Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Poet's Great Recession





I wrote a blog-post last week about poetry and poet's responses to the Great Recession moment. One poet who commented was my friend Sina Queyras- oh if only there were more poets like her..I got some comments from poets whose work has always been a response to our current situation but going back to the essay I quoted by Eliot Weinberger one of the issues that has made the 30 year Reagan Revolution that caused this meltdown has been that intellectuals and thinkers gave up on fighting for what we believe in and retreating into Volvo laden comfort.
I have critiqued many American poets and writers and their penchant for intellectual masturbation. It is funny that this summer that Poetry Magazine chose to do issues on Flarf and Conceptual poetry. If ever there was a corporate confirmation of where the powers that be want poetry to dwell here it is this fact.

I look around at my poetic brethren and I wonder when someone is going to use their great gifts to challenge our societies values and create a challenge to the Ayn Randization of verything. In other regions poets and intellectuals have been an important challenge to these types of policies.

In Latin America Conservatives in the US forced Neo-Liberal economics on developing nations. The only country where this worked was Chile and even there poverty grew. In
other nations it resulted in disaster. But other nations most markedly Brazil under President Lula DeSilva said no. They spent money on people and they have a growing economy. Brazilian intellectuals and poets were part of these discussions.

Throughout the 1970's 80' and 90's Conservatives systematically dismantled Education, Labor Unions, Universities, and every other bulwark against the current situation we find our selves in.
Our response as writers and poets was to retreat into our own world ignoring these realities. The real poetry of those times was written in Flint. Michigan and Kannapolis, North Carolina not Iowa City and Berkeley . No one listened to the real poetry - and no one listened to the poetry written in Iowa City or Berkeley either.

I now sit here as a poet within this Great Recession.

I am dealing with the realities of this Great Recession --every morning I wake up and every night before I go to sleep. I see good honest people watching their lives melt away and I wonder is there a John Steinbeck or Cesar Vallejo out there writing?
Or are they writing about something that will get them published in small magazines and jobs in MFA programs? I wonder why our greatest minds did not say anything years ago? or why no one listened to those who did?

I for one am listening and what I hear is a deafening silence...




2 comments:

Don Share said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francesco said...

Ray,
I hear what you’re saying and it’s a worthwhile question, but I must say that there are poets using, as you wrote, “their great gifts to challenge our societies values,” it’s just, with a few exceptions, that their work is not getting published outside of small journals. I wouldn’t even say that it’s a matter of what’s dictated by official verse culture as I can say from experience that even small presses, typically more apt to risk publishing challenging work, ultimately decline work that does in fact challenge societal values, rather they would put their efforts behind a gimmick, albeit a brilliant one, like Kent Johnson’s direct copy of Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Day.” It’s difficult for people to listen “to the real poetry” when there is no real means of disseminating it.

Below is a quote from one of the rejection letters I received as an illustration.

“Much of the challenge for us is simple scale . . . . That typically means we expect to sell at least 20,000 copies, usually more, and those are exceptionally uncommon numbers for print poetry projects. But we need those kinds of sales expectations in order to justify the amount of marketing that goes into the projects.”

This is the sad, but true, state of literary publishing.

Best,
Francesco