Thursday, October 12, 2006

Poetry is for Rich Kids

It's no secret that poetry is among the most "elite" of art forms, right up there with contemporary classical music. When people say "ordinary people don't read poetry," what they mean is "working class people don't read poetry." Nor do they write it (not stuff that sees the light of day anyway).

Yeah, yeah, every ten years or so, the poetry world throws up its sacrificial "workingman's poet." Philip Levine is the biggest name. But within a few years, these poets inevitably lose touch with whatever roots they may have had and start writing in one of the available neo-Romantic trends in post-W.C. Williams free verse, start writing poems of "ekphrasis" (the most snobbish and exclusive of all sub-genres)--or start writing historical poems or suburban meditationals. You get the idea.

Recently, we've seen the emergence of the supposedly "avant-garde" working class. Armed with Deleuze and Gramsci, these jokers eschew representational value altogether, promoting a poetry of theory and gesture. Nearly all have the same job teaching creative writing somewhere. Which reminds me--Ron Silliman takes a lot of shit. but say what you will, he still works a job outside of academia. As people, Silliman (and Rae Armantrout) deserves props for keeping it real, regardless of one's estimation of their work (and I admit I like Rae's work).

But back to my rant.

It seems good to remind one's self every now and then that M.F.A. programs are mostly baby-sitting limbo zones for upper and upper-middle class kids who aren't ready for a "real career" and don't have the focus to do a Ph.D. Does this go without saying? Maybe I'm wasting my time here. Is there anything wrong with it? Not from an individual point of view, I suppose. It's hard to see something wrong with young people wanting to write instead of work a 9 to 5 office job, and why not give people the chance to "find themselves" for a few more years (um, never mind that they are in their mid-twenties at that point--vive le American adolescence!)

Is there a single "major" American working-class poet? I used to think Walt Whitman is the only one. But now this new book comes out--Andrew Lawson's Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle--that convincingly demonstrates Whitman was really a member of the lower-middle class artisanal culture of New England at the time. Bummer. Where oh where / is America's John Claire?

Don't ask me. I'm a part of the problem, not the solution. Though I lived in a trailer much of my life and my dad didn't make squat, my favorite living poet is John Ashbery. What does that say about me? I like to think that I am just "reverse-slumming."

Who is the Howard Zinn of American Poetry? Do we need one? Does it matter?

If there is something productive to be done, I would think it would have to start with the M.F.A. programs. We have minority fellowships. Why don't we have class-based ones?

27 Comments:

Blogger christopher cunningham said...

first of all, when you say there are NO WORKING CLASS POETS writing today, you're either being overly dramatic or you're an uninformed idiot; but when you say "working class people don't write poetry" you are definitely being an idiot.

this is another form of simpleminded ACADEMIC CLASS exclusionary thinking, which is just as "snobbish and exclusive" as anything else you note in your post. and while I agree that "poetry theory" and "the avant-garde" and "creative writing workshop garbage" is killing the IDEA of Real Poetry in this desolate cultural age, you must look to the underground sometimes, you must look to those ARTISTS who are ACTIVELY CREATING, not careerists seeking only a bigger name and a larger ego. if you look in the toilet, what do you expect to find?

why does it have to be widely published to be "major?" believe me, I've read small press poetry that is DEAD FUCKING ON TARGET, and is only read by 100 folks. hell, poetry doesn't get a large audience today precisely because of this kind of attitude,that "the working class doesn't read."

it's bullshit. poetry has for too long been the sole stomping ground of Word Nazis with their curious fonts and strange page layouts (not the Mark Foley kind). maybe the wider working class is too consumed with paying bills and feeding themselves to worry about getting their PHD or their MASTERS or whichever piece of paper the Univ. Boys and the Big Publishers of Crap determine you need to be "major," but I promise you, when a GOOD POEM, printed in some fold and staple chapbook, hits the greasy hands of a machinist in San Pedro or the ink stained mitts of a printer in Delaware or the food encrusted palms of a cook in Atlanta, it matters more than any accolades, awards, grants, publication credits, etc. because it accomplishes something other than self aggrandizement: it communicates the deeper truths of our humanity to another human, shot thru the barrel of shared suffering.

you ask what's to be done? well, it does NOT have to start with "fellowships" and grants and hand holding. you must get your ass out there and DO IT YOURSELF. here is a list of NOT SO WIDELY published poets (and some who've published more than any academic writer out there) who WORK for a living, and can kick the shit out of most so-called "major" poets churning out self indulgent, obscure, boring poetry that connects to NO ONE, and communicates NOTHING of the actual human experience.

