April 12th, 2012 / 10:41 am

Reconcile the following two thoughts:

  1. The only market for poetry today is other poets.
  2. There are too many MFA programs, and too many poets.


  1. Daniel Bailey

      here are some of my observations:
      a lot of people in mfa programs are academics before poets. a lot of poets in mfa programs only write poems when they’re assigned to. a lot of poets in mfa programs don’t submit their work because they believe it will never be perfect.

  2. Christopher Lirette

      There are other markets. Most poets aren’t creative enough to figure that out and don’t want to appeal to people other than poets. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other venues, and that there aren’t people finding ways of writing poetry that’s interesting and can engage people outside of the poetry “scene.” And I’m not even taking into consideration poets who do have a mainstream (and by that I mean the same people who read literary fiction) audience.

      How about reconciling the following two thoughts:

      1. The only market for posts about whether or not poetry is relevant is among readers of indie lit blogs.
      2. Even those people are tired of talking about the “glut” of programs/poets/presses/journals, whatever.

      We’re anxious about our significance. We get it. Can we move on?

  3. M. Kitchell


  4. Arthur Guess

      Reconcile the following two(ish) thoughts:

      1. This site would be a better place without tired MFA posts.

      2a. This site would be a better place without ANY Tao Lin posts.

      2b. Baseball would be a better place without the DH.

  5. Anonymous

      there are 7 billion reading series in my town, most well attended. more and more you can ask someone you don’t know what they write and they say, i don’t. relatedly, art museum and art program attendance is up, families and stuff. blip or significant, who knows.

  6. Erik Stinson

      facebook = poetry
      advertising = poetry

      you buy it all

  7. Amy Berkowitz

      What Christopher Lirette said. My non-poet friends don’t ‘get’ poetry, and I’m not surprised or annoyed by this. As far as I can tell, most poetry tends to make them feel shut out, intimidated, and/or just plain bored. If we want more regular people to start reading and loving poetry, we should start by talking to our non-poetry friends about poetry, find some common ground, and then see if we can find a creative way to take the needs and perspectives of non-poet readers into consideration when shaping our work. That’s what I do, anyway. 

  8. Sugar Bear

      That means there’s a big market for poetry…


  9. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      A: Who gives a shit.

  10. Anonymous

      I don’t think there are enough poets. 

  11. rawbbie

      In regards to 2b.

      fuck you. I’ll just give you a small list from wikipedia: Paul Molitor, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski.

      In regards to 2a.

      fuck you. Tao Lin posts drive more traffic to this site than any other type of post. this site would do well to add a weekly Tao Lin porn column.

      In regards to 1.

      you are so right. 

  12. rawbbie

      Poets should quit writing poems and start writing parties. Get your MFA in Partying.

  13. Beau Rice

      According to research conducted on Facebook, poets who are in MFA programs exhibit a much stronger tendency to wear attire that one can categorize as “business casual” than poets who are not in MFA programs.

  14. Endless Dan Moore

      Why move on, exactly? To me this seems like a pretty existential concern for MFA students of either genre; I don’t want to only be writing for other writers.

  15. Benjamin Hersey

      I think the problem isn’t markets, it’s literacy. People/poets aren’t as interested in reading poetry as they are in publishing it/ignoring it.

  16. Jordan Pennington

      ugh ppl always tell me that my life will be terrible if i get a degree in poetry and i’m always like ugh guys it’s going to be terrible either way. 

  17. M. Kitchell

      i think the point is who the fuck cares about mfa students

  18. Anonymous

      How can you have “too many” poets? Is there a maximum number? Are we trying to fit them all into a fraternity basement?  In proportion to the amount of people on this earth, I’m willing to bet poets are in the minority…

  19. Spenser Davis

      I fucking love HTMLGiant

  20. shaun gannon


  21. Christopher Lirette

      Agreed. We can also seem excited about poems we do like, maybe suggest awesome poems to our nonpoetry reading friends, the way we talk about television and movies.

  22. Christopher Lirette

      The debate about whether we are significant outside our closed group prevents us from being significant outside our closed group. If you don’t want to be writing for other writers, then don’t.

