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O the Mid-life Horror! O the Humanities!

By Craig Santos Perez

[contest winners announced at end of post]

so i turn thirty years old this weekend. you got a problem with that? well i do! i first started to feel the pangs of a mid-life crisis last year, when i visited the students of a ‘poetry & politics’ course who were reading my first book. one of the students mentioned that she was writing her paper on the ‘identity crisis’ in my work. although her paper was only five pages, i still felt the crisis cut deep.

this crisis deepened as i realized that when i turn thirty i will have lived exactly half my life in the united states and half my life in my homeland–the pacific island of guahan (guam)–where i was born and raised. moving to the u.s. at the age of fifteen was not easy, but i managed to graduate high school & college and to receive an mfa. since then, my life has taken a turn for the worse…and as my thirtieth approaches i need your advice to help me navigate this crisis. please read below & help me.

after the mfa, i decided to pursue a phd in ethnic studies. currently, i am in my third year–(hopefully) midway through. [my parents often tease me by saying that even though they moved here so we could receive a 'good' education, they didnt think that fifteen years later i would still be in school! haha that's what they get for uprooting my teenage years!]

this is where i need your help. even though i’ve been really enjoying my program & and even though i’m excited to work on my dissertation after i pass my oral exams [my dissertation will focus on articulations of indigeneity in native american and pacific islander literature & criticism] and even though i’ve very excited to teach, i am so so worried that there won’t be any jobs in the humanities by the time i’m done.

earlier this year, joseph harrington wrote a blogpost titled ‘would the last person leaving the profession please turn out the lights’ . joseph writes [bold is my emphasis]:

I’ve been reading The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, by Frank Donoghue (New York: Fordham UP, 2008). As you can probably gather from the title, he thinks that fate is pretty bleak. Between that book and “Thomas H. Benton”‘s article “Dodging the Anvil,” in the Jan. 4 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, I’m beginning to feel like the best thing we can do is to try to shut down the humanities in as orderly a fashion as possible. But then, I was lucky enough to be on one of the last helicopters out of Pretenureland. I feel a great deal of sympathy (mixed with survivor guilt) towards the grad students in my program (not least of all for the ones who are finishing now).

But what am I to make of people who are applying to English PhD programs in the winter of 2009-10?? Do they not know? Surely the ones I’m looking at did, since they already have MA’s. Do they not care – is it fatalism? (“Ha! – what’s another $50K in student loans?”) Or do they really think that they are each going to be the one-in-ten-thousand who bucks the odds – who beats out their cohort (and the last three cohorts, who are still looking for permanent jobs) – like all the Little Leaguers who are serious about playing in the bigs?

thanks a lot, joseph, for deepening my mid-life crisis. [you better at least buy me a drink (or thirty) the next time i'm in kansas city.] to make matters worse, i actually read the article ‘dodging the anvil.’ i’ll just quote one passage for & you to get the point:

Even with some cyclic ups and downs, following the U.S. economy, the academic job market has been in a depression since the early 1970s, and—just as we were beginning to accept that things were not going to improve—we are now confronted with an even more desperate situation for the humanities job seeker. If we regard the Modern Language Association’s Job Information List as representative of the humanities, then we are seeing the most rapid decline in advertised positions since the MLA started keeping records, 34 years ago (“MLA Newsletter,” Winter 2009). Last year, at the beginning of the recession, the number of positions advertised in English declined by 24.4 percent; this year it is down by an additional 40 percent. Last year foreign-language positions were down 27 percent; this year they are down by an additional 52 percent.

so as i approach both my mid-life crisis and my mid-phd crisis, what should i do with my life? should i stay in academia? should i pursue a different career path? should i leave the phd and pursue a creative writing job with my mfa?

what do current professor/poets out there think? what was it like for you on the academic market? is an academic job even worth it with all the pay cuts & furloughs happening at universities & colleges? are there even any jobs out there? how is your college doing?

what do other phd or mfa candidates think? are you thinking of other non-academic career options? do you feel as worried as i do?

what about those of you poets who are not in academia–what kind of jobs do you have? are they conducive to being a poet? is your company hiring?

please, friends, i am looking for advice, personal stories, anecdotes, references, anything that will help me decide what will be best for my future children & future ex-wives.

