Friday, June 18, 2010

Could Be Otherwise

If you haven’t flamed out yet on all things Rethinking Poetics, check out this PDF (including the paper she delivered centered on Jon Rubin, the Independent School of Art, and the Conflict Kitchen) by Stephanie Young.

Repoport sparks at least a couple thoughts. One is that until I left the Bay Area, and came to a place without quite so many programs, I didn’t really appreciate how much the robust extramural poetry scene there depends on an audience made up of people who go to a school there, or work at a school there, or went to a school there, or are partnered with someone who works or goes or went to a school there. (Stephanie guesstimates the active number MFA students aloneexcluding recent gradsmay be as high as 350.) When it comes to the academic soviet, were all different shades of Shostakovich.

The other
s that one of the more pervasive effects of that particular clot of status and capital known as The University is the weird mole feeling it creates among so many poets, the uncomfortably fractured sensation of being at the same time inside burrowing out and outside smuggled (snuggled”!) in. (Paradoxically, its often the ones that seem most in who feel it most acutely.) This more or less permanent state of “quasi- inflects our poetics, and attempts to rethink it, all six ways to Sunday. Which is maybe why the usual metrics for sorting whos in from whos out arent working right now like they should. It may also account for the sticky homogeneity that tends to prevail wherever these tribal assemblies happen.

Third (bonus) thought: Stephanie
s blogging!


mark wallace said...

I appreciate these two excellent thoughts, Rodney.

Here in San Diego County where I live, there's essentially no poetry scene at all that isn't not simply university-related, but literally university-housed. The only regular reading series that takes place off campus, the Agitprop Series, has been run by a series of people (Lorraine Graham currently) who likely wouldn't be in San Diego at all if it wasn't for their connection to university employment. In La Jolla, D. G. Wills Books, a non-university affiliated bookstore, hosts a few literary readings every year, at which about 12-20 people, most of them retired, will listen to a reading. San Diego has almost no other beyond university context for literature, besides a few yearly slam events.

Not sure where I'm going with this--maybe it's that with so much financial trouble in California, and so much debate about limiting and shutting down university access, I wonder that while poets are so often fretting, and maybe rightly so, about being swallowed up by the academic world, maybe they also ought to be thinking about what might happen when the university-context for literature, however slight, also disappears. Would that make things better in some places? I'm not sure, but in San Diego it would more or less mean the entire end of literature as a public activity.

rodney k said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for this! Chris Piuma and I exchanged a couple comments on my earlier "Shadow Poetics" post, talking about similar questions in the Portland context. I'll probably bring them up to a full post next week. What you say about San Diego here gives some helpful perspective.

My snap response is to wonder how certain strands of poetry--let's be bold & say "our" strand of it (call it, what, maybe 'non-Mary Oliver' poetry?)--would fare outside of academia, especially in "second-tier" cities like Portland or San Diego, if it got more attention in the wider culture. Imagine if the weeklies reviewed small press poetry the way they review independent movies, local bands, or off-beat graphic novels. Then again, it'd probably grow even more Balkan and fractious with that kind of publicity on the line. And publicity like that only comes where there's merch to move--tickets, beer, meals, CDs. I don't think contemporary poetry fits any more comfortably into that system than it does in the world of professional scholarship.

But I agree (to a point) with Chris's point that poetry's not really a numbers game. And while the art's in no danger of vanishing anytime soon, its main enabling institution right now is the university, just as surely as classical music's institutional enabler has become the civic orchestra. Salon music, amateur quartets, accomplished bourgeois children tickling the ivories--they're gone, and I don't hear anyone grousing too loudly that they're gone (tho' they do complain, in almost exactly the same terms as poets, that classical music's become marginal to the wider culture.)

Still, in places like Portland--and San Diego too, it sounds like--seems to me you need a 'critical mass' of audience to make certain kinds events, and a certain level of discussion, happen. Whether that mass comes from inside the university or outside seems less relevant at that level than just getting momentum at all.

I like your description of literature as a "public activity."

rodney k said...

You know, it just occurred to me to mention this massive reading road trip Zachary Schomburg's on--9,337 miles so far, according his blog. I don't know much about it beyond the photos he posts, but seems like it opens a window on this "academia/local scene" paradigm my mind tends to get stuck on.