I suggest that you might need to read smaller, submit smaller, support smaller, and fuck this large scale corporate type of big box poetry thinking. I'm not sure, but I might be reading a bit of "why am I not the big-ass working class poet?" in your words. well, maybe you are. but how has any "fellowship" made a difference in our hardworking lives? MFA's have NOTHING to do with the working class.

but our "working class" poetry has, my friend. our movement has grown by leaps and bounds in the last two months, and it illustrates plainly to me that there IS a working class effort and there IS working class poetry and there ARE "Major Writers" out there who just haven't been tapped by your recognized system of approvals.

think of us as LOCAL and ORGANIC versus CARGILL and MONSANTO; sometimes the "major" work isn't just going to slip unobstructed thru the walls and veils and illusions of mainstream American literature. and sometimes that "major work" isn't major at all: just what is being sold to you at the time. that's why the walls are there in the first place.

sometimes the working class poets must push back though.

that said, I agree with most of what you wrote about the MFA programs, etc. it is SUFFERING that makes great art. that is a fact. no fat happy tenured greedhead has ever painted like van Gogh. and even if "craft," the labored tightening of bolts, the rewrites and rewrites endlessly, someday yields a passable bit of poetry, it doesn't compare to the pure note from the trumpet blown out of necessity.

2:06 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

I wrote:

"When people say 'ordinary people don't read poetry,' what they mean is 'working class people don't read poetry.' Nor do they write it (not stuff that sees the light of day anyway)."

I guess you missed that last part. Anybody with a pencil can write poetry. I'm talking about stuff getting published, not stuff handed to waitresses in a folded up napkin. I've handed waitresses stuff on folded up napkins before. They usually slap me.

Perhaps you also missed the fact that I put the word "major" in mocking quote marks before you did. But if you really think that it's not important that great poetry is widely read, then I think you're living in a fantasy world of wishful thinking.

Think publishing doesn't matter? Tell that to the people you champion in your post, most of whom would quit their jobs in a heartbeat if they could write for a living. Grants matter. Publishing matters. Educational institutions matter. Power is real. Writing that isn't published almost never survives.

And suffering is not the only source of great art. That's a load of romantic horseshit. That belief almost always leads to whiny, deadeningly literal autobiographical prose-with-line-breaks. (Kind of sounds like most of the so-called "underground" poetry that I've read.)

Whitman said that to have great writers, you first must have good readers. Therein lies the rub. You can't just start handing out broadsides to people who never read poetry and expect the art form to flourish. Ain't gonna happen.

3:39 PM, October 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your title is rather misleading, you bomb thrower you.

2:04 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

yep, well, no shit. that's why we PLACE broadsides in BOOKS that the very READERS you mention are GOING TO PURCHASE.

what are you doing besides pissing up the leg of academe, hoping for a hand out?

and we're publishing, my friend. some of these underground guys have been around longer than some of your academic boys.

sorry you've lost any ROMANTIC notion about your own writing. must be hard to go on being merely some CRAFTHOUND who WORKS AT THE WORD.

for me it's about so much more than just the PRAISE you seek from an AUDIENCE.

pitiful, really. and sure anyone can write, that's not the point. SOME OF US MONKEYS WITH PENCILS can write pretty damn well, AND we've been pubbed on SOMEONE ELSE"S DIME, no matter if the run is 500 or 1000 or 100000.

link me to your books and I'll read YOUR work.

you can find mine easily. and I support your premise that GREAT POETRY should be widely read. it's why we're doing what we're doing at the GPP that you so snobbishly deride. what are you doing for POETRY THE ARTFORM except bitching on your little blog?

