I think the most important, and exciting, aspect to me about Button Poetry Live is the consistent curation of physical artistic space with a culture of critique and growth. Of course, for anyone who does not have geographical access to the space, the most exciting part must be the fact that Button Poetry Live will consistently produce high-quality video and audio of these performances for all to see. I think, however, that it is so easy to forget about or not consider the work that these poets put into their work. The help we receive.
We can see a video like Neil Hilborn’s OCD and its 10 million views and love it, because it is a thing to be loved, but also believe that the poem appeared out of thin air because that is, in a way, how we are experiencing anything on YouTube or the internet. We only see outcomes and not input. Many Button Poetry favorites come out of an old show in St. Paul called Soap Boxing. Neil Hilborn, Sierra DeMulder, Guante, Hieu Nguyen, Khary Jackson aka 6 is 9, Button Editor in Chief Michael Mlekoday, Executive Director Sam Cook and Assistant Director Dylan Garity, all met each other at the St. Paul poetry slam. We workshopped each other’s poems, we pushed and supported each other. I remember when Neil first read OCD several years ago, it looked nothing like it does now, but through the relationships made in that physical space, Neil was able to workshop the poem, rehearse, re-draft the writing and performance and, after several months, create one of the most well-known slam poems in the world.
Investing in a broadcasted physical space is also investing in Button Poetry’s audience as it is now and will be in the future. Button Poetry Live will create a workshop environment, a free workshop open to the public before each show, and I can guarantee if the space is curated well and intentionally, two or three years from now the most popular poem on the Button channel might just come from a young poet performing and writing out of that space. Not because poets are magicians and our poems just appear, but because we are supported and pushed and given space to make mistakes and learn and be vulnerable and be held accountable in our craft and in our lives, because we experience the poetry of our contemporaries and elders, because we are all active and passive learners simultaneously.
Investing in BPL isn’t just a guarantee of great videos next month or next year, it is a guarantee of supporting new voices, voices you or I haven’t heard yet, perhaps voices that the poets themselves have not yet even discovered. I know when I showed up at my first poetry slam in St. Paul in 2009 I had no idea what stories I needed to tell or how I was capable of telling them. Anyone who has enjoyed my poetry as it appears on the Button Poetry Channel should know it all came out of a physical space and, no matter how technologically advanced we become, we can never replace the physical space (or the human connection which takes place inside of it) that sparks so many of these poems and our ability to write and share them with the world. At the end of the day, had no one come up and greeted me at my first slam and told me they saw something in me and hoped to see me next time I may never had stuck it out, my work may have never made it off the page again. But here I am, because of others. Here we all are.
– Michael Lee is a Norwegian-American writer and author of the chapbook “Secondly. Finally”, which won the 2014 David Blair Memorial Prize (Organic Weapon Arts). Having received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the LOFT Literary Center, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indiana Review, Phoebe, Copper Nickel, Poetry Northwest, and The Carolina Quarterly among other journals. He attends the Harvard Graduate School of Education.