****

thanks everyone for playing! contest winners announced below. please peruse the omnidawn catalog and email me your mailing address & book choice [my email will be in the comment field below]:

Contest 1: James Stotts, Eric Landon, Billdozer, Rawbbie, Evie
Contest 2: Anji, Kent Johnson, Matt, Veronica, Megan, Sandra Stone

*

Comments (51)

  • On February 3, 2010 at 1:03 am Craig Santos Perez wrote:

    my email is c s p e r e z 0 6 [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m (get rid of spaces)

  • On February 3, 2010 at 10:39 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    This is, honestly, the first time in my life I’ve ever submitted to a poetry contest. And I won! Now I’ll quit again while I’m ahead.

    In reply to your anxiety about employment, Craig, I have a concrete suggestion and it’s a good one:

    Community college.

    Negatives: 1) Part of your five-class per semester load will be composition (assuming, that is, that teaching freshman comp is not your favorite thing– it might well be and then no worries!); 2) Your name tag at the AWP and MLA will say “Such and Such Community College” on it, and some Professor poets (avant and mainstream) will smile softly down at you; 3) There may be no coffee shops in your town; 4) No one will care one iota about what you write or publish.

    Positives: 1) All you have to do, really, is teach (there will be some committee work, but it’s much lower-key than in “real academia”); 2) The pay and insurance is excellent, better, on average, than in “real academia”); 3) You will belong to a union, and with this knowledge, you will smile softly down at the AWP and MLA Professor poets who have no real class identity; 4) No one will care one iota about what you write or publish.

    In ten to fifteen years, likely 50% of U.S. poets will be teaching at community colleges. Why would you worry about getting a job at some more “prestigious” school? That sociological pressure, that careerist push and desire, so pervasive now within our uptight habitus, is a big cause of the unnaturally warm weather of our poetic climate.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 11:49 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    I hear you on the cultural streamlining of poets into teaching jobs…think broadly. Think way more broadly.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 11:56 am Wfkammann wrote:

    i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i
    Is it a mid-life crisis or a failure to capitalize?
    All those little i’s. Fascinating, truly fascinating.
    i hardly know where to begin.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:06 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Oh I agree. There are lots of other careers for poets besides teaching. We must think broadly! No matter the pressures, and pursuing your imperative, we must strive to do so!

    But I thought Craig was talking about teaching options, mainly. That’s why I suggested community colleges.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    Craig, you said: “i am so so worried that there won’t be any jobs in the humanities by the time i’m done”. Dude, I took sociology. All I got was the ability to Really Understand where I was as I mopped/scrubbed/scrambled/considered social work. There are, I think, always jobs in the humanities and (I know) NEVER enough of them to go around. Just swim like a little frog if you want the tenure track. Soon all our hallowed ancestors will leave for their hallway niches, and if there’s anything left of the place by then (considering we seem to be heading into WWIII much like a vast ship in the movie much like The Poseidon Adventure). Right now, it doesn’t seem possible to make more than 35K or so lecturing, but that will change as chairs empty. My sister left research partly for the same reasons – 12 years of work after her BA and she gets a 30K research job making millions for some company. Now she’s a doctor. Also consider the incredible MINE your students consist of when you decide to break the chrysalis and publish your first hardback million-seller. Those children are just chock-full of wonderful perspectives – you can experience a year’s worth every day if you get good ones. Bad ones just plagiarize, which is boring.

    As for the non-academic way, well, you’re looking at a (once rather promising) poet who crashed out of academia and went the Heming way. Limping, out of touch with the art world, broke and broken, but I think my writing is a MILLION times better for it, and at 37, I’ve finally managed to completely focus on it (except for ten-minute Facebook breaks, it’s like crack crossed with cotton candy that site). I’m ready now to write every day, all day (5-11 hours depending, as I’m bipolar), my first novel is awake and bawling for attention again (slaps it), the poems flow every day, and my life is a Total, Divorced, Crippled Wreck.

    I bet there’s another path for you through these things, but these are my signposts for today. BTW, interesting post. Cool to hear your struggles. PS I feel old more now.

    P

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:12 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    @WFKAMMAM: I use i’s big and lIttle to indicate emotional condition, respective stature perspective, and a million other little thigs. Childish? Not any more, and I still do it. You?
    P

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:22 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    (mocking my own snooty tone)Ooo, gwampa, what big i’s you have!
    P

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm csperez wrote:

    haha maybe i’ll start capitalizing my i’s once i turn thirty :)

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:33 pm csperez wrote:

    yeah, kent, you better be careful…one contest win leads to another leads to the death of the avant-garde!