10:18 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

oh and one final thing: it's always the writer who's disillusioned with their own progress, either in publishing or the writing itself, who snarks on the ROMANTIC notions of writing.

you are a pitiful liar if you say that the ROMANCE of being a WRITER never entered into your equation. you yourself say these comfortable univ. boys haven't SUFFERED ENOUGH by working, so you defeat your own tortured logic.

yes yes, some of this prose broken into poems makes me sick too. I hate anectdotal poetry as well. the poem is about METAPHOR and LAYERS of understanding. some pain and the wisdom aquired from overcoming that pain inform such writing.

can you deny that?

10:23 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

Every now and then I have to remind someone what the name of this site is. It's not called "My Poetry Blog." It's not called "The Underground Poets' Manifesto." Nor is it called "Poetic Activism." What you see is what you get.

This site is not for self-promotion. I don't link to my poems. All those little "come read my poetry" blogs bore the shit out of me.

And your attacks are lame. "Pissing up the leg of the academe" is a pretty absurd way of looking for a "handout." Try again.

You have no idea who I am or what I write (i.e. you are full of shit).

If you don't want me to snark your "movement" or the poets you promote, don't come to a site called "Poetry Snark" to promote yourself and link to your poems.

You seem to want to be a poetic revolutionary. That's cool. We need a revolution. I'm all for guerilla methods, performance poetics, underground publishing. You go for it. But I remind you again--check out the name of this site. It ain't "The New Poetic Revolution."

You do seem to share at least two traits of the self-proclaimed revolutionaries who I've met: 1) you apparently have no sense of humor, and 2) you CAPITALIZE random words IN your SENTENCES, because you APPARENTLY think that it makes your WRITING more EFFECTIVE. Vive le resistance!

11:39 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger Johannes said...

Matt,

I still think Repression and Recovery by Cary Nelson is the best book on this subject matter. Since I've read your comps list I know you know that book, but I think your friend Christopher should read it. It's by an academic but it's very informative about the "repression" of political working class poetry.

You're right about grants. Very important. I know people who after grad school had to get jobs and I knew people who hung out. (I hung out for a while and then I got broke as a joke and spent a couple of years working an exhausting blue-collar job that left me almost no time to write, so I went back to the academy and my life has been much improved since in that I've been able to write and read.)

It's an important topic and I think you should think more about it. Doesn't matter that your site is for snarking.

Also my new blog:
exoskeleton-johannes.blogspot.com

Best,
Johannes

3:31 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

I have serious issues with Nelson's book. The premise that the "cultural work" a poem achieves should be the measure of its enduring interest is deeply flawed. In short, Nelson treats poetry like political manifestos, which they are not.

I'm not saying his book isn't worth reading. It addresses an important concern, and it's a useful sounding board to bounce ideas off of. But the results of his way of thinking are awful, awful. Have you seen the anthology he edited?

We've talked about this before. I haven't changed my opinion. I will say that the work Nelson does emphasizing the importance of layout and medium of presentation in some of the "public poetry" of the Great Depression is fascinating. I like his dicussion of Langston Hughes pretty well.

*Repression and Recovery* would have been a better book if Nelson had stuck to literary history, rather than making canonical arguments.

Maybe we should take this conversation up at your blog, though. These are serious concerns, and I don't like to be too serious in my role here.

5:47 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

okay okay.

good points. and I've only linked to what I believed illustrated my points.

and I apologize for caps, I write fast and ON A TYPEWRITER at home, so I forget about the damn html tags sometimes, and caps are my italics, etc.

yes I know, I don't know you. you are probably great.

I come here for the snark but I stay for the flames.

I will check out Nelson. thanks.

hey whaddya know? no links.

11:03 PM, October 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*Off Topic*
I updated you (including link) on Mary (Muffy)Shumway. No need to wonder anymore :)

7:28 AM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

Muffy? That's perfect! Thanks for the post and the update.

11:57 AM, October 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad the anger seems to've fizzled out. I just wanted to add a thing or two, in seriousness, as Johannes suggested.

Bob Hickok worked in the automotive industry until he got sucked into academe. Frank Stanford worked as a surveyor, I think, until he died. In England, there was Edwin Brock, who did did a pretty wide variety of things (at one time he was a policeman, or maybe a security gurard). Then there's Bukowski and the Beats (whatever you may think of them), who are, at this time, starting to be taken very seriously.

