In case you didn’t know, gluts aren’t a medium specific condition of poetry. In fact, the art would has been dealing with this problem for a long time, a lot longer than the creative writing boom—especially in centralized areas like NYC. This recent article on Hyperallergic (Silliman linked, so I know you all read it) makes this clear. Again, the article is HERE. It starts with a quick bit on corporate profits, the sequester, etc. before moving into the topic of its glut talk: the centennial armory show. I won’t rehearse the whole thing, but what’s nice here is that the article acknowledges the economics of the glut at the forefront. By starting with money, the ridiculous ways it works in this and almost every other country, we’re reminded that the glut is a bizarre product our market economy: art market, poetics job market, and wal-mar(t)ket.
Coming from the poetry world, what seems amazing here is that rather than bemoaning the glut, justifying reasons to stay at home rather than go out and try to navigate it, the article skips right to the navigation. It provides tips for glut navigation. This tells me that the art glut is so old that the art world is used to it. These ppl just deal with it. They recognize that art is important to them, meaning that if there is a glut in the art world, that’s just something they’ll have to deal with. The article does that immediately after its glut intro.
But there are still a couple of oases from the art glut and its attendant chaos and commodification, where you can get a handle on what it means to put yourself in the presence of art and let it work on you the way it should.
Now this sounds promising. We know its true of poetry too. Despite our all consuming glut, poetry is still important to us. We know that since we care about poetry so much, and that since this is a love/vocation we share with a number of our contemporaries, there must be some good work currently being produced. But how does one deal? How do we navigate the glut? Howe do we find our promised good verse? How do we not stop reading entirely when most of our google searches for poetry journals turn up nothing but schlop? When even most of what’s published in the poetry journals we like seems to be schlop, or at least not to our liking?
Again, with a lesson from the art world, we take the wild step of listening to recommendations—recommendations based on the work itself, not the poet him/herself. We learn from hyperallergic that one handles the art glut by looking at art, thinking about it, and sharing the art that genuinely moves and interests us. To this end, the article spends seven paragraphs doing an introductory reading of a single painting, and this is a perfect move. It reminds readers of the profound depth of engagement that they can still have within the art glut without getting caught up in the problems surrounding it. Yet a number of other pieces are also mentioned, and each one receives a brief but careful description. Genuinely interested in all this art, the article genuinely tries to help readers understand what to expect if they choose to see these particular pieces.
The real question here is what does this have to do the with poetry glut and why am I praising this very simple effort so much? The answer is that it has everything to do with the poetry glut because the economies are analogous—if far from equal. Both gluts resulted from relatively good natured cronyism within creative fields. You publish my book I’ll publish yours. You organize and promote my show, I yours. The situation both is and is not more complicated than that. But more importantly, what is important is how the article doesn’t care about that fact. The article cares about art, so it writes about it, amongst the glut. This is why I really like Drew Swenhaugen’s already mentioned short list of AWP picks over at Tin House. Drew likes poems. And he likes these poets. And he likes their books, so he recommended them and wrote a short bit on the ones he could. Had I been able to go to AWP, that list would’ve been a good place to start. It would’ve provided decent bearings.
This all reminds me of a conversation I had with a poet/teacher of mine recently. She suggested that the problem with poetry may not have been so much one of quantity but rather organization. That if we found better ways of organizing our poetry—and poetry journals I imagine, especially if web journals are included—the ridiculous amount of poetry being written at the moment could possibly be seen as a good thing by most all of us. I think she’s right, and I think the simple move back to recommendations based personal judgements of taste, complete with description, is a good place to begin.
I would think that this move was stupid to even say if most mentions of the glut—at least those I’ve read—didn’t fail to consider a single poem/book in any detail. I think this attention to poems again—rather than the capital “P” poetry of Poetry Magazine—lies behind Matvei Yankelevich’s response to Marjorie Perloff’s original glut essay. Not so much in the “grey areas” but the shift to community brought about by small presses. I’ll stop here because I loved Perloff’s original glut piece so much; I thought it diagnosed our climate so accurately. I’m now feeling like something of a poetic environmentalist. I have to come of age in this climate, and if polluted (glutted), I want its pollution to be manageable.
All that said, this doesn’t fix the creative writing/poetry economy. I doesn’t come close. Yet I don’t know if anything will. Besides, poems are much more important, and this helps us get the conversation back to them.