Thursday, December 07, 2006

One of the Things I Hate

I just had an email exchange with a poet whom I've never met in person but with whom I've been exchanging emails for quite a while now (OK, it's David Dodd Lee), which gets me to thinking AGAIN about the fate of poets in America.

One of the many things I hate about the fate of poets in America is that we now have these mid-level jobs in far away places. Every little college has a poet (or maybe even TWO!).

It's a good system in that it allows more poets to pursue poetry (without the academic havens for poets, there would be drastically fewer poets [which some might say is a good thing, but not me, I like the idea of an army of poets . . . it increases the variability]), but it also forces us away from each other.

I feel as if we've somehow been divided and conquered. I like having a job. And a fulfilling job, mostly. So this is not a physical complaint. But I don’t get the opportunity to sit at the tables of poets and have those “tables with poets” conversations that my fantasy tells me happens in places like New York and Chicago . . .

Do those conversations happen? Are there “poetry communities” somewhere?

I imagine they exist in many graduate writing programs. I felt a little of that when I was a student in a couple graduate writing programs. Some fights. Some agreements that felt like a revolution. But what happens after one graduates, and then, if that person decides to go into teaching, one slogs as an adjunct for a few years, and then gets a job in Where Is That Again, Nebraska? Or Wheresis, MN . . . or MO?

It seems to me that for an artist to develop, that artist must be challenged (and supported) not just by a living wage (which is primary, don’t get me wrong), but by real conversation. A searching conversation across the table from another poet (or poets). A real live conversation.

Please tell me those happen somewhere. Where they trot out the books they’re reading:

JOHN: I’ve just gotten through Richard Meier’s Shelley Gave Jane a Guitar, and I loved it.

OTHER POET: I haven’t seen it. What’s it like?

JOHN: He writes with an amazing mix of the readily available imagination, and a clear eye and focus. It has all the energy of the most antic poets, but with a persuasive vision of the realness of what he’s talking about.

And then what? The other poet reads a Meier poem and agrees perhaps? Or disagrees? Or says “huh?”

When the artist is forced to be an isolato (which is the fate of all artists, I know I know, but we don't have to FORCE the issue, you know?), there’s a futility that can so easily seep into the poet’s vision. I suppose all artistic visions can be said to be futile anyway, but without care and feeding, the poor little plant of the artist might get all withered up, and the poet might find him/herself several years later, tenured and staring out at the youth of tomorrow having forgotten why. And bitter, but without a direction to point the bitterness. Remembering, when passing the bookshelf one day, that s/he once liked that book by that poet Meier.

Is this why so many poets have blogs? Why do so many poets have blogs?


At 12/07/2006 10:40 AM, Blogger C. Dale said...

There are always poets and artists in my house, for dinner parties, for poker-fest, because they are visiting SF. We have conversations about books, poetry, Art, music, etc. It is a good thing. It sustains me.

As for why so many poets have blogs, beats me...

At 12/07/2006 5:50 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I KNEW IT! OK, so now I'm just too jealous to survive.

At 12/07/2006 11:56 PM, Blogger louise said...

I read your post this morning, then thought about it again tonight, while stuck in suicide-provoking traffic on my way to see Joshua Clover read. It ended up being a good reading, and I got to ask him what he thought about flarf, which was quite interesting, and worth it, I guess, but MAN urban living gets to me sometimes. I envy you the space you have, the cornfields. Grass is always greener on the other side, yada yada

At 12/08/2006 4:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Trade clover for Clover?

At 12/08/2006 9:23 AM, Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

My sense, John, is that there's a trade-off (at least one) at work here -- you can get the poetry community in a place like NYC, but then there are a gazillion people hoping for and all scrabbling to get a precious few teaching gigs, or you can get the teaching gig far off somewhere and not have so much community. At a reading last weekend I talked to two poets afterwards who both teach -- but at technical schools where "no one really likes writing," which sounds like a bummer. I don't teach, so that's less an issue for me -- but then the poet I have the best conversations about poetry with lives five hours away, so we talk mostly via letters and emails. And then there are quality of life/time-to-write issues like Louise mentions. Anyway I guess if one place really was the best-of-both, we'd all live there...

Blogs seem to create a form of community regardless of where people actually are -- I think that's one big draw at work here, at least for me. I like to check in with the poets who interest me -- see what they're up to, what they're thinking, reading, etc.

Your Clover/clover line has me cracking up over here, btw. Happy Friday!

At 12/08/2006 9:58 AM, Blogger Penultimatina said...

When I lived in Chicago I loved having 8-12 poetry gal friends over for sangria and workshopping. I never thought twice about it. Of course I'm happy to have a tenure track creative writing job--the holy grail--but I know exactly what you mean.

I'm lucky enough to have an excellent (albeit small, and coed) poetry group here, but without that I'd probably write one poem a year. Most of our visiting writers I either have to coordinate or promote myself. No more stopping by the Poetry Center for a reading, just on a whim.

I try to make up for all of this isolation by binge-socializing at AWP. Usually it works.

I'm rather fond of the Northeast Ohio real estate market too. My clover didn't cost 700K.

At 12/13/2006 10:55 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

I recently tried to locate German-language poets who have blogs, and I was unable to find any. So I wrote to my friend Ulrike Draesner, a poet and novelist who lives in Berlin, to ask her if she knew of any German poets who write blogs. In my note to her, I wondered if German poets might avoid writing blogs because most of them are making a living as free-lance writers; she agreed that that might be the case when she wrote me back to say that she knew of no German poets producing blogs.

In other words, to put in the crudest terms, the German-language poets don't write blogs because they have to sell as much writing as they can to make a living, while many poets in North America do not have to sell writing to make a living (because they teach writing instead), so they can write blogs just for the pleasure and community of it.

At 12/14/2006 3:19 PM, Blogger Julie Carter said...

Living in the back end of beyond, no, I don't get to have conversations with poets. It is isolating as hell. I need a hobby like watching NASCAR or shooting things.


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