Several of my friends, including one YYP, grew up in working class and fairly repressive environments, and they got MFAs, I think because they wanted to have a chance to study writing. By the way, if one is teaching 5 classes a quarter at a community college, I think that's more stressful than working your average blue-collar job, though your average b-c job doesn't pay as well.

I think Jimmy was dead on in his comparison of poetry to music, though I think it might be more accurate to compare (what I would probably inaccuratley call) electronic music to contemprorary poetry. And speaking of music, is what's popular and most appealing with the working class the stuff that'll endure? Is it even worth mentioning?

I was raised by a single parent (my father was schizophrenic and, out of necessity, he was out of the picture). I worked in factories and did odd jobs for years and, after I finished my MFA, was resigned to painting houses. I eventually got a job in a library. I work 40 hours a week now, but I'm not complaining.

What I want to say: my experience with "real" work has not led to any kind of writing that would appeal to the working class. To be honest, most of the working class won't read popular novels, let alone poetry.

Working in "working class" environments, at least for me, has led to a kind of surrealism. Guys got their arms crushed by machinery. A childhood friend of mine was killed by a backhoe that started rolling while he was trying to fix it.

This is no big deal, comparativley, but I did serious injury to my back while I was using a rented jackhammer to try to get glue off a laminating machine in a factory. (Isn't that pretty ridiculous?) I've been on landscaping crews, too. One time I was hit by a mower (the driver was stoned, I was hungover, and my reaction time was slow) and I recieved some pretty serious burns.

Do poets need to be in those kind of environments? Does anybody?

And, to be realistic, a lot of those jobs I worked don't exist anymore. Factories have moved out of the south to other countries. Illegal immigrants (I shoud say that I'm pro-immigration) have taken most a lot of the non-factory jobs.

You say you're snarking, but this isn't like some of your other snarks. It seems to me that you truly want another working class poet. In that case, your working class poet will most likely be some dude who works with computers and whose actual "real" experience will be about as, for lack of a better word, as surrealistic as yours or mine.

11:49 PM, October 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize for the mispellings and typos in the previous. I'm just cracked open my 11th beer.

11:56 PM, October 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Dorianne Laux, Jan Beatty, and Denise Duhamel? All from working class backgrounds--although Laux and Duhamel are now a part of academia.

12:02 PM, October 16, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

I should have known better than to open this can of worms. I don't pretend to any place of personal judgment on this situation. People should do what they want to do--teach, work at a library, edit, drive a truck, be a drunk. I don't find any easy correspondences between work I like and a writer's class background.

My rant, such as it was, was directed at a couple things. I suppose part of it was aimed at the institutional support poets receive, which for whatever reason, far too often goes to people who don't need it.

I suppose I was also throwing a couple firecrackers toward the deadening imprecision that seems to appear in the work of people whose lives have grown too comfortable for their imaginations.

2:22 AM, October 17, 2006  
Blogger PhantomStranger said...

Poetry definitely does not need its own Howard Zinn. Hell, historians don't need Howard Zinn and his Manichean nonsense, but they're stuck with him.

When people argue that "ordinary people don't read poetry," they likely mean "nearly everyone" not just "working class people." As John McWhorter recognized (in an otherwise forgetable and linguist centered chapter on poetry) in his book Doing Our Own Thing, even most intellectuals and college educated folk don't own a single volume of poetry (including McWhorter himself).

Why is this?

Without doing a concerted study and a review of several different trends, it's hard to say, but the blame probably shouldn't go to MFA programs. MFA programs are a decentralized market, both competing for and producing diverse talent. Programs are varied (they're run by seperate institutions that receive funding from numerous sources) producing different types of poets. Even if one (or several) institutions produce cookie-cutter poets all faithful to a certain school (say Language or Neo-Formalist) other schools will produce different sorts of poets. Thus, the poetic marekt is varied, with journals having a wide variety of "schools" to choose from, which is at least anecdotaly evident, considering there is no dominant school in American poetry today. Likewise, seperate journals can compete for readers as there is no "central authority" for arts funding. If all of this fails, you can be Bukowski, tell everyone to go jump in a lake, and sell better than almost anyone in the mainstream book-selling market. You could also hold your own poetry slams, or start Def Poetry Jam, reach a larger audience than Ted Kooser and still stay true to your blue-collar roots, as long as people liked your stuff. One market or the other will take care of you, if you're any good.

