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
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?