February 26th, 2013 / 4:41 pm
Events & Mean & Vicarious MFA

The AWP Should Stand For Something Very Vulgar Because It Is Very Vulgar

awp 1

There shouldn’t be an AWP. There should only be one if it would result in me meeting Gina Abelkop. She is the publisher of Birds of Lace, a press that publishes books about girl groups, adventurous twins, and girls who justify murder in high school essays. Most Birds of Lace books fulfill one of the primary attributes of literature: They transmute the reader to magical, mysterious worlds of death, babysitters, and big hair. Gina and I could meet for tea (or vanilla cupcakes). We could discuss trenchant topics, like the veils in Meadham Kirchoff’s Fall 13 collection or Disney princesses. Why, we could even mosey to a Disney store (if there are Disney stores in Boston) and she could purchase an Ariel doll (because she’s a girl) and I could purchase a Buzz Lightyear doll (because I’m a boy). It’d all be rather idyllic. But according to the grapevine Gina won’t be attending this year. So I won’t either, which is fine, since the AWP is as disgusting as gay people, straight people, bisexual people, and Brooklyn.

On their site, the AWP claims to be “the largest literary conference in North America.” But the AWP has little relation to literature. Only around one percent of the attendees make literature. There’s just a tiny fraction who formulate texts that are monstrous and divine – that, like those German boys, possess the grit and glamour to wage war on basically everyone on the globe. As for the rest – the 99 percent of AWP people – they are not poets and they are not composing literature. They are not concerned with epic Emily Bronte or moody Frank O’Hara. They are a product of typical middle class capitalism, or, as Karl Marx says, “the bourgeois.” According to Karl, the bourgeois live off others’ labor. They acquire value through accumulation. As the bourgeois stockpile products their worth increases. This renders them reliable upon the proletariat who must toil night and day with very little rest to keep up with the insatiable, indiscriminate bourgeois.

With the assistance of Karl, the present “literary” (yes, the quotes are absolutely necessary, so back off, buster) predicament is illuminated.  The AWP 99 percent are the bourgeois and the schools – the inordinate number of MFA programs – constitute the labour class. Hardly any of the programs are bestowing insight; rather, they’re enabling bourgeois, and each bourgeois must accumulate products (books) in order to acquire worth (a teaching position). What’s written in these books is neither poetry nor literature: it’s utterly unremarkable. Denise Duhamel’s (Florida International University) irritation with her husband’s habit of falling asleep after a meal doesn’t constitute poetry; Mathew Rohrer’s (NYU) 30th birthday has nothing to do with poetry; Ben Lerner’s (Brooklyn) Spain woes, Aaron Kunin’s (Pomona College) sore throat, Kenneth Goldsmith’s (Buffalo) weather transcripts – none of these (and one could compose a list at least six million times as long as Schindler’s) are poetry or literature. They are a fluctuating mix of labourer-bourgeois ethics.

Emily Dickinson says poetry “makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me.” She feels “physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” The AWP 99 percent would be miserable if something as cinematic as a chopped off head befell them. The bourgeois have to conserve their heads in order to see their products. That term – a generic, indiscriminate, indistinct “product” – accurately describes what’s being pushed at AWP. What’s of consequence is the mere corporeal book (not what’s inside) and the name attached to it — the name that places the corporeal book on a CV to try to acquire employment (although that seems to be rather vexing due to the swell of AWP 99 percenters) and become a bourgeois. The AWP is American economics, not literary. The AWP corresponds to the tasteless USA motto that any one can be anything. Any one who has a bit of money or is down for some debt can enter one of the hundreds of MFA programs and be considered a “poet.” But I refuse to abide by this capitalistic credo. Poetry has nothing to do with equality, fairness, or public opinion. “The Soul selects her own Society,” says Emily D. “Then – shuts the door — / To her divine Majority.” Poetry is exclusive and elite — a one-percent medium. Nearly all the MFA students and teachers aren’t poets. They are, as John Deming inadvertently discovered, bourgeois. They are dutiful middle class workers paying other dutiful middle class workers to evaluate some secondary hobby — trying to make texts that pass as poems or literature. These bourgeois are too tepid and pragmatic to be descendents of poetry. They’re dedicated to the principals of dull democracy, not the ethereal ones that lead to thrilling, theatrical frostiness.