    & thanks for the candor about community colleges. interesting that it was the first comment because right after my mfa i was offered two adjunct classes at a community college here in the bay area at the same time i found out i got into berkeley for the phd. it was a really tough choice for me…and i still remember agonizing over which path to choose. now, with the budget crisis happening in the UC system…i wonder if i made the right choice.

    well, i taught two classes of reading & comp in the asian american studies department since i’ve been at berkeley and really loved it!

    anyhoo, thanks for the honest info about community colleges!

  • On February 3, 2010 at 12:37 pm csperez wrote:

    @ sina, well my number one passion is teaching (i’ve been an educator in varying capacities for 8 years now) but i do want to think broadly–which is why i’m asking for advice. what kind of work do you do? does it support your poetry?

    and one of my concerns is not so much the ‘cultural streamlining of poets into teaching jobs’ (like i said, i love teaching), but i’m worried about the ‘cultural streamlining of teaching jobs’–esp at the university level.

    are there any highschool poet teachers out there? how’s life for you?

  • On February 3, 2010 at 1:07 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >yeah, kent, you better be careful…one contest win leads to another leads to the death of the avant-garde!

    Oh, that’s already happened, in the U.S.

    Around 1991…

  • On February 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm david Keali‘i wrote:

    I know of a few teachers who are also poets. Somehow they are able to do both. Of course, I think it helps that they are very much involved in the poetry slam and attached to regular poetry readings.

    There are those rare poets who make a living from their art. Again, those I am familiar with come out of slam and tend to support themselves on a combination of college gigs, slam/small venue gigs, product, and workshops. Names that come to mind are: Mike McGee, Anis Mojgani, Andrea Gibson, Mahogony Browne, David Blair, Patricia Smith, and Derrick Brown to name only a handful.
    Of course these poets put a lot of work into planning tours and getting out there. This is but one other avenue to “being a poet”

  • On February 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm Eric Landon wrote:

    Ya hey, a winner!

    Thanks very much Craig.

    My 29th spring began in one of the four dorms at a homeless shelter in Beighton; an eastern suburb of Sheffield on the border with Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England – which prior to being a shelter was, what I learnt’s colloquially called, a ‘spike’, or half-way house for those on parole being phased into the community at the end of prison sentences.

    I’m not really qualified to advise you on how to proceed with securing an academic career. As a 43 year old failure with far less time left in my tank than has already flown, the only thing I would suggest is using your intelligence.

    Work hard, tell the truth, say your prayers and trust in God. Failing that, sniff out and collect incriminating info to blackmail with, those on the panels casting for candidates to fill the academic roles. Or fabricate some. Or just take an AK47 into the audition, make ‘em an offer they can’t refuse, and if they do? Out in a blaze of glory bro.

    ‘I do not care if I die tommorow or next year, as long as my doings live on as myth, when I’m gone.’

    Tha’s what one of the earliest poets, Cúchulain, used to roar. Poetry, for the ancients, was all about immortalising the deeds of their heroes and champions.

    ~

    Seriously though, I passed only the first hurdle of BA Writing Studies and Drama (2:1), and then carried on as an independant scholar, specialising in trying to find and be oneself via the medium of a (hopefully) life-long learning about poetry. An impossible business to achieve perfection in, I’m afraid. All we can do is practise our way into acquiring a practice by the act of writing, one word at a time. That’s King Stephen’s advice in his how-to On Writing, and he knows, being one of the worlds most prolific and professional dabblers.

    ~

  • On February 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm csperez wrote:

    hello all, i’m pasting an email i just received below–as i found it very insightful. i am also taking out identifying info so the author can remain anonymous:

    Hi, Craig—

    Long time no contact. But I saw your post on Harriet blog.

    I turned 30 a year & a half ago, and I’m now in the final throes of my dissertation, facing the ever-dreaded job market. So I think I have a thought or two to contribute to where you are.