Why no working class (or not so many) poets? Because poetry is largely self-selecting, for the same reason there aren't a lot of Communist MBAs. Many of the brightest lower class individuals aren't in college to begin with, probably don't care about poetry (so why become a poet), or are interested in the incentives of other writing related fields, like law, fiction, and journalism. With reading of fiction and poetry on the decline in mainstream culture, the best and the brightest (of all classes) are sucked up by the allure of TV writing, screenwriting, marketing, advertising, etc. They might already have turned their love of language into a successful music or rap career. Class based fellowships wouldn't likely attract any more lower class talent than exists in MFA programs today. It just might make it easier for the ones their to pay for their education.

The bigger problem might be the Balkanization of American poetry; different camps with their own journals, poets and schools, reading their own stuff. Poets would move even further away from addressing the concerns of the dominant culture, because they wouldn't have any real need to engage other ideas (even poetic ones) at all. Witness the trend in that great democratic tool, the Internet: you never have to read a political opinion you don't like or hear facts you don't agree with because you can visit all the right blogs and all the right media sites. "Poets Against the War" gets silly when they drop the "the" from their name (now it's a pacifist movement! In free verse!) and start linking to the erudite and sober musings of Hugo friggin' Chavez from his UN assembly speech. Makes you wonder why more NASCAR dads don't read poetry.

2:38 AM, October 19, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

Phantom Stranger,

Your comments about the class background of poetry readers seem to be based on a faulty observation.

You say that it's not just working class but all classes of people who don't read poetry. That's a no-brainer, and we all know that. Yes, most people in all walks of life don't read poetry. This has always been true.

That observation, however, is beside the point. The fact remains that of those people who do read poetry, an overwhelming and socially-disproportionate number are from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds. If we agree on this, then I think you need to rethink some of your subsequent points in relation to this understanding.

Another thing, you say "Why no working class (or not so many) poets? Because poetry is largely self-selecting, for the same reason there aren't a lot of Communist MBAs." This comment is really off-base, and the comparison is silly and comes off as classist. Communists don't become MBAs because, by defintion, a communist would be against the values endorsed by business programs as they exist today. That's like saying atheists don't go to church.

The problem with your comparison is that you imply that there is something instrinsically anti-poetry in people from working class backgrounds, just as there is instrinsically something anti-capitalist in communists. Are people from poorer families genetically hardwired to not like poetry? Hopefully you don't really believe this.

If we agree that people from working class backgrounds are as intrinsically eligible to appreciate good writing as people from upper-class backgrounds, then the reason why they read less poetry must have something to do with the environment in which they grow up. Poetry requires fairly advanced reading skills, and so educational institutions would be an obvious place to look for the source of the problem.

1:11 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The fact remains that of those people who do read poetry, an overwhelming and socially-disproportionate number are from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds. If we agree on this, then I think you need to rethink some of your subsequent points in relation to this understanding."

Do you have any statistical proof of this? I grew up in a working class family. I have friends and aquaintances from the lower, middle, and the upper middle class. To be honest, I don't think that the above statement is true, if you exclude mfas or those with graduate work in English. I know that people often read religious poetry. I know a lot of kids read Jim Morrison and Jewel.

I also don't think that the working class or any other class would necessarily read more poetry if they were better educated. I work at a university, and I have a fair amount of exposure to faculty from varying departments. I would bet that most college professors, excluding those who teach in the English dept, don't read contemporary American poetry, or poetry in general. I hear them talk about their hobbies, I hear them talk about music, movies, and even fiction. I rarely ever hear anyone mention poetry.

And yet, we know that poetry is being read on the internet. Poetry sites are getting a lot of hits. Who is reading contemporary American poetry? Come on now. Let's be honest...

