February 26th, 2010 / 12:47 pm
Web Hype

“The New Math of Poetry”

http://www.foox-u.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/5e06319eda06f020e43594a9c230972d/i/-/i-am-not-a-toy-davidfoox.jpg

(via Jason “the B. is for Bookslut” Jones.)

Hey, look. the Chronicle of Higher Education is saying the thing I’ve been saying for years now. From “The New Math of Poetry.”

The notion that writing and performing “poetry” is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can’t pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a “chapbook” for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of “publication.”

Here’s another: “Were a conscientious anthologist of this year’s poetry to spend just 10 minutes evaluating each published poem, he or she would need to work 16,666 hours, which means it would take eight years to assess the eligible poetry for a 2010 anthology.” That’s a fascinating/terrifying thought. But then, in the great tradition of Chronicle articles, there’s a long dead patch in the middle where Alpaugh gets incensed-by-numbers about how much nepotism is/n’t involved in BAP, Poetry Daily, and a few other premiere journals. Is there anyone left in the poetry world for whom these “allegations”/”revelations” (take your pick, depending on whether your own jury is still out on “the case”) are anything like a surprise, or remotely of interest?

If you stick around, the article eventually emerges–sort of–from this funk. “Marginalizing independent poets and the diversity of life experience they bring to poetry may help bolster M.F.A.-teaching careers; but how healthy is it for the art? Almost all of the world’s great poetry has been written by independents, and most of the poets writing today (myself included) remain unaffiliated with any institution.” By any metric, this is a salient point, and I think if it had appeared in the thesis instead of the conclusion, the article would have sounded a lot less like sour grapes. Then there’s a few lines about how if “Howl”/”The Road not Taken”/”Daddy” were published today, they’d all be relegated to niche journals and wouldn’t make BAP, to which I can only re-iterate my earlier sentiment: YAWN. Because the premise of the question is bullshit- if “Howl” was published today it would absolutely not appear in BAP or any journal of note. But the reason isn’t that we’re no longer smart enough to read. The reason is that the poem would be coming fifty years too late. You can’t blame the culture for having moved forward from its own major milestones. That’s kind of the whole point, yeah? Anyway, there is one nice Pound quote about the value of editors (I believe he’s speaking here specifically about anthologists; Pound of course edited several)–“The weeder is supremely needed, if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden.” We’ll leave things there. And as usual, because it’s the Chronicle, the comments section is bustling. So if anyone feels like scrapping, you’re welcome to join their fray (I see our own Mark Leidner is over there, spreading some genial insurgency) or have your own here. Like I need to tell you that.

PS- all artwork in this post is by David Foox. I don’t know how I got on his mailing list, but I’m glad I wound up there. These little guys right here are from the “elemental badgers” series. You are looking at the SOUL, FIRE, and AIR badgers. Up top is a painting entitled “I Am Not a Toy.” More at Foox-u.

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66 Comments

  1. Charlie

      How exactly do you define the difference between the professional and the amateur poet? Career or hobbyist poet? I’m not asking this rhetorically. I think that this is a really interesting question. What makes a poet one or the other? A degree? A book? Lots of credits? Or is it something deeper, have more to do with attitude? I was paid for the first two poems I ever published, but the checks stopped coming after that. Back in the day, a professional writer was someone like Robert E. Howard, who got paid for his (most hack) writing. On the other hand, there were actually amateur writing societies with their own publications. Most of H.P Lovecraft’s work was publishing in “amateur” journals and he was an active member in the “amateur” scene. Who, today, makes a living from poetry? (I mean writing it, not teaching it. Cuz a lot of people who teach poetry don’t write it.) Aren’t we all amateurs, in the sense that no one in the U.S. earns their daily bread from writing poetry? Or am I wrong?

  2. Charlie

      How exactly do you define the difference between the professional and the amateur poet? Career or hobbyist poet? I’m not asking this rhetorically. I think that this is a really interesting question. What makes a poet one or the other? A degree? A book? Lots of credits? Or is it something deeper, have more to do with attitude? I was paid for the first two poems I ever published, but the checks stopped coming after that. Back in the day, a professional writer was someone like Robert E. Howard, who got paid for his (most hack) writing. On the other hand, there were actually amateur writing societies with their own publications. Most of H.P Lovecraft’s work was publishing in “amateur” journals and he was an active member in the “amateur” scene. Who, today, makes a living from poetry? (I mean writing it, not teaching it. Cuz a lot of people who teach poetry don’t write it.) Aren’t we all amateurs, in the sense that no one in the U.S. earns their daily bread from writing poetry? Or am I wrong?

  3. Joseph

      I don’t think publishing a fucking word in the chronicle is being “without instutional affiliation…” a particular institution, maybe, but he doesn’t quite win the unaffiliated outsider looking in prize everybody wants theseadays.

      Almost completely unrelated but I got to have a place to put this; today my father told a woman he worked with that i was going to go to a school. the woman said for what and my father said creative writing. the woman responded with: is your son gay?

      that’s all.

  4. Joseph

      I don’t think publishing a fucking word in the chronicle is being “without instutional affiliation…” a particular institution, maybe, but he doesn’t quite win the unaffiliated outsider looking in prize everybody wants theseadays.

      Almost completely unrelated but I got to have a place to put this; today my father told a woman he worked with that i was going to go to a school. the woman said for what and my father said creative writing. the woman responded with: is your son gay?

      that’s all.

  5. Joseph

      i can’t spell. you win alpaugh.

  6. Joseph

      i can’t spell. you win alpaugh.

  7. Jeremiah

      That button is a whole note.

  8. Jeremiah

      That button is a whole note.

  9. SoulFire

      FOOX is AMAZING.
      I have followed this artist since his early days. He’s been around forever but only in the last 6 months has his stuff blown up. This is an artist I absolutely LOVE and ADORE and his artwork is truly compelling, profound, deep, excessive, and luxurious. Nice addition to your well written discussion.

      SoulFire

  10. SoulFire

      FOOX is AMAZING.
      I have followed this artist since his early days. He’s been around forever but only in the last 6 months has his stuff blown up. This is an artist I absolutely LOVE and ADORE and his artwork is truly compelling, profound, deep, excessive, and luxurious. Nice addition to your well written discussion.

      SoulFire

  11. ce.

      About halfway through my graduating year at BSU, there was a hack in a fiction workshop who still couldn’t even punctuate dialogue tags correctly (“blah blah.” He said.). I was infuriated that this guy would get the same degree that I did; in my head, it undermined what I was doing at the university.

      It took me about 2 months of having that slip of paper to realize that slip of paper didn’t matter, nor did it define what either of us got from the program. That we had the same slip of paper undermined nothing except my own ego.

      Ego is a mostly dumb thing.

  12. ce.

      About halfway through my graduating year at BSU, there was a hack in a fiction workshop who still couldn’t even punctuate dialogue tags correctly (“blah blah.” He said.). I was infuriated that this guy would get the same degree that I did; in my head, it undermined what I was doing at the university.

      It took me about 2 months of having that slip of paper to realize that slip of paper didn’t matter, nor did it define what either of us got from the program. That we had the same slip of paper undermined nothing except my own ego.

      Ego is a mostly dumb thing.

  13. HTMLGIANT x FOOX | FOOX-U

      […] know HTMLGIANT and this […]

  14. squid-link

      FOOX is awesome!

  15. squid-link

      FOOX is awesome!

  16. Hopscot

      i own this paint featured in this article and was referred to the website by the artist FOOX. Thank you for using this image with your very interesting comments and dialogue. It seems that this is a very healthy creative dialogue and I am glad to have read through the article.