Monday, April 6, 2009

The Professionalization of Poetry...It's Okay

I’ve thought a little bit more about Mattix’s article “Poetry and Subsidies: Is Materialism Ruining Creativity?” Although Mattix seems to be asserting, along with several sub-points (jabs at the avant-garde, the need for riskier poetry that is against the commercialization of art, etc., etc.), that: poetry is waning because there’s too much money thrown at mediocre poets through prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships, and professorships.

After re-reading the article it feels like an anti-academic criticism; after all who funds the majority of the prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships, and professorships: universities and well-funded non-profit arts organizations who often have some ties to universities. I think what Mattix is talking about is the professionalization of poetry, which essentially means that the proliferation of creative writing programs necessitates professional poets (who of course have other skills…namely teaching lit, comp, etc.).

So, a poet who loves writing and has a passion for poetry and/or literature might postulate “I should teach” and off they go to build a resume to achieve that objective. But how is this any different than any other profession. I work for a bank. How does one move up in the bank:

• They take an entry level position selling residential loans or running a depository branch, get really good at selling residential loans, etc., etc.: top producer, awards dinners, plaques in office, etc.
• They get promoted to lower level management
• Go back to school and get MBA
• They get promoted to mid-level management: more accolades, awards dinners, more responsibility and more visibility
• And they eventually get promoted to senior level management and somewhere along they way they might have to get a little more education to sweeten the deal

The prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships, and professorships help build a prospective “professional poets” resume along with, of course, publications. I don’t think “contemporary poetry works like a Ponzi scheme operated by the academic world” (sorry BJ) because this kind of “resume building” is prevalent in any occupation. So, “resume building” is expected for those that want to teach creative writing in academia and I still have faith that the prizes, grants, and publications are available to academic and non-academic alike because quality poetry will always rise to the surface whether an MFA student or teacher poet or established god/goddess of poetry or a poet outside academia is writing the poetry. My only concerns are:

A. That poetry becomes elitist: that bad poets make all the decisions or non-poets make all the decisions regarding prizes, grants, publications, funding of creative writing programs.
B. That those poets operating within “the hallowed walls” (sorry if this offends anybody…I’m not anti-academic) of academia are writing poetry for resume building as opposed to writing because they must.
I think to some degree the surge in small, grassroots presses helps counter concern A. There are many small presses that are producing wonderful work and two that have supremely impressed me are Black Ocean Press and Octopus Books. For example, I am not at all stylistically similar to Eric Baus but his work challenges me, inspires me, makes me feel good after I read it. I’ve read The To Sound twice and finished Tuned Droves about a month ago. And as BJ puts it, there are plenty of poets writing from outside academia to give proper balance to contemporary poetry:

There are scads of poets living and working outside of academia, and these voices are quickly becoming the voices recognized as contemporary poetry. They are voices that aren't being called upon to fill job requirements, in fact, they are voices that exist despite job requirements, motivated by no other desire than to make poetry that people want to read, or, in the very least, that we want to read again later. They are voices that don't have to exist, but do…

I don’t know if they are being “recognized as contemporary poetry” but they are being recognized and are evolving into a more essential component of contemporary poetry. And I like the idea of being “motivated by no other desire than to make poetry…” This is really what I’m after…to make poetry and equally important to ingest poetry (metaphorically of course…unless said poetry is chocolate in nature or Starburst jelly beans in taste).

So, in conclusion for tonight, I don't believe materialism is ruining poetry.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Making It Commercially

This post was going to be a response to John Gallaher's post about an article by Micah Mattix's article Poetry and Subsidies which was partially in response to Tom Bethell's article in The American Spectator. But my response got a little to big for its britches so, since I haven't posted in a while, I decided to post my response here.

I honestly think, if Mattix is interpreting Bethell accurately, that Bethell is off kilter…as is Mattix. Sure prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships and professorships may be bureaucratic and careerist in nature but who cares. Is the world that bad off having more poetry in it due to the prizes, subsidies, etc.?

Micah Mattix’s suggestion that there’s a possibility of “making it commercially” in poetry is pretty ridiculous. With the exception of a few poets who have achieved a little “commercial” success such as Ai, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, poetry is not a profitable endeavor and thus using the phrase “making it commercially” feels asinine.

Unfortunately, like many contemporary arguments about the “decline of poetry,” I feel that Mattix assumes that poetry “is” waning before proving it “is” waning, which is to say, “poetry is waning” seems like one of his premises, while at the same time being his conclusion. This is probably confusing but suffice it to say, I am not convinced that poetry is in fact waning.

If the prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships and professorships were reduced to reduce the amount of mediocre poetry wouldn’t this be similar to what Collins jokingly suggested a few years back: that the NEA pay poets to not write to reduce the mediocrity in contemporary poetry. This, in my opinion, seems to lead to elitism.

I like Mattix’s conclusion though, that critics need to do a better job of finding good poetry.

Ultimately though, I say who cares. These kinds of things tend to take care of themselves. Time causes the dross to rise to the surface and eventually it’s scraped off. But of course this may be too simplistic a conclusion and doesn’t mean that I believe thoughtful dialogue about the state of contemporary poetry shouldn’t exist.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Out on a Friday Night

Megan, I, and the boys went out to Minsky's Pizza tonight. It has been a long week and neither Megan nor I were up to going through the normal routine of preparing dinner. It was a pleasant little family dinner minus, of course, sitting right next to the entrance.