      That’s why I said move on–we aren’t going to shut down MFA programs or convince poets not to write poetry.

  23. Joe Millar

      Whatever. I sell poetry to fiction writers.

  24. Joe Pan

      Whatever. I sell my poetry to fiction writers. And I can’t even imagine there ever being too many poets.

  25. Mark Folse

      Niyi Osundare is a professor at the University of New Orleans. Among his many other accomplishments, he writes a weekly column on poetry for a daily newspaper in his native Nigeria. He gets letters back. Lots of them.

      Poets are only insignificant in the developed world, and particularly in the United States. Perhaps that is because we are writing to and for ourselves, instead of to an audience (as Osundare’s superficially simple but powerful poems do). One doesn’t have to turn into Rod McKuen; just imagine poetry that is still imaginative and beautiful that you could read to a stranger in a bar, and they would buy you a drink.

  26. Mark Folse

      Or Yusef Komuntakaa. Poems as dense as uranium by which no one should be intimidated. I seem to be getting into a rut here. I am sure I could think of an white exemplar but I’m stuck at the moment.

      Bukowski. The good stuff you have to look for (and which someday, someone will anthologize in a big, fat book.)
      Hell, I’m intimidated by Dylan Thomas but I read him because I love poetry. I would not, however, recommended him to your fraternity buddy as a place to start.

  27. Vomithelmet McGee

      2a feels like you are a bully. I don’t know, that’s just the vibe I’m getting.

  28. Anonymous

      regular people are cool

  29. John Minichillo

      Generally there’s this 20 30 40 year lag in the popularity of poets. Go to a Billy Collins reading and you won’t find a seat. It’s the Norton Anthology effect. Nearly everyone who reads these days has gone to college. The people who teach literature mostly aren’t poets, so this 20 30 40 year lag gets perpetuated, with authority.

      Poets are the only ones with a good reason to stay current as far as poetry is concerned. It takes time and effort to be in the know. With very few bookstores that carry small press poetry.

      Meanwhile I see people all the time with headphones on spouting improvised rhyme. They think they will be rich and famous Ina year or so.

  30. rawbbie

      When my dog, Charles Norris III, wins a pushcart prize you’ll probably start complaining about the number of poets.

  31. Spenser Davis

      The problem with Bukowski is that his books are about 80%+ complete shit. But then you find a poem that blows your mind and you forgot about all the shit. 

      Let’s make that anthology.

  32. Frank Tas, the Raptor
  33. bg

      i find it interesting that you think colleges or anyone else for that matter cares if poems get read. everything is marxist. there are so many mfa programs because fools keep enrolling in them and the program is marketable. universities are businesses. nothing more. the president of one of the colleges i teach at spent twenty years running a bank before he came to the college. wouldnt know dick about poetry if donald hall slapped him with his dick…

  34. Laura Carter

      These are existential thoughts, but I think they fit this discussion: Everything is poetry, and nothing is poetry. There is, actually, no such thing as poetry as separate from any other use of language. All language is poetry or else none of it is. Poets have no power, and any attempt to blossom forth, so to speak, as a reputable writer is well-meaning but largely an effort to shine in a very small world. This is kind of awesome, but it depends on what your concerns are. My own interest in poetry is much different than it was when I was an MFA student. I think a lot of us who have gone through programs have thought about what they taught us later, whether or not they were worthwhile, whether or not we borrowed too much money, etc. At least I hope this is the case. Also: all poetry is fiction, too, and the separation of poetry from fiction was a marketing move, not a question of actual genre. One could also argue for conceptual poetry’s position or for Flarf’s, which are interesting as well. 

      If poetry is enjoyable, then yay! But there will never be too many poets unless we insist on a coterie/cult model that keeps ordinary people out. I love Whitman for this, sort of, this inclusion. Anyway.

  35. amy david

      It’s pretty clear that every dollar one earns as a poet will not be spent on other poets. Therefore, other poets represent 1 unit of competition for every *alpha* units of market, where *alpha* < 1.

  36. deadgod

      I’m skeptical of market-oriented analysis, because its premise forces ideologically harmonious – but malignant – conclusions.

