Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Poetry Foundation and the Poetic Class- My First Rant of 2010

It only took two days of 2010 for me to find something to rant and froth at the mouth about.
When Ruth Lilly first gave her millions to the Poetry Foundation I listened as 'avant garde' poets made comments about John Barr and Christian Wiman and the Poetry Foundation. There were complaints and challenges so many poets told me "I will never work with them" "they are reactionary" well that all changed when the money and fame began to flow and today they all write things for the Poetry Foundation site or magazines.

Poetry in the the United States is the most insular art form where poets are mostly interested in impressing those who are part of the Poetic Class elite. That Poetic Class includes people like Marjorie Perloff, Ron Silliman, Caroline Bergvall, Eileen Myles, and Matthew Zapruder who were featured in a recent "poetry over the past decade article on the Poetry Foundation Blog".

Poetry in the US is the only art form where there is little audience and no public to sell to and as a result the Poetic Class decides what is good and bad. The Poetic Class once scorned the Poetry Foundation but today they are merging well.

It is important to understand that in The Poetic Class system that elitism is central to being taken seriously. Basically what Charles Bernstein once called Official Verse Culture is alive and well and it appears that the Poetry Foundation is trying to become its college of cardinals. For all the Blogs and all the "new media" real access to poetry and the levers of critical power are held by academics and members of the Poetic Class.

A strong criticism of the Poetry Foundation's Decade in Review is that in all of these short articles there was nothing about global poetry. How is it possible that one non American poet was not included? Surely there are international poets who matter?? Eliot Weinberger in his great talk at the Poetry Project in 2003 said the following that still applies here...

"How many of those 8000 poets have ever been to a Third World country (excluding beach vacations)? How many think it worthwhile to translate something? How many can name a single contemporary poet, not living in the U.S., from Latin America or Africa or Asia?"

"After thirty years of self-absorption in MFA and MLA career-mongering and knee-jerk demography and the personal as political and the impersonal as poetical, American writers now have the government we deserve."

This is still the best summation of American poetry over the past 10 years. Poets who are unconcerned about the greater world and who are writing to serve the Poetic Class and become loved within that structure. If all the money that the Poetry Foundation has is now to be in service of that Poetic Class Structure then poetry in the next 10 years will become even more irrelevant.

It is important as well to not delude ourselves that "multi cultural poetry' in the US is Global Poetry it is not. A Hispanic or Asian origin poet writing in the US is a unique expression but it is not the river of poetry being written globally and needs to be defined as what it is an immigrant literature.

In China there are poets who are sitting in jail cells for writing poems critical of their government or environmental degradation. there are poets in Iran who are persecuted for their work and one who were killed . There are poets in Brazil whose work is quoted in major media yet none of these poets were deemed important for these articles.

But the musings of a small poetic elite in the US was deemed important. In the end no one in the general US really cares about the musings of the Poetic Class . Poets should be prophetic and challenge their society not become part of a Poetic Class.

Lets hope that in 2020 that more American poets are reading globally and that the Poetic Class includes more poets and critics from places other than Brooklyn, Palo Alto, Berkeley and Iowa City.


Jordan said...

That poetic class system you describe is alive and well in most other countries, you realize. It often claims Mayakowsky as its guiding light. And Mayakowsky is almost certainly a much better influence than 99% of the other possibilities...

Happy new year from New York.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

In poetry, as with most things, hierachies are usually a continuum.

For example, when was the last time you purchased a self-published poetry book, Mr. Bianchi?

No creds, no good, eh?

We all look up with envy, down with disdain.

Raymond Bianchi said...

I bought a self published book last week....

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Excellent! One of mine, hopefully.


Steven Fama said...

Dear Irascible Poet,

I took your 'go international' rant to heart, I really did. I think you are right, and that we should purposefully scan and dive into the work of those who speak and write in languages different than our own. Even if we have to read translations.

Specifically what I did was write about some recently published, new-to-English Aimé Césaire poems.

That there's the link, if you're curious. In any event, thanks for the rant.

amalie abroad said...

Insularity is bred from the seemingly strange bedfellows of complacency, insecurity, and arrogance. A phrase used by the French decadents comes to mind, "epater la bourgeoisie"--would seem to be lost on the beneficiaries of the "poetic class system"!

The world outside American borders with its population of billions must certainly have some genius that we should pay attention to. Thanks for the link.