Johannes Goransson (one of the few commendably catty boy poets on earth) commits a fair amount of attention to how present configuration of the poetic apparatus. Of top concern for Johannes is the “glut” of poetry. According to two prominent bourgeois – Stephen Burt and Kenny Goldsmith – there is “too much” poetry. Such a situation is sordid because no one is able to read it all, which means no can filter it and say what poetry books are glamorous and what poetry books are gross. But neither Stephen nor Kenny are ones to talk. Stephen has professed his predilection for “unambitious art,” or, what the New York Times calls, “Barack Obama.” Then there’s Kenny. This boy isn’t creating his own society. He’s a gimmick. As Carina Finn says about conceptual poetry – the kind manufactured by Kenny – “it’s sloppy, lazily crafted, hanging all its hopes on the project/concept and paying no heed to the fact that a poem, regardless of its concept, is supposed to be linguistically inventive and formally interesting.” Chelsey’s Poemland is “linguistically inventive and formally interesting.” Kenny’s weather transcript isn’t. Chelsey’s poetry pontificates profound behavior, like cry hustling. Kenny’s product merely poops out the bourgeois lifestyle that he invariably ingests. Neither Kenny nor Stephen are grand. They are members of the AWP 99 percent. Their worth is comprised of bland product, not pointed poetry.

But the spew of products that are mislabeled poetry doesn’t bother Johannes. He concurs with Joyelle McSweeney (one of the top three poets presently), who writes of the glut: “You just have to wade through the plague ground of the present, give up and lie down in it, as the floodwaters rise from the reversed drains, sewage-riven, bearing tissue and garbage, the present tense resembles you in all its spumey and spectacolor 3-D.”  This is a marvelous, blockbuster description. But it is misleading. The poetry glut is not a Hollywood spectacular. What it is is an overstuffed Brooklyn bar of unenthused, disaffected, levelheaded bourgeois. There are only three Ariana Reines books, three Chelsey Minnis books, and just two Lara Glenum books. These are actual poets, poets shrill enough to warrant Joyelle’s atrocity-esque praise. But 99 percent of the books are by bourgeois like Jorie Graham, Joshua Beckman, Matthew Zapruder, &c. These are the antithesis of monstrous. Actually, there is no actual poetry “glut.” Actually, there’s a poetry famine. Poetry isn’t messy: it’s mitigated. It isn’t even poetry: it’s market exchange. The AWP isn’t a space for literature. It’s an extension of capitalism, another space where products accumulate.

“I want the room for a reading to be too loud, too bright,” says Carina. “I want to yell at someone across a table of spilled wine.” I want drama too. But there isn’t any drama at the AWP. The AWP isn’t the place to cause a commotion; it’s a space for commerce, for what everyone else does in America. The AWP is not related to actual literature or poetry. It is another way in which the common components of the insufferable middle class are reinforced. 99 percent of the attendees don’t have any gift for poetry: they only have (had) money (or a depth of debt). What actually constitutes devotion to poetry proper isn’t traveling to John Kerry Land but staying where you are, making your own world, reading a Chelsey Minnis poem, and maybe watching The Little Mermaid. Neither Chelsey nor Ariel are bourgeois. They are, like poetry’s current one percent, enchanting.


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  1. Elisa Gabbert

      I assume this is a joke, but: “There are only three Ariana Reines books, three Chelsey Minnis books, and just two Lara Glenum books. These are actual poets, poets shrill enough to warrant Joyelle’s atrocity-esque praise. But 99 percent of the books are by bourgeois like Jorie Graham, Joshua Beckman, Matthew Zapruder, &c.”

      You know Joshua Beckman and Matthew Zapruder published Chelsey Minnis, right? OK, phew.

  2. reynard

      how could anyone joke about the list of top poets

  3. Brooks Sterritt

      i like your instincts

  4. /ann-dree-uh/


  5. Nick Mamatas

      See you there, dude!

  6. Joe Milazzo

      This isn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with the definition of poetry offered here — sorry, I think Aaron Kunin’s work in particular is rather important — much less of going all in on the polemics (and polemics have their place, for sure), but:

      “What’s of consequence is the mere corporeal book (not what’s inside) and the name attached to it — the name that places the corporeal book on a CV to try to acquire employment (although that seems to be rather vexing due to the swell of AWP 99 percenters) and become a bourgeois. The AWP is American economics, not literary.”

      Yes, this social economy is allowed to churn away in relative invisibility, maybe because its distasteful / impolite / impolitic to mention economics in the absence of anything like real money… whatever… this is a aspect of “the program era” deserving of further interrogation.

  7. M. Kitchell

      the only good poet is a dead poet

  8. Squidbeard

      “one of the top three poets presently”. ESPN Fan Rankings, right?

  9. Brooks Sterritt

      a hungry poet is an angry poet

  10. nice_lady

      whoever says bourgeois next gets slapped with jeff snowbarger’s fish

  11. deadgod

      Subject matter neither “constitutes” nor disables poetry.

      There is, in fact, poetry in money.

      “Tepid” and “pragmatic” are less antithetical to poetry than is saying what a poem “is supposed to be”.

      Political-economic critique… commotion! tee hee Sassy!!