3:17 PM, October 19, 2006  
Blogger PhantomStranger said...

My Communist MBA analogy was overstated (I wanted to address why those from a lower income background would not choose an MFA program, not poetry reading in general), but according to the NEA's Reading at Risk Study, poetry readers are not disproportiantely from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds. While there is a postive correclation between earnings and poetry reading, it's not nearly as significant a postive correlation as education. Thus, 10% of those earning $9,999 or less report reading poetry, while 16% of those earning $75,000 or more. That's a 6% difference, compared to a 19.3% difference in poetry reading between those with only a high school education and those with graduate degrees. For a genre comparison, there's a 29.8% difference in the same income levels for reading fiction.

This study seems to suggest the way to get more lower income individuals reading poetry (at least a nominal increase) is to help them get more education.

4:52 PM, October 20, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

That's an interesting survey. I went and looked at the pdf file with the complete results.

One thing worth keeping in mind is that according to the report, ANY reading in the genre counted toward the statistics. That means greeting card verse, for example, counted as poetry. Devotional verse counted, poems used as epigraphs in other types of books... basically anything participants wanted to call poetry.

Also, the numbers include "listening to poetry," and again, no framework defining what that means was offered. So people could decide for themselves what that meant. I wonder how many people confused lyrics and poetry in their response.

That means these numbers are greatly inflated, for one thing, and the picture is even more bleak that the study suggests. While interesting, I don't put much stock in this survey myself.

I wonder what the results would have been if the question was "Have you read most or all of a book of poetry in the last year."

Also, regarding the comment from the anonymous poster, when I wrote my original post, I wasn't talking about Jewel or Morrison's "poems." I guess I did mean poetry by poets (and by that I simply mean someone for whom poetry is a primary creative focus). When I was in junior high school, I learned how to play Iron Man on the guitar, but that doesn't make me a musician.

All that said, I admit my perspective is a skewed as anybody's. For one thing, I did an MFA, so I'm sure that affects my perspective. And where I did my MFA, there was/is an outrageously disproportionate number of students from privileged backgrounds.

2:05 PM, October 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that most of the poeple who read contemporary poetry for years on end, not those reading Jewel or Morrison, are poets. Is that so bad? I mean, really, looking at your poetry(and even that of "famous" poets); do you want to compete with contemporary music or the various spin-offs of Law and Order.

If you want to produce art that is valued, paint oil paintings. (you can do all kinds of crazy iconoclasttic shit and make a $1,000 bucks per painting). You probably knew what you were getting into when you started writing poetry. Hell, write a novel.. your chances are better. Obviously, you think that poets deserve fame and recognition. I'm not saying they don't, but I'm not terribly disturbed by being involved in a form of art in which I make no money, and I acheive no recongnition. Again, what did you expect? Your pictures are all over the place. Your voice is being heard. Are you worried about us lost souls writing in the dark? Be honest.

10:48 PM, October 22, 2006  
Anonymous Lukecubed said...

Man... this is the best blog and comments section you've had in forever. I'm not really sure where I fall in any debate, I decided against doing an MFA for most of the reasons you wrote about. I like an academic environment, but I'm deeply uncomfortable with the culture of poetry that MFA programs have fostered, mostly because I feel like it adds some sort of bullshit credibility to artists that might not have any - in other words, I might write terrible doggerel, but if I have an MFA attatched to my name, I can probably get somebody to think I know what I'm doing, right?

This is crap, but isn't it the natural state of any art that's become so mired in insecurities about its theoretical underpinnings? A degree means I've at least studied these things, so maybe my "bad" writing is a stylistic choice. Maybe it's ironic. Maybe it gives me the "authority" to write in discredited forms, the same way its given the last few generations of avante-gardeists the "authority" to discredit something to begin with. Academia naturally fosters this Balkanization process, because people have thesises, PhD's, CAREERS riding on defending whatever it is they're defending, marginalizing, or both.