    First: turning thirty. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I threw a big party, but ever since I noticed that thirty has been getting younger and younger, it didn’t bother me very much. I think my dad had a mid-life crisis at thirty, and then another at forty, and then another at fifty, so maybe he had enough for me. Or maybe I figure I’m going to live to about ninety-five, so I don’t have to worry about being halfway through until I’m forty-seven. But the real issue is: do you have what you want to have at this point in your life? As in, family, freedom, income, etc? if so, be glad that you met your goals; if not, work on achieving those goals (and in my experience, achieving goals comes when I’m able to stress about them least, when I’m able to come up with a plan that fends off any stress).

    And that brings me to question two: academia. While I believe that at this moment in history we cannot have the possibility of a good academic job market, we can nonetheless take advantage of varying degrees of shitty. I’m in a field that is relatively unshitty this year (I’ve applied to roughly thirty tenure-track positions across the world, and as I understand it I’m competing against anywhere between 50 to 70 others; this is of course not as good as forty people applying to thirty jobs, but it’s much better than, say, English or History, where the average may be several hundred people applying to thirty—or fewer—jobs, without even taking into consideration the breakdown by subfield; furthermore, I had six first-round interviews, and so far have two on-campus visits, while I’m still waiting to hear back from other schools). This is not to say that academic jobs aren’t out there: most people on the market will get academic jobs of some kind; the catch is that the businesspeople who have taken over the university administration since the Reagan era have rigged it so that the vast majority of academic jobs are not good academic jobs, so that things like salary, job security, benefits, and an office are not available to a growing class of proletarianized itinerant intellectual laborers known as adjuncts. I’m sure none of this is news to you. So what do you do? Well, insofar as the degree of shittiness of the academic job market depends a lot on where you are both in terms of your field and in terms of your school (does a PhD in Biology mean the same from MIT as it does from Bemidji State University?), the question of what is to be done also depends on where you are. I say, for your time in grad school: join a union if you have one; if you don’t have one, organize one; if you do have one, make sure that the union is active in building solidarity with other groups of workers on campus, including adjunct workers. Then, when you are on the job market, if tenure-track jobs do not present themselves to you, see if you can find adjunct work where you have a union, and where the kinds of benefits such as health care and job security usually relegated to the professoriate are more likely to be in your hands (some people may even prefer this kind of work to professorship, as it allows a focus on teaching without the burden of research and committee work). I stress unionism so much because I believe that only through collective action and solidarity can we as a class build up the kind of strength to re-direct academia away from its current trend of increased corporatization. But really, it comes down to what you want. Why did you want to pursue a PhD in the first place? Was it because you wanted to spend a few years hanging out and getting paid to think interesting thoughts while you tried to figure how to get out of your holding pattern? If so, then maybe you should pursue a non-academic career after you finish your PhD. Or did you want to teach, because of the joy and importance of education? In that case, you might want to get a teaching certificate while in grad school and look for high school jobs after the PhD. Or did you want to change the world through your research while insisting on no compromise between the life of the mind and the pressures of corporatism (this describes me best)? Then I suggest you go full speed ahead towards professorship, while also understanding that other careers, other life choices, can also afford you work in literature and changing the world; you might need some time thinking creatively about how to do that, but believe that you are creative and resourceful enough to meet that challenge. Just because the labor economics of the US today suggest that the only way for poets and the literati to make a living is by indenturing themselves to the university does not mean that that’s our only outlet.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    I currently teach, yes, but I don’t necessarily plan on doing it forever. And I taught humanities at the beginning of my teaching career. That was a great gig. Loved it. Not cool to admit, we are trained to want the best poetry gigs, best schools, ya da, ya da.

    I’m not sure why people think an MFA will or should lead to a creative writing teaching job to be honest. It’s not like learning geography, you have to have something to teach and it seems to me, something outside of just being in a classroom yourself.

    But I hear you on the loving teaching. Me too. I loved teaching humanities because I got to meet people I might not normally run into it and have amazing conversations and hear their different points of view and get them to think about reading, and how to frame their ideas etc. People who were going to go on and do all kind of stuff in the world…amazing opportunity. Writers need to get out of their own worlds…the poetry world can be a bubble, quit frankly.

    I’ve worked with street kids, youth at risk. For a long time actually and in various settings.

    I’ve worked as a gardener, landscaper, bartender, mushroom picker, carpenter’s assistant, reporter, career counsellor….you get the idea.

    Each one fed my writing, yes, absolutely.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Quite! Man, shouldn’t respond in between meetings…

  • On February 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm Karen P. wrote:

    Hey Craