in memoriam, Gil Ott
February 6, 2004
"If you take an expansive definition of what poetry is, poetry is all around us. Rap music is poetry, advertising is full of poetry.... I do consider the many, many branches and streams of poetry that exist as legitimate."--Gil Ott
Gil Ott once told Kristen Gallagher that "there are no forms of language that have not contributed to some abuse of power. This realization set me out early on, looking for incorruptible forms." Put together Gil's deeply felt concern about the abuse of power with his search, in writing, for incorruptible forms and you have a view of a community-based "alternative arts movement" that is remarkably clear-eyed. Gil saw an analogy between poetry and community-development organizations. Both, he said, are small. Both are capable of responding quickly to changing conditions. Both are inherently decentralized. Both can defy interposed categories, rules that come from outside. "It is time," he once declared, "to consider the potential in such linkages." Notwithstanding the stump-speech rhetoric, which was rare for him ("It is time to..."), Gil was actually being characteristically modest when he said this, because, for him, it was long past the time he had begun such projects. That a community of poets lived alongside and in connection with people passionate about community development in Philadelphia was and is largely owing to Gil's efforts. We who care about the fate of the "small" arts here owe him more than we often know. He is in the air we breathe. I know I expand every time I take in his "expansive definition of what poetry is."