Song of his self?

Sometimes good comes from shaking things up. Ideas get shared. Creativity flourishes. Truths get spoken. Attention is paid.

Maybe the newspaper or group or person doing the shaking up isn’t always the biggest or steadiest or even necessarily right one to complete the job. The shakers-up are unlikely to be conventional, traditional or mainstream. And they’re probably going to make a lot of people mad as hell.

I’m thinking of Jane Fonda’s protest against the Vietnam War, Earth First’s fight to save Humboldt’s Headwaters Forest—the oldest grove of redwood trees in private hands—or SN&R’s reportage of controversial news stories.

They all serve an important purpose. Things get shaken up. Attention is paid. And sometimes change happens.

This week’s cover story by Jonathan Kiefer profiles a local poet who’s definitely shaking things up among the city’s literati. In “The Agitator,” we meet B.L. Kennedy, a half-Irish Catholic, half-Jewish, fully working-class seventh-grade dropout who over the past three decades has established himself at the center of Sacramento’s poetry scene.

His attempt to tell the story of that scene over the half-century from 1960 to 2006 in a documentary has got people talking. Some local poets are behaving like women scorned for being left out. Others express their fear that Kennedy’s movie will lack objectivity. Still, others say they’re sick of the guy’s self promotion. And no one’s even seen the movie yet—it runs next Wednesday at the Crest Theatre.

On the surface, Kennedy’s style is a bit like Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: without rhyme or meter and self-referential. But his movie, he insists, sings more than his own song. Its aim is to help Sacramento poets to—Whitman-like—celebrate themselves. Whether it represents the poetry scene well or badly is a judgment that can be made once the movie’s seen. But in the end, it’s the poet’s job to own their own story and tell their own truths. As Whitman said: “Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you, / You must travel it for yourself.”

Sometimes it just takes someone out of the ordinary to shake you up enough that you insist on owning your own truth and traveling your own path, poet or not.