  12. Dinty W Moore

      This is truly a hilarious parody of youthful naivete, bordering on ignorance. “Only around one percent of the attendees make literature “? Now that’s a supportable statement, no? The AWP annual conference charged my batteries when I was an unpublished grad student (sleeping six to a room) and it charges my batteries now. Lots of good support and friendship happens, plus books get sold, magazines sell subscriptions plus people at all levels learn new ideas which inform their writing. All good.

  13. strokojones

      don’t rain on the kids with rich parents parade…

  14. HolidayInnExpress

      When did the The Onion become an HTMLGiant contributor?

  15. JosephYoung

      does the bourgeoisie always laugh at youthful enthusiasm?

  16. Matthew Rohrer

      you’re just pissed you didn’t get invited to my 30th birthday because it was totally poetic

  17. HolidayInnExpress

      You’re not an official “maker of literature” until you publish a chap book with a press with some kind of bird in its title and a press run of 20.

  18. Abraham Adams

      this is quite a snore – still, I am very happy I won’t be there

  19. Abraham Adams

      sorry to hear you’ve never written poetry, Matthew — we at UDP will try to run some sort of correction if that would clear things up

  20. Abraham Adams

      presumably the author’s MFA from Notre Dame makes him part of the labor class, and the chapbook he published on the one press he seems to like, his labor?

  21. Abraham Adams

      note: distributes via Etsy a chapbook by the author of this article

  22. rawbbie

      i may disagree with some things here, but i like when poets get mad (in the comments).

  23. Andrea Lawlor

      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.

  24. Brooks Sterritt

      i said “instincts” yeesh

  25. dozerbazil

      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.

  26. Seth Oelbaum

      y do u have batteries? r u a portable cd player?

  27. Seth Oelbaum

      ariel is a princess

  28. Seth Oelbaum

      was john kerry there?

  29. Matthew Rohrer

      with Condoleeza

  30. Michael Martin

      Elisa, it is entirely possible, and very plausible, for a publisher’s writing to pale in comparison to that/whom which they publish. Beckman and Zapruder can still suck ass, and publish Minnis, who does not suck ass. While one’s degree of ass sucking is relative to the experiences of individual perception, your argument, while admirably defensive of writing that you love, is flim-flam.

  31. emmab

      stunning retort

  32. JRA13

      Chelsey quit writing poetry. If she didn’t she’d probs have more books published.

  33. Will Jones

      This essay is a really admirable act of trolling. Complains about the AWP hegemony in the same breath as he shouts out his own publisher. Condemns writers for their lack of ambition and talent after publishing a series of sonnets in baby-speak (http://redlightbulbs.net/issue6/oelbaum.html) and unpunctuated meditations on his trip to the local fast-food joint in which he and his father, *gasp*, encounter a black man (http://www.shampoopoetry.com/shampoothirtyseven/oelbaum.html). Yes, this is the canon of the 21st century. Lines like:

      if you’re in baths and disinfection room,
      then, dw, you’ll be clean. you want
      to live? you want to work? aren’t you baboons!
      machine guns! machine guns! mummy—she honks
      cars from behind. will light ever go green?

      Readers and writers of poetry: meet the one percent. I’m sure you’ll find this sentiment bourgeois, but: don’t quit your day-job, Seth.

  34. Elisa Gabbert

      It’s also possible that someone has only heard of six poets, and wants to make their action figures fight each other.

  35. HolidayInnExpress

      Grow the fuck up and stop humiliating yourself. Dinty Moore has paid his dues and earned the respect of his peers.

  36. BridgeTwits714

      Some salient points, though the ascerbic tone isn’t going to get the detractors to pay much attention to them. I agree, though, not much of AWP is inspiring, creative or literary. Very much a schmoozfest, rather than a revitalizing experience with a community of artists. Hopefully the offsite readings and gatherings will be fun. Glad I live in Boston for that part of things. Keep preaching, Seth.

  37. HolidayInnExpress

      What? The conference revolves around panels, a giant book fair, and readings. It’s your standard writer’s conference set-up albeit on a larger scale. There needs to be a semblance of formality to run such an event; you can’t run a writer’s conference in a string of dive bars, so comparing off-site readings to a conference is absurd (two different things). The off-site readings also compliment the conference, and vice versa; the conference is a boon to that particular city’s literary communities, so it’s silly to pit the two against each together.

      Also, gotta love how the writer paints teaching in an English dept. as a super bourgie profession when the average asst. prof. salary at the average state school runs 50-65K. The funniest irony is that the writer manages to shout out his mentors, two profs at an elite private university who teach a mostly affluent student body.

