I have had many conversations about the prominance of poet scenesters- poets whose primary claim to fame is that they are good at managing the poetry scene rather than creating great work. There have been many scenesters in literature whose work was well crafted d'Annunzio and Oscar Wilde come to mind.
There are current poets who are fine at the craft and also good at managing the scene and promoting themselves. Simone Muench, Tracy Grinnell, Jen Hofer, Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover come to mind. They are all fine poets and you cannot fault them for leveraging who they are and their fine writing. They are playing the game but they are doing the work and this is a fine balance. They are our rock stars but they do the work and so who can fault them for doing the politics?
In contrast to this there is an entire world of Scenester poets. Poet's whose work is mediocre or worse but who are lauded because they are good at the scene. The other night at Danny's Reading Series in Chicago we heard from one of those who benefits from a scene pass- Matthea Harvey.
I kept thinking who published this stuff?
Then I realized Ms Harvey is tied into the whole Iowa scene and she has the right breeding and support- and then it all became clear why the work was published. There are others here in Chicago whose work is dreadful but who fit into a scene and have good breeding but whose poetry in unreadable- but they are part of the scene and so they get play and we all scratch our head's in disbelief.
The phenomenon of the poetry community supporting a scenester whose work is weak is rife in American poetry. There are many poets who are on their third or fourth book and no one has said-" why is this work good?" Where are our critics?
Poetry Communities are essential to our artform and their are poets in our community in Chicago whose work I hate -but the work has merit- it is like preferring De Kooning to Pollock. Both are good but different.
But a community is not a critical structure and that is what we are lacking. The problem is that so many poets work gets by- without critique --. If you went to the right school (Iowa, Brown, Bard, you get the picture) you can plan on getting your work published and not being critiqued even if the work is weak.
Critics who are also poets are afraid to be critical of other poets because we don't want to lose a future opportunity- and the artform does not grow because of the lack of competition. I have been to hundreds of readings- where all the listeners roll their eyes, like on Wednesday at Danny's when Ms Harvey finished at the weakness of the poetry-- but no one says anything because of fear of it coming back to haunt them in the future.