Sunday, December 21, 2008

Who wants to be a bard?

There is a bright fellow I know from Ireland, a grand poet , a beautiful writer, who thinks that there are too many poets in this world and that remedy the glut with the closing of MFA Writing programs that he feels cranks out sock puppets rather than real bards. It’s not an unusual grouse, all the wrong people are getting published, and it’s too much of a burden to get the truly gifted among us between covers. Mentoring, sponsorship, some kind of affirmative action from the established poets to the lesser known is due, no , it is owed.

I'm not so sure that published poets owe anything to their unpublished kin; even if there are vast differences in the amount of circulation a particular publisher can give a poetry volume, technology makes it possible for virtually anyone to get a decent looking volume of their work published. One can pool their resources with other writers and form a publishing cooperative. It's not easy promoting a new book, especially books of poetry--the audience is virtually non existent in most communities, and that community , as such, does not buy the book the poet on hand might be trying to sell.

But the case is that literally anyone can get a book published, by some publisher, for virtually any poetry style they happen to be writing in. The impossibility of having something between covers is a grossly exaggerated myth.Those who attend MFA programs, earn degrees and make their contacts among highly placed poets and publishing contacts deserve, more or less, the broader spectrum of attention they might get if only because they did what was required when one chooses to be a poet by profession; we might sneer and think them privileged and the lot, but their path was one involving work and dedication and, incidentally, talent. This is a path any one of us with enough determination can follow as well. One can't be assured of the results, but the mechanisms exist for all who bother to find about them to use.

I don't know if there is too much poetry being published; one can say as well that there are too many movies being released, too many competent tenor saxophone players, too many decent cups of coffee being served. I rather like the bounty and would consider it an awful situation if there were less to choose from. Meritocracy is fine as an ideal, but more often than not in nearly all human activity, luck has as much or more to do with the recognition someone garners as talent and hard work. Aiming, by design, to make a system "fairer" for poets encourages even more mediocrity, since such a system would be bureaucrat default. Poetry, above all other things, is subjective to the extreme as to the nature of quality, and subjecting such an ephemeral thing to institutionalized standards would further the death of the art faster and farther than any of us would like.

"Set the bar higher"? Who sets the bar, and how do we begin this vague process without violating the rights of publishers to publish who they want, as little or as little as they want? Arts are a free market, above all else; sorry for the libertarian analogy, but regulatory practices on the matter of taste, whether a reader's,, a poet's, or a publisher's, is repressive and totalitarian. I am a liberal by nature and believe in fairness and justice for all, but you cannot legislate taste any more than you can legislate morality. The Soviets tried for decades and stifled quite a few good writers who might other wise have found voice in a freer market of ideas and expression.

America, has always been on the margins so far as book sales and exposure, and there have been many attempts to bring it to a wider audience to my memory, none of them successful beyond a short-lived media splash, what David j. Boorstin called "the pseudo event". Save for those rare sorts who become celebrities and manage to make their poetry book sales into respectable revenue streams--Allan Ginsberg, Billy Collins, Robert Frost, John Ashbery--the rest of us will have to resign ourselves to being at the margins of the reader's attention. When I picked up my first copy of Poet's Market, the editor in the introduction warned against expecting to make more than contributor's copies or bus fare as remuneration should they have poems accepted. You wrote poetry because you loved the medium and published poems not expecting to make all that much money. He said, essentially, don't quit your day job; that's been some of the best advice I've every gotten as a genius-in-waiting.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:40 AM PST

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