  38. reynard

      Parody is an erotic turn-off, and all gay men know this. Much campy talk is parodistic, and while that may be fun at a dinner party, if you’re out to make someone you turn off the camp. Male gay camp is, however, largely a parody of women, which, obviously, raises some other questions. The gay male parody of a certain femininity, which, as others have argued, may itself be an elaborate social construct, is both a way of giving vent to the hostility toward women that probably afflicts every male (and which male heterosexuals have of course expressed in infinitely nastier and more effective ways) and could also paradoxically be thought of as helping to deconstruct that image for women themselves. A certain type of homosexual camp speaks the truth of that femininity as mindless, asexual, and hysterically bitchy, thereby provoking, it would seem to me, a violently antimimetic reaction in any female spectator. The gay male bitch desublimates and desexualizes a type of femininity glamorized by movie stars, whom he thus lovingly assassinates with his style, even though the campy parodist may himself be quite stimulated by the hateful impulses inevitably included in his performance.

      — Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?”

  39. Mike James

      You do realize I am not reinforcing any opinion of Beckman or Zapruder as pulled from this article. Only reminding you that your statement (or rather, question with statemented qualities) is not as indefensible a position as your internet tone conveys.

      Never read Zapruder. But I’ve read Beckman, and still feel his influence on my own poems til this day.

      I am not sure why your response is defensive. Sad thing is, I actually meant what I said. I love how you defend what you love. But in that defense, there is a glaring opening. The armor is cracked.

      I am unsure if you can see the opposing viewpoint and, as much as one can, unemotionally evaluate it against your own views. While it seems like a small matter, the idea you express does indicate, however slightly (and with slightness, it is not difficult to extrapolate, and extrapolate accurately), how you parse information. This coming from a guy who purchased and read your book and digs you, however much one can via the internet, as a person.

      Stop trippin. You coulda just sat back and contemplated the value of my statement. Once again, not sure why people in literature are so passively aggressively negative. Like, low key.

  40. Benjamin Reed

      A lot of poetry tiresome. Using class to argue this point is more so.

  41. Elisa Gabbert

      Nothing in my comment defends anyone’s writing (I’m not sure who it is you think I “love”), I just pointed out a true fact about who published Minnis’s most recent book. So the editors of Wave seem like an odd choice to be held up as the antithesis of Minnis. Surely there are more “bourgeois” poets out there to be made examples of.

  42. Dave K.

      I always joke that AWP stands for All White People. Har har. More seriously, I don’t get and will never get the frustration that there’s too much poetry/fiction being produced now. That complaint sounds like wannabe-philosopher-king bullshit, or maybe the suspicious protests of people who really want their work to generate bourgeois levels of revenue for them, and they’re bitter because it can’t/won’t.

  43. john downes-angus

      “They’re dedicated to the principals of dull democracy, not the ethereal ones that lead to thrilling, theatrical frostiness.”

      This sounds interesting and maybe worth pursuing, spelling notwithstanding. You seem a little unhinged, and that’s sometimes good. So: What are your ethereal principles of dull democracy?


      […] This attack on the capitalist AWP goes a little far in its Marxist critique. […]

  45. LinaramonaVitkauskas
  46. HolidayInnExpress

      “They know who they are and they know where they stand. They’re in it to sell books and they’re not shy to say so. That’s what they do.”

      Unfair characterization of fiction writers. Most fiction writers at AWP are “in it” for the same reasons as the poets. Not sure why you’re conflating the typical AWP fiction writer with a commercial genre writer. Sure, literary fiction sells more than poetry, but not enough for the literary fiction writer to be “in it to sell books.” The book fair is mostly filled with college literary journals and small presses.

      Your characterization of academia is also unfair and reductive. I always laugh when people in literary circles paint the average English professor as part of an elite economic class, directly or indirectly. The average English professor is teaching at least three courses a semester, with multiple preps in areas other than creative writing. The average creative writer is not a National Book Award Winning writer teaching at Brown or Iowa.

      I’d love for an anti-AWP person to provide substantial evidence that its conference is a stifling “corporate affair.” The only evidence I’ve seen so far is lazy stuff like, “the conference is in a fancy hotel,” or, “some people wear suits and handout business cards,” therefore, bourgeois! I’ve criticized the traditional workshop model, argued for the MFA to exist as merely an option for aspiring writers–not the sole track–but this AWP bashing is absurd. It’s a writer’s conference, and if you or anyone is against writers conferences, I don’t want to know you.

  47. Has This Glut Been in a Rut or What? | The VOLTA Blog

      […] Has this glut been in a rut or what? Its certainly not anymore, thanks to a Harrient bump and forty-seven (at present time) comment exchange surrounding this HTML Giant article published tuesday. The essay is called “The AWP Should Stand For Something Very Vulgar Because It Is Very Vulgar,” and you can find it here. […]

  48. Scott Carver

      I /was/ going to go to AWP, but ultimately had to change my plans, which left me a little disappointed. Wow, I had NO IDEA — turns out I dodged a bullet.

  49. deadgod

      I don’t think male heterosexuals have expressed “hostility toward women” infinitely more nastily and effectively than the fashion industry does.

