Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Call to Action: Poets and the Great Recession

http://www.poetsagainstthewar.org/worldpoets.asp

In 2003 amid the hysteria of the Bush war machine poet Sam Hamill created Poets Against the War. In a sea of jingoism and Goebbelssque hysteria Sam and many other poets were a voice of reason and sense. If they had been listened to so much of our current pain and suffering would not have happened; if they had listened to Sam there would be 100,000 more Iraqis alive and 6,000 live American soldiers and our economy would not have become bankrupt.

What Sam did mattered. While Dana Gioia and his Right Wing Cronies were trying to use poetry to legitimate the Bush/Cheney Regime, Sam Hamill was America's poet laureate. There have been other times in American literary history where Poetry and Prose was a mirror on the lives of people and where the poetry defined an era. Just think about the Leaves of Grass, The Wasteland, Grapes of Wrath, A Streetcar Names Desire, On the Road, The Ugly American, and many other books have defined eras and were penned within the epoch of the events that were occurring.

In Latin America this type of writing is central to the literary landscape. Writers like Eduardo Galleano (The Open Veins of Latin America), Ernesto Cardenal, Octavio Paz, Laura Solorzano, Mario Vargas Llosa and many others of all political colors bring the urgency of now and the urgency of telling the story to an audience with vigor and art. During great upheavals in American history there have been writers and poets who did what Sam Hamill did and tried to make sense of the turmoil and disaster befalling the Republic. Unfortunately those type of writers and poets are few and far between today.

Most poets that I know fall into one of three categories; Independently Wealthy, Academics, and Poets who Work In Full Time non-Academic jobs. By far the most dominant groups of these three in "experimental poetryland" are the Academics. They have the time and the resources to publish and to write. There are many non-academics of great influence, Ron Silliman comes to front of mind. But for the majority of poets who are influential the writing is an interior exploration or an artistic pursuit separated from politics and the everyday.

No poet has come forward the way Sam Hamill has to write about and mobilize people about the Great Recession that we are now mired in. I have seen a few blog posts from people like Maxine Chernoff lamenting the complete destruction of California's educational system but no poet has come out to write about the collapse of the American economy.

It makes me wonder is it the fact that most influential poets are academics and thus are not effected? Are just the education budget cuts important?

Is it that many poets live in urban enclaves or college towns and so the the pain and dislocation I see around me is not part of their lives? Why is it that I don't read or see anything about outrage that is the Global economic collapse on the many blogs I read? I think that it bears reflecting on this fact; if you read poetry blogs and poetry online journals it is business as usual and why that is?

I would like to ask poets and other writers who read my blog to email me stories, poems or essays on this Great Recession. Post them in comments or email them to me and I will try to set up something so that somewhere on the web the poets and writers who are enduring this period of destruction can give voice to this generation's collapse perhaps in the spirit of Grapes of Wrath or The Wasteland.

2 comments:

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

Ray:

Here's a poem I wrote awhile ago, but it reflects what many of us are going through now. It was originally published in Soundings East 27.1 (2005). Blogger's narrow column on the comment page screws this up, but here it goes anyway:

Making Ends Meet

You assume it’s the way it’s supposed to go,
the ends looping around just so until they meet
in perfect symmetry, inflow matching outflow,
maybe a little to spare after stashing some away,
insurance against that clich├Ęd rainy day
or college years, whichever comes first,
and if you played things right this month,
maybe some left over for, say, a nice meal,
a night out, a sitter for the kids and a quiet rendezvous
with your wife in some flat-rate motel near the interstate,
where the tawdriness of it all makes it feel more real.

But they don’t meet. You can’t pull those ends any closer.
They’re stuck fast, no loophole for you to dive through,
though you try, Lord knows, you try.
There’s always one more bill hidden in the mail,
a circular credit line, balance outstanding—
the car breaking down, some sort of cat emergency,
new glasses for the youngest, or clothes for the one
who seemed so small when you tucked her into bed
before settling down to juggle the stack of IOUs.

And so. And so. And so.

And so you keep repeating it’s okay, it’ll be all right,
it’s not that bad, things will work out, just wait and see
.
But you know better than to fool yourself into believing.
There’s always something, always something,
waiting to be fixed, replaced, or lusted for anew.
It’s the nature of the beast that grows at home.

And so you play the game of borrowing
against the check that’s not yet banked,
pray the economy doesn’t tank and your job
gets rung out and you hung out to dry.
Hand-to-mouth, you scrape by, somehow,
paying the minimum amount, or waiting three days
past due before slipping the check in the mail,
sans stamp, and arguing with the dunners when they call.
You hope the excuses won’t run out before your luck.

Providence said...

'Most poets that I know fall into one of three categories; Independently Wealthy, Academics, and Poets who Work In Full Time non-Academic jobs. By far the most dominant groups of these three in "experimental poetryland" are the Academics. They have the time and the resources to publish and to write. There are many non-academics of great influence, Ron Silliman comes to front of mind. But for the majority of poets who are influential the writing is an interior exploration or an artistic pursuit separated from politics and the everyday.'

By your second sentence, it's unclear if your remarks still concern only "most poets [you] know" or poets in general, in the U.S., or what. I think you're dealing with your own store of knowledge and attempting to remain impervious to stereotyping thereby. I think the ambiguity is not something we can afford if we're going to work collectively to make a point about and from within our economy/culture.

I have to voice my strong disappointment in and disagreement with some assumptions here. And they are assumptions, not facts. 1) That most experimental poets are academics. I think that if you look at the work of those who teach in the creative writing industry or who otherwise work primarily within academia, as researchers or educators, you will find that the work generally tends away from most "experimental" criteria. 2) The idea that academics have time and resources to write is complicated by the trend in the academic labor market, particularly in the humanities, toward "contingent faculty." I teach what would be a full load in most tenure track jobs in my field, but I do not make a living wage, nor am I offered benefits of any kind. With the exception of a couple of years unionized (so rare in my line of work) with the auto workers in Michigan, this has been the case since I started teaching six years ago. 3) Poetry's relation to the everyday is vastly complicated, not to mention its political import. The way you have it in this post, I'm invited to judge professional versifiers as indifferent, privileged, escapist petty bourgeoisie. But this hardly corresponds to the experimental poets I know, and from whom, over the years, I have probably learned more about the vicissitudes of the old personal-is-political line than just about any other group--certainly more than from the academics I've known (those who aren't also poets, I should say).

Ray, I know the irony is not lost on you. And we agree on so much. But I just had to say, as much as I value your posts, we need to be specific and nuanced about how we define ourselves as a collectivity. Or, perhaps just the opposite, which seemed to be Hamill's approach.