modern poetry has been written as prose and the public can not name a poet now living. The public does not buy poetry books. They do not expect to be pleased when they see a book of modern poetry in the shops. And they are right.
The poetry of the Greatest Living Poets Project sets out with a new direction. We never publish a poem unless it contains at least one line that will live forever in the language. That is a bold statement - but read on. It declares that poetry is the irredeemable element in human communication, and cannot be expressed or replicated in prose. Our poems contain just enough stasis, or internal architecture of number, to maintain its monumentality impervious to age. Mantra Rain's unaccountable speech brings people face to face with the unknown quantity of human communication. Poetry is the sudden arrival of the strange that we recognize with clarity. The best of poetry is still presented as a song - not a newspaper report. Mantra Rain explores all these insights.
At the year 2001 I made the observation that powerful poetry no longer exists in the West. The surest proof of this was the nearly complete absence of a vibrant market for modern poetry. I made that challenge in a book titled Greatest Living Poet. I took the mask of a visitor from another planet. This poet did not write poetry like any other human then on the planet. Yet this persona wrote his poetry with the confidence and skill of a great poet. It was an outrageous experiment that had a perfect result. I learned what kind of audience actually existed for modern poetry, and this knowledge matured both my perspective and my craft.
The Greatest Living Poets Project (and website) forced one of two responses from an unsuspecting audience. Either one was forced to carefully read the presentation in order to discover if the dynamic within the poems portended what the title claimed or, at the least, to bring into relevance the idea of how we judge whether a poem was great or not. The response to that book was very revealing about the state of modern poetry. It excited immense curiosity from people outside of the "business" of poetry (academia). Even if one wished to stand against the ideas I put forth - at least by their close reading they were forced to admit the honest achievement of the work and the advance of the American idiom. Usually such an achievement is enough for any book.
Those who took the time to read the first book - and also had no prior agenda - responded with a sense of discovery. These readers found identity with my basic ideas and witnessed the fresh beginning of poetry in our century. My last appearance on the stage as the "Greatest Living Poet" in Heidelberg, Germany, was in May 2005. I felt that my message had achieved its objective and I would retire the character at the high water mark of its success. I put away that costume now and take my place in line with fellow poets, with both my feet on the earth's clay. I invite my readers to read some of the critical reviews from seven continents on my web site.
After five years of introducing my concepts across America, Europe, Australia, Africa and New Zealand I think the goals of my first book were successful. It forced a re-examination of how and why we write poetry in English. Those who responded with aggression or ridicule were soon discovered not to have read the book at all. They had a prior agenda with the way poetry has been written the last 50 years of the 20th century - and were not prepared to welcome a new beginning - or a different perspective. I can say with complete honesty that I never had a negative response from any person who took the trouble of reading the book over at least twice. I hope this challenges (and encourages) those who have yet to read my first book.