  50. Jake Yoder

      I love any article that provokes a reference to Bersani’s “Is the Rectum a Grave?” in the comments. The Marxist analogy may be a bit nonsensical at times, but MFA Programs have, over the past thirty years, created a system in which it costs a ton of money to become “a writer” and to have access to “networking” and “re-branding” and “public relations” and all those fun activities that happen at AWP. Yuk. It’s like how rich kids and middle class kids can raise their SAT scores by shelling out 1000 bucks for a test prep firm. It adds to the exclusion of … poor Amish kids and anyone else who’s underejumacated and without funds. OK, so maybe Ginsberg and Kerouac went to Columbia, but they fought for a literature that didn’t need to be bought with cash. And god bless Roberto Bolano who railed against the same impulses in the spanish speaking world — the pursuit of respectability and comfort, instead of … consciousness, poetry, and freaky lightning bolts in the brain. When somebody — anybody — gets a little bit messy about the current state of affairs it makes me happy. Forgive me for getting all nostalgic over Rimbaud or Iceberg Slim, I guess. Whether I love the same poets as Seth isn’t really the issue, and either is his own talent as a poet. Literature isn’t supposed to be a love-fest. As in any communication zone, some of the information is trite and some is evil and poets and fiction writers should be doing battle, all the time, in support of the luminous and wretchedly beautiful — or whatever. Isn’t that the basic point of this essay? And I don’t care about the dues that anybody has paid. And I don’t think having an MFA or teaching in an MFA Program makes criticism of the situation hypocritical. Insofar as AWP and MFA Programs in general have created a world in which we — writers — all smile at each other and tell each other how great we are as writers, because we might want to get mentioned on X’s blog or have a chance at that cushy tenure track position at Y’s university — they have created a world hostile to literature. Insofar as they have created opportunities for freaky lightning bolts in the brain, they’re doing OK. This essay cheered me and made me believe for a moment that maybe all is not lost.

  51. HolidayInnExpress

      It costs “a ton of money” to earn an MFA? Says who? Any decent MFA program offers a full tuition waiver, stipend, and funding to attend AWP. No sane grad student is dropping 1K to attend AWP, especially with a ready supply of potential roommates in his/her cohort + the funding. In my small MFA program, our funding basically covered everything minus food and drink. “Bought with cash”–what a load of BS.

  52. A D Jameson

      This post reminds me of nothing so much as Helen Vendler’s recent criticism of Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, “Are These the Poems to Remember?” Perhaps Seth can follow up by making a list of which poets deserve to be read, and continue publishing, and which should be ignored?

      Would also like to hear more about how being “bourgeois” invalidates one’s literary output, as I imagine most readers of HTMLGIANT would. (Site’s a nest of pinko subversives, you ask me.)

  53. A D Jameson
  54. mark

      Preface: I’m a moron who often mixes up proletariat and beourgois … Shit, I don’t even know how to spell it.

      What the H is the take away here? I can’t figure it out. Are we supposed to be mad that too many people are going to one place to buy books and talk about writing but not enough of them are Emily Dickinson (she’s dead, right?) and there aren’t enough literary fist fights? Or, that if we look for a book of poems, we should only buy those three writers above I’ve never heard of?

      I don’t know. I don’t get it. I also couldn’t tell if we were supposed to assume that Seth O. is part of the 1% because he has a chapbook about teenaged girls with big hair? Did I read that right?


      Dude, if this is some kind of letter asking for a place to crash in Boston since you’re part of the 1% of poets who are poor-as-shit and you live in a cardboard box and write sonnets about hairspray, I’ll have you know that you could do what everybody else in your situation does: You take the Greyhound. Buy a fifth. Get drunk as shit, punch your best writer friend in the eyeball, and pass out in the nearest hotel room filled with dorks talking about the Brontes.

      Believe me, they’ll all think you’re a real poet if you sleep on the bathroom floor and vomit in the sink.

      Oh, and wear cowboy boots, don’t mention the teenaged-haispray poems, but be sure to say that you’ve got reams of hell-a-sweet work back at the ranch (cardboard box/apartment)–Oh, but wait, no you don’t because you burnt all those poems and buried the ashes in a ditch somewhere because the world wasn’t ready for that kind of face-melting awesomeness. I mean, we don’t want a mass-orgiastic war breaking out because of one little poem we wrote, right?

      I mean shit.

      I guess I should say thank you.

  55. Defending the Process | The Seldom Fabulist

      […] what, exactly, are the sometimes-decriers of MFA programs (such as HTMLGIANT, recently) decrying in this throwaway-seeming […]

  56. Laura McCullough

      Please come by Thursday 3pm Room 302/304, Level 3
      for a discussion I am leading that touches on this: Camouflage and Capitalism: The Intellectual Appropriation of American Poetry. Tony Hoagland will present his essay on AWP as capitalist system with responses by Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Peter Campion, and me. Hope you come. It promises to be provocative and thoughtful. Laura McCullough

  57. Richard Grayson

      “MFA Programs have, over the past thirty years, created a system in which it costs a ton of money to become “a writer” and to have access to “networking” and “re-branding” and “public relations” and all those fun activities that happen at AWP. Yuk.”

      I got my MFA in 1976, over thirty years ago, so I’m exempt, right? (Also, I’ve never been an “AWP” — back in the day it meant an organization, not an event, a group started, I think, mostly by R.V. Casill and people from the 13 writing programs that were around in 1967 (I think there were about two dozen MFA programs when I was in one).

      Networking at that time was limited to NBC, ABC and CBS, and re-branding was done to cattle whose marks had faded.

      My MFA cost $3000 in tuition, which would be about $12,600 in today’s inflated dollars. Is that around what MFA tuition is today?

      Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.

  58. Jake Yoder

      I wasn’t discussing the actual cost of attending AWP, but of an MFA degree itself. Those I’m most familiar with cost between 30,000 and 50,000 dollars and offer few scholarships. They also require an undergraduate degree, which must have cost anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 dollars, right? For the MFA itself, Boston University is 36,000, University of Alaska Fairbanks 26,500 for non-residents, Columbia is close to 50,000, NYU (after funding) is close to 18,000. Yes, certainly some decent schools are fully funded. I applaud them. Iowa, for a non-resident, is 25,000. This is just tuition, not living expenses. My evil twin received his MFA at Iowa 20-some years ago and it cost a fraction of that, of course. I suppose somebody could attend AWP without an MFA and schmooze with the rest of them, not a bad investment, but it doesn’t seem likely. Rimbaud: “On the roads, through winter nights, without shelter, without clothing, without bread, a voice would grip my frozen heart: ‘Weakness or strength: there you are, it is strength. You know neither where you are going; enter everywhere, respond to everything. No one will kill you anymore than if you were a corpse.'”

  59. Jake Yoder

      See my comment above for a very rough estimate, based on a few random schools. Similarly, I would guess that AWP doesn’t much resemble the original Fiction Collective. But I don’t really know, I’ve never been there.

  60. HolidayInnExpress

      Yeah, well. I address the cost of “an MFA degree itself” and you’re still wrong. Most MFA programs now offer full tuition waivers and stipends, including Boston and Alaska-Fairbanks. Columbia’s funding issues are well-documented, and Columbia is not the norm. For the most part, the only people paying the prices you quote above are idiots or people in low-res programs who are able to work full-time while attending school.

      And no one at AWP cares whether or not you have an MFA.. The only requirement is a love for reading and writing.

      Keep talking out of your ass, Mr. “I’ve Never Attended an AWP Conference But Know What Goes on There.”

  61. HolidayInnExpress

      Your rough estimate is garbage and inaccurate. Two of your “random schools” offer full tuition remission and stipends. It took me two seconds to find this out myself via a simple Google search.

  62. shaun gannon

      not surprised that a hotel is the staunchest advocate for AWP in this comment thread. speaking of this comment thread, anyone who cares about AWP as much as some of you better be getting paid by them, or you’re getting a raw deal. go for the reasons you want to go, ignore the parts you don’t like, and if you’re too negative for any of it, stay on the internet where you belong, because i wouldn’t want to run into you in a bar if you’re that unfun. jesus how is this hard

  63. Mark Cugini


  64. HolidayInnExpress

      Not surprised you’d write such a dumb post. Dumb, inaccurate articles that care enough about AWP to be dumb, inaccurate articles about AWP deserve commenters like me. If you don’t like it, you can always follow your own advice and ignore “the parts you don’t like” in the comment thread below the article.

  65. shaun gannon

      don’t talk to me at awp

  66. shaun gannon

      also my post is right not wrong

  67. Jake Yoder

      Ah, the idiots paying full tuition. Do they go to AWP too? Are they as angry and humorless as you?

  68. HolidayInnExpress

      Don’t move the goalposts–you originally suggested that it was somehow necessary to pay “lots of money” for an MFA. If someone wants to pay full sticker for a residency MFA when there are a million residency MFA programs that offer full-ride TA’ships, yes, that person is an idiot and the system isn’t to blame, as you originally suggested

      Humorless? Ha! I’m not the one who wrote a Marxist critique of the AWP writers conference.

      This is too easy. Pitch me some more softballs…

  69. Editing and the total ridiculousness of the academic machine | Fangs and Clause

      […] idea of “first thought, best thought.” There are people out there who protest AWP as a bourgeoisie shitstorm (not that they’re entirely wrong). If you don’t want to be edited, don’t get […]

  70. A D Jameson

      “$3,000.00 in 1976 had the same buying power as $12,410.86 in 2013.”

