Has this glut been in a rut or what? The days of Marjorie Perloff’s Boston Review essay proclaiming a glut in contemporary poetry, the well publicized response and less well publicized response to the responses—not to mention all the unrelated responses to both—felt as tho it was in the distant past earlier this week. Thats certainly not the case anymore, thanks to a Harriet bump and forty-seven (at present time) comment exchange surrounding this recent HTML Giant article. The essay is called “The AWP Should Stand For Something Very Vulgar Because It Is Very Vulgar,” and you can find it here.
Congrats to the author for recognizing that an inflammatory article featured on HTML Giant—most of whose readership will assuredly be attending AWP, contribute to whatever “glut” there may or may not actually be—and concerning both the glut and AWP would get his name circulating in, well, places like this. Poetry sites with almost as many writers as readers. I’m embarrassed enough about my perpetuating this publicity machine, so I won’t include a name directly. That said, as a fellow young kid trying to make it in the poetry world, I appreciate the tactic, if not the lack of tact. Hence this bit. In the tiny world that is (professional) contemporary poetry/poetics, a hubub of forty-seven comments is a big deal. A sizable population.
Approaching things from this lens of self-publicity—the slamming of MFA’s by an author who advertisedly has one; declaiming of known, named poets with jobs like those the author presumably wants as “bourgeois”; and identification of one’s well known mentors as among the 1% doing something “real”—the article assumes its proper ironic registers. Yet as neat as all this is, I’m trying to avoid digging in. Isn’t my reading of ironic-self-publicity enough? Isn’t that what’s actually going on? Need I get caught up in the specifics of what’s designed for me to get caught up in?
Examples: the cringe-inducing reference of Marx as “Karl”; bizarre spectrum of “real” literature as running from E. Bronte to Frank O’Hara (really, what falls between here?); and, again, a name naming list of poets who don’t write “poetry or literature,” but rather “a fluctuating mix of labourer-[with a "u"!]-bourgeois ethics.” This is an irony that seems to know its readership so well that it won’t not be talked about. This is an article engineered specifically for our contemporary internet poetry climate. This article seems to have been successful.
I really hate this move, this sort of publicity. I really hate that as young poets we feel that we have to do this sort of thing to get noticed. That we may, in fact, have to do this sort of thing to get noticed. To get anyone to even look up our chapbook. To even think about getting a book book. To even think about thinking about getting a job in our field. This seems to be the larger point of the article.
But can’t we still be young and stupid (getting attention) without being stupid? This is the point of my article. But the point of both, the point we share: that for the vast majority of us, this could very well be the sort of thing one has to write—not “poetry”—to get a job anymore. In our tiny market now saturated with MFAs, this may be the sort of thing one has to write in order to be considered for a job. One has to get noticed, and one doesn’t get noticed writing “poetry.” Everyone’s writing poetry. One gets noticed for writing inflammatory, aspiringly name-making blog posts. This author’s name has now been featured on Harriet—both a big deal and not. My name has not.
Winding down, it seems that I have also operated with moderate amount of success. I’ve managed to talk about my only interest in this article—its professional aims—without falling into the article’s supremely constructed bizarro-world logic. Below are some comments. Names excluded.
. . .
…doesn’t the author have an MFA?
…isn’t mandating what material is and is not suitable for poetry fascist? (see paragraph 3)
…shouldn’t you reference Chelsey Minnis’s full name before referring to “Chelsey’s Poemland”?
…how could you miss ALL THE DRAMA that happens at AWP? (I’m not even saying this is a good thing…but it’s a thing…)
…isn’t Ariel, a Disney character, a capitalist product?
…wouldn’t Marx eat you for breakfast?
…doesn’t Birds of Lace “press” distribute via Etsy?
. . .
So let me get this straight: The bourgeois poets are the 99%, by which you mean here “lowbrow” and “not good” (as opposed to the widely-understood Occupy connotation of the 99% as “workers of all but the most elite classes in solidarity with other humans”) and these bourgeois poets are in part not to be trusted because they labor as teachers?
And for you the 1% (which in Occupy terms would refer to the ruling class) are the poets you happen to like, who are somehow both elite and proletarian, the top dogs?
Maybe I’ve misunderstood, but I thought Occupy was an at least avowedly anti avant-gardist movement. I’m not sure why you’re using these terms.
. . .
Right on. Why isn’t this a more popular opinion? So fucking bored with the majority of poetry books, even with a press like Octopus which, in undergrad I loved very much. I’m not “over” them exactly. I just wish they would again someday print one book that was worth reading ‘cover-to-cover’. My girlfriend buys their books all the time, and I’m never surprised or delighted in any way by the work I see them put out. My friend was trying to convince me ‘Hider Roser’ was a good book. It’s not though. It really isn’t. It’s boring. At the very least can we agree that we might be, at least temporarily, at quota with silly anagram titles?
Also, since it’s already been mentioned. Attending AWP or holding an MFA degree doesn’t mean one is a hypocrite should he ever decide in retrospect that it all leads nowhere. Whenever I’ve seen something posted similar to Seth’s feelings, there is a small backlash as though for some reason those people who have an MFA and have anything negative to say about their experience are not worth listening to, because their CV directly contradicts what their personal feelings are currently.
Seth’s post sounds harsh, because few people feel like talking about how much terrible work is getting published and praised mostly because it’s easy and quick to read.
But since it is really peoples’ careers I’m talking about here and not what makes good poetry, instead of taking these complaints seriously, sure, yeah “money is a kind of poetry.” Long live the bankers and the preachers, I guess.
At least Boston is a cool city. So, that will be fun.
. . .
Grow the fuck up and stop humiliating yourself. Dinty Moore has paid his dues and earned the respect of his peers.