And what if you don't? I'm sure there's exceptions to the generalization I'm about to make, but on the whole the reaction these days to poets getting recognition who DIDN'T go the academic route seems to be this sort of thinly disguised condescension, this underlying assumption that "man, he might be some working-class, sweaty-collared stuff, but dude can sure WRITE," as though poets who DON'T bother with the MFA route are the equivalent of illiterate bluesmen who've never had a single lesson and probably couldn't read a note of sheet music, "but damn, boys sure can PLAY." Again, a big generalization, but I can't be the only person that picks up a poetry journal and is aggravated by reading 9/10ths out-of-touch poetry by-and-for-elites, and 1/10ths "regular guy" stuff by people who "somehow despite their lack of education" manage to turn out some prosody that the elites find acceptable for whatever reason. This is every bit as obnoxious as the revisionist post-colonial/feminist types going back and selectively championing Sappho, Dickinson, or whoever the literati has retroactively decided was championing their up-to-the-minute mores, and seems to stem from the same isolated, privaleged mindset.

My perception, however, is that the snake has already begun to devour itself, and the public's general turn away from ivory-tower poetry (and thus, all poetry, since the ivory-tower is in charge of annointing who can and can't get read on a MASS scale) is part and parcel of that same elitist isolationism sliding into obscurity and eventually vanishing. What can the rest of us do? I haven't had time to browse the site, but I think the "guerilla poetry" movement has their hearts in the right place, anyway - the poets AND READERS who are against that have to bide their time, seek each other out, recognize the true talent in their own ranks and try to keep that alive. Maybe alot of people don't have to read your work, as long as the right people read it, and keep passing it down to the right people, some of the writing that really matters will live to see later generations of readers, even if it was ignored in its own time. The fact that attitudes like this aren't a tiny minority anymore - that growing ranks of literate, ambitious writers and concerned readers seem to be turning their back on the sinking ship of academically enshrined poetry, gives me alot of hope that something like this might happen. But for now, I think we have to content ourselves with a wiser obscurity, and find some comfort in that our reasons for writing, if we still do after we've realized we probably won't be recognized, are better and realer than writing for the approval of the acadamy. Posterity, I hope, will seek out the best, and forget the rest, and if "the song of a poet who died in the gutter" who deserved some recognition dies with him well... that's probably nothing exclusive to this generation.

You got people stirred up in any case, so good job.

5:22 PM, October 23, 2006  
Anonymous Zinaida said...

I think that the work of Jim Carroll is worth mentioning. He is from a working class family and, as a boy, lived in a tough New York neighborhood. Diane Di Prima is a very fine poet who came from a working class background. Although the older poets in the academy refuse to recognize her, I am hoping that the younger poets will begin to write about her work in scholarly journals. We live in a Capitalist society and education is one of its main institutions. Most people who teach at the university level are classist. They seek to maintain the status quo. They will seek to promote the poor work of upper class students while ignoring the fine work of any working class students they may have. This is not my opinion. It is a fact. If this were not so disgusting it would be amusing considering that wealth, in American families, is gone in one or maybe two generations.

6:03 AM, October 27, 2006  
Blogger chad? said...

Doesn't this entire argument have to do with the seperatism inherent in what we call "poetic language"? I mean, someone like Lucille Clifton can at least be read by just about anyone...and it's because of her language. It's not stylized. It's not overtly poetic, and therefore, it's not divisive. You can work your way through her poems with a basic middle-school education and without a dictionary. Which I think has something to do with the success of Collins and Angelou, too.

It's a tough line - I mean, Ashberry is class specific, right? His diction, his obtuse allusion, everything about is difficult. If I were to hand "Self-Portrait in a Covex Mirror" to my 16 year old brother, he'd flush it down the toilet.

-rant over, for now -

12:13 PM, October 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just watch, Maya Angelou's verse and name will go down in history. A great reward for knowing that germanic diction is easiest for most 'uneducated' people to follow.

Latinate diction causes misunderstandings on a landscaping crew. Unless the crew contains spanish speakers, then it's okay to use latinate diction.

Hi ho.

10:02 PM, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ignorant and misguided: Rainer Maria Rilke was not writing for "rich people". This alone should vanquish this illiterate blogger.

9:56 AM, April 15, 2007  
Anonymous ncgirl555 said...

Chris Cunningham capitalizes very well.

10:36 AM, May 23, 2007  

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