      Always adjust for inflation.

  71. A D Jameson

      I love you, Lina.

  72. A D Jameson

      I think Lina was saying more that fiction writers still think they can sell books, while the poets have largely been freed of that delusion. From my personal experience, I’d say she’s correct. I write fiction and poetry and I’m still deluded enough to think that I can sell copies of my fiction books, even though I haven’t been able to sell many.

  73. A D Jameson

      (Fiction writers/presses who are hauling books to the AWP floor show, that is.)

  74. A D Jameson

      For anyone who has an MFA, this should be easy. Just count up all the money you had before you started your program, then subtract from it how much was left when you got out. Don’t forget to include any loans you took on, and the interest on those loans. Oh, and consider the money you could have been making if you’d spent those 2–3 years working at some job, instead. (Though that assumes there even are jobs.)

      In my case (and I have an MA, not an MFA, and am now working on a PhD), the results are obvious: I am infinitely poorer for having attended graduate school than I would have been had I remained a tech writer. (And I received a fellowship and full tuition waiver for both my MA and my PhD.)

      What do you get in return? Instruction, time to write, some teaching experience, networking, a higher degree (that in the case of the MFA is terminal).

      Is what you get worth the cost? That’s for you to decide. But don’t think for a second that it’s free; nothing is. Ain’t cheap, either.

  75. A D Jameson

      Ha ha, reading is tech. Ignore me! [shuffles off to find coffee]

  76. HolidayInnExpress

      Of course there are “hidden” costs, but there’s a big difference between what you did and what eighteen-year-old Jake Yoder (per his Facebook profile) did in his original post, the one that lied about the upfront costs of most MFA programs.

  77. Sean Daniel Malone

      Was this written by Anis Shivani?

      Either way, I like it and AWP is a piece of shit. I’m holding my own “writing” conference this year. It’s called AWPBR. All Wasted on Pabst Blue Ribbon because I don’t have an MFA. It’s invite only.

  78. loveamongthelampreys.com - Why won’t anyone tell me?

      […] storm.) If you don’t know what AWP is, please refer here,  here, and/or here. (Perhaps even here?) If, after reading those, you still don’t know, well, it probably doesn’t matter for […]

  79. RedCarpetInn

      Drinking PBR–now that’s original and rebellious.

  80. RedCarpetInn

      Fair enough, but I’ve noticed that poets will often lump all fiction writers into a single group. There’s obviously more range within the fiction category than the poetry category.

  81. Tantra Bensko

      It’s hard to figure out where he’s coming from, but I take the article as parody as well, that he is playing with his persona loudly exaggerating, making absurd sweeping statements not even meant to be possible to back up, similar to what one might hear at the end of a drunken night at a writers’ conference. To claim to be able to pronounce what percent of the writers are brilliant, and passionate, and to be so narrow and cliquish about which specific few are good writers is just silly, and seeing that here makes me therefore assume it’s sort of a humor piece.

      Equating the Little Mermaid, as the good one percent that’s better than the bourgies, while she is a princess in a corporate children’s movie that promoted war and sexism and commerce, with the true poets seems pretty bizarre logic so it must be a parody.

      A lot of writers love to be able to get together and talk about each other’s work, and discuss literary ideas. I’ve never been able to afford it, myself, though I have an MFA, from the time Jorie Graham was there, and I studied with Jim Galvin. But I don’t blame Iowa for me not having a lot of money. They paid me to teach while I was there, which allowed me two years to devote to literature. That was beautiful. I did spend AWP time at home writing. And reading some of the brilliant books by young writers who did go to it, and enjoyed it, and I’m glad they did.

  82. Amy

      I want to say shut up. Please.

  83. Amy

      Seth doesn’t have a day job. He’s trust funded.

  84. Amy

      Stooping to make fun of a publisher isn’t necessary either.

  85. Amy

      Um. You’re very wrong about MFA programs.

  86. Amy

      What do you mean time to write? We all worked full time jobs during MFA. Really.

  87. HolidayInnExpress

      Um. No I’m not.

  88. HolidayInnExpress

      I had high hopes for you–turns out you’re really a troll account created by Seth. And, really, the point was most, if not all, publications are insignificant in the grand scheme of whether or not one is a “maker of literature.”

  89. A D Jameson

      Hi Amy,

      I don’t know who “we all” refers to. But even if you worked full-time during your MFA, you probably still took a writing workshop or two? That is “time to write”—or at least an excuse to prioritize doing it.

      If you had no time whatsoever to write during your MFA, then why did you get one? (And how did you get one?) I am genuinely curious. You could just work a full-time job and write at home, and not go into debt doing it. That’s what I did after I got my Master’s (which wasn’t an MFA).