In a little bit Megan and I are going to watch The Duchess. We tried to watch Appaloosa earlier this week but could not watch all of it. I don't think it was a bad movie; it kind of reminded me of old school westerns: very plain, straightforward dialogue, clear bad guys and good guys, a woman who vies for the affection of the rugged gun slinger. But I kind of got bored which was too bad since I love Ed Harris, Jeremy Irons, and Viggo Mortensen.

Oh, and before we watch The Duchess I'm going to run out and get fixings for Cosmopolitans. No, I don't drink Cosmopolitans but Megan likes them and she's in the mood for martinis. So, I'm going to attempt to make my first martinis tonight. It could get ugly.

I'm getting three Tupperware containers full of encyclopedias tomorrow. And my parents are visiting which should be fun. And I'm going to the Apple store in "The Plaza" or "The Plaaaaza" to price a new computer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

David Kirby

I went to David Kirby's reading at the Kansas City Art Institute tonight. There was a fairly large turnout...mostly art institute students through. I've read Kirby's work before and it is littered with obscure (and less obscure) literary and pop culture references. He has a very stream of consciousness style which can be difficult to follow but very rewarding if you stick with the poem. But hearing him read the poems brought the poems I've read to life and added an even greater texture to the language, narrative, etc. David Kirby appears to love language, narrative, story-telling, pop culture, literature, and he has tones of fun with each of them as he weaves in-and-out of different threads within the same poem. It was fun listening to him read. The reading made me appreciate his work a whole lot much so that I bought his most recent book: The House on Boulevard Street: New and Selected Poems (LSU press).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Party Monkey

Today I felt a little out of sorts. I still had "the party monkey" on my back as one of my co-workers put it. Although there are some naysayers regarding AWP I had an excellent time. My top 10 highlights:
  1. Hanging out with BJ and MD drinking beer, single malt McCallan's, and eating good food.
  2. Buying John Gallaher's Map of the Folded World (I also bought Heather Derr-Smith's The Bride Minaret and Ashley Capps' Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields from the University of Akron Press and look forward to reading all three...thanks to Mary Biddinger for her recommendations on Derr-Smith and Capps).
  3. Walking 20 blocks in the wrong direction attempting to find the Rabbit Lights Live reading at New Wave Coffee, walking 20 blocks back to the Empty Bottle, and then another 6-8 blocks before BJ, MD, and I gave up. It was an adventure.
  4. Drinking beers with BJ and MD at Blueline after walking around for 2 hours after attending No Thousands: A Small Press Reading and attempting to find the Rabbit Lights Live reading.
  5. The Poets of American Hybrid reading: Peter Gizzi was amazing.
  6. The More Than a Collection: Imagining and Realizing Thematic Poetry Projects panel. Oliver De La Paz, Jake Adam York, and Sean Nevin were great. This was one of the most professional, articulate, and helpful panels I've been to at AWP. Great favorites were ODLP, JAY, and SN.
  7. Hanging out with BJ, MD, FK, etc. at BJ's place in Hyde Park which happens to be 2 blocks from where Barack Obama lives and he happened to be at home for the weekend which meant that the street leading to his house had no parked cars. That's a little tid bit that made me feel warm and fuzzy...but that could have been the Knob Creek.
  8. Buying Brandi Homan's Hard Reds: it feels good to know there's a published Marshalltown poet or poet from Marshalltown.
  9. The University of Missouri-Kansas City/New Letters reading featuring Robert Stewart, Michael Pritchett, Christie Hodgen, Hadara Bar-Nadav, and Michelle Boisseau. Christie's story kicked ass as did Michelle's and Hadara's poetry. The whole thing was really great!!! Thanks for hanging in there BJ and MD.
  10. Falling asleep at 2:30 AM on Friday night after a day and night of drinking McCallan's single malt and beer. I snored while BJ and MD chatted away until 4:30 AM. O, AWP.
Thanks for the great time BJ and MD. And thanks for having us over to your apartment Anne. Also, it was great seeing Friedrich again.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Check out your misery index. It looks like we're mildly miserable in Missouri. Although Kansas City is ranked better than Chicago. Kansas City is ranked 92nd; whereas Chicago is ranked 159th. But of course this is not a joking matter...things kind of stink right now and the media is fanning the flames everyday.

Tonight is going to entail the following:
  1. Watch a little Lord of the Rings with Elijah and Gavin
  2. After Elijah and Gavin go to bed I'm going to drink a few beers
  3. I am going to drink a few more beers and either watch The Duchess or The Namesake with Megan
I finished another rough draft this morning: "After Watching Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" which of course is based partially on the incidents after watching Nightmare at 20,000 Feet with Elijah and Gavin.

Four days left. I'm going shopping this weekend. Guess what I'm shopping for?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2009 Poetry Tournament, Eastern Region Round 2 continued

Here's Eastern Region Round 2 for Group 2:

Jean-Paul Pecqueur, "Truth"
Mark Bibbins, "Just Yesterday"

WINNER: Jean-Paul Pecqueur, "Truth" - this is somehwhat of an upset because I've read Bibbins before and thoroughly enjoyed sky lounge but upon reading "Truth" a third time in the last week I saw thing I did not see in previous readings.

* * *

Nancy Krygowski, "This Loss, Any:"
A. Loudermilk, "Daring Love"

WINNER: Nancy Krygowski, "This Loss, Any:"

* * *

So here's the final 4 for the Eastern Region:

Joan Houlihan, "Squall Line"
Joshua Beckman, "Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter"


Jean-Paul Pecqueur, "Truth"
Nancy Krygowski, "This Loss, Any:"

Ahhh, the things I do to pass the time. I think I might do a post-AWP poetry tournament involving all the poetry books I purchase at AWP.