      Put it this way: 

      1.  The only market for classicists is other classicists (and a sliver of dilettantes negligible in a market scenario).
      2.  There are too many classics programs, and too many archaeologists, ancient historians, and linguists and litterateurs of ancient languages.

      1.  The only market for astrophysicists is other astrophysicists (and a sliver of dilettantes negligible in a market scenario).
      2.  There are too many astrophysics programs, and too many astrophysicists, cosmologists, and astrobiologists.

      Some human work just isn’t negotiable or ‘valuable’ in an easily market-definable way.  Even obvious sources of value, like technological development (in the case of space programs) and increased linguistic competence (which one hopes all the humanities departments contribute to!), as well as exchange-resistant parameters like ‘quality of life’, aren’t translatable into quarterly reports or easily summarized productivity targets.

      Reconciliation:  It’s worth it for society to sponsor work that doesn’t pay for itself in obvious ways, and it’s worth it to them for people to do those jobs for less compensation than is available in market-compensated work.

  37. Mike James

      I eat manuscript pages and shit out gold bricks. Gold bricks with two lines
      of poetry on them.


      “Calling me a pennycounter is not a negative. I count dollars.

      Enough to make you so jealous.”

  38. Mark Folse

      I’m forgetting Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame. I’m going to have to go back this weekend and read this and consider the selections.  

  39. Mark Folse

      Listening to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E founder Bruce Andrews last night reminds why its always pretty much the same people in the room. At least he wasn’t doing the cut-up thing of reading from shuffled 3×5 cards but from ms. page. If you closed your eyes it would be hard to tell the difference.

      Maybe we need a World Poetry Book Night, people standing on corners giving out books chosen for the accessibility. I’m not talking The Best of Robert Frost or 100 Greatest Love Poems, but perhaps a special anthology of accessible contemporary verse.  I’m thrilled to be giving away The Things They Carried on April 23 (love that book, but I’m particularly interested in the margins between fiction and The Worse Genre Title Ever Called Creative Non-Fiction.

      I would rather be giving away poetry. 

      Actually, I live across the street from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and last year I put a box out on an inverted pickle bucket on the street with several poems in a series on my favorite jazz artists. I labeled it Free Jazz Poetry and I found I had to restock it every day. I don’t know how many ended up in the garbage can but people were picking them up.

  40. Anonymous

      “Bukowski. The good stuff you have to look for (and which someday, someone will anthologize in a big, fat book.)”

      Yes. What the hell, Black Sparrow Press?

      *Reaches for nearest volume of B. It’s _The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills_*

  41. deadgod

      You’ve got a fielder who never faces a pitch and a batter who doesn’t have a mitt.

      Why stop at one?  Why not nine fielders who don’t bat and nine batters who don’t field?

      Fuck anybody who thinks that’s good baseball, or that AL batting stats aren’t a pig’s lipstick tuxedo.

  42. Vomithelmet McGee

      Universities are businesses and the Deans can be such cunts but I think the people teaching in them usually care. You should see the desperate look in my lecturers’ eyes when no one in the room can answer their questions.

  43. rawbbie

      You don’t understand the way the DH is used: You have a pitcher that doesn’t face a pitcher. It’s true, you have less situational hitting and substitution planning which makes the AL game easier to coach, but your pitchers have to work harder. Facing the bottom of a lineup becomes more difficult and making pitching changes for better matchups is harder with 9 real hitters. I think it’s different baseball. I don’t think it’s better or worse. One’s more difficult to coach, and one’s more difficult to pitch. I’m glad that both leagues have different rules because yes, NL is a purer form of sport and promotes athleticism. It gave us Babe Ruth, a hitting pitcher. One of the greatest hitters of all time, and the best short career pitcher of all time (the man pitched a 14inning complete game for fucks sake and had two twenty win seasons). 

  44. Jon Konrath

      I think what he’s saying is that Prince Fielder needs to enter an MFA program.

  45. rawbbie

      Prince Fielder’s home run trot is one of the best serial poems of the last five years.

  46. A Little Ode to the Little Magazines and their Very Big Work | TMR Blog

      […] can read versions of these arguments here  and here and here  and perhaps most famously […]