      But you’re also talking to someone who has always found time to write, no matter how much I’ve been working :)

      Cheers, Adam

  90. Amy

      I’m honestly not. I’m just someone who thinks you needn’t make fun of the Press’ name. I’m on your side. I think Seth is one if most incorrigible humans I’ve ever met. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is his flagrant ignorance and murderous rage toward real artists- when he’s the bourgeois type, flailing with a lisp and a bad sweater and the worst poetry out now.

  91. HolidayInnExpress

      You mean Seth?

  92. A D Jameson

      Amy, which MFA program are you talking about? I’m certainly sympathetic to the fact that MFA programs can cost a lot—see my comment elsewhere about the “hidden costs” of such programs.

      I have some friends who went to Brown and got pretty sweet deals there—tuition waivers, solid stipends. I also have friends who went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and accumulated $50K in debt.

      It doesn’t make much sense to talk about “MFA programs” as if they’re a single thing.

      Cheers, Adam

  93. Amy

      Much the same boat. Worked full time because I had a job. Wanted to get a masters and teach. Got in. Did it. Had little time before, after and during MFA. Didn’t need a class to give me time. I always wrote on my own without a class. I just was able to focus more. I’ve always envied those whose parents paid for everything during MFA.

  94. HolidayInnExpress

      Amy/Seth doesn’t know what she/he is talking about. Most resident MFA programs offer tuition waivers and stipends, or else they can’t possibly be competitive.

  95. Amy

      Also, yeah. Went into massive debt. Not a pity party. It’s all good.

  96. A D Jameson

      Well, if you chose to work, then good on you, that’s not really the same as having to work a full-time job during the degree. Everyone chooses their own priorities.

      I have some friends who attended Purdue for their MFAs. Here’s an overview of the program. As you can see:

      Teaching assistantships in any of the composition programs, including creative writing, provide a base stipend of approximately $13,000 for ten months, remission of tuition and most fees, plus merit raises. The teaching load is usually one course per semester, and after the first year students also have the opportunity for additional teaching and pay above and beyond the base stipend. A few merit fellowships provide tax-free stipends of more than $18,000 for 12 months and remission of tuition and fees. In the November/December 2008 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine the Purdue MFA was cited as one of the top seven best funded programs in the country.

      One course/semester is hardly full-time. (Even two courses/semester doesn’t qualify as full-time.) That plus classes = time to write. … To be sure, $13K isn’t much to live on, sure (it’s what I make right now as a grad student at UIC, and in a city!), but a person can swing it for a few years, especially if one works during the summer.

      To be fair, though, I guess that’s one of the better-funded programs? Would be curious to see what the seven worst-funded offer. But I also don’t have an MFA so I know mainly what my friends have told me :)

      Cheers, Adam

  97. A D Jameson

      You have to STEAL DRUGS and SELL THEM and NOT GET CAUGHT. Your adviser should have told you that.

  98. HolidayInnExpress

      Okay, I’ll give you another chance.

  99. HolidayInnExpress

      I took out loans to supplement the stipend (known others who’ve done this too). Big difference between “debt” and “massive debt.” Basically, I borrowed about 10-12K (over two years) to get through the summers. It was a good investment, because I spent those entire two summers reading and writing. The loans were worth it because they allowed me to focus on my education and get the most out of the experience. It can be costlier in the long run to spend half of your time working shit part-time jobs while trying to get through school, because you’ll never get those two years back.

  100. Dressing Up Seth Oelbaum | HTMLGIANT

      […] “The AWP Should Stand for Something Very Vulgar Because It Is Very Vulgar”: 97 comments […]

  101. Lina ramona Vitkauskas | My Barbaric AWP

      […] don’t know who this kid is who wrote this piece for HTMLGIANT, but I read it. And I’m responding with my own post addressing AWP because a lot of people […]

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  116. On the Importance of Taking Sides - Johannes Goransson

      […] Seth Oelbaum’s provocative, highly thought-out and magnificently performative posts on HTMLGiant (about the AWP, about Marxism, about gender and violence etc). His posts caught on like wildfire a few months back […]

  117. Zizek on Tolerance and Trolls - Johannes Goransson

      […] Recently I noticed somebody wrote that Seth Oelbaum was a “troll” because he had express… about poets he liked and didn’t like (as well as disagreeing with my ideas about “the glut”). You may disagree with him, but is he a “troll” for having strong opinions? For being too performative in the way he expresses them? Or for quite simply having opinions that differ from the common consensus? […]

  118. Zizek on Tolerance and Trolls | Montevidayo

      […] Recently I noticed somebody wrote that Seth Oelbaum was a “troll” because he had express… about poets he liked and didn’t like (as well as disagreeing with my ideas about “the glut”). You may disagree with him, but is he a “troll” for having strong opinions? For being too performative in the way he expresses them? Or for quite simply having opinions that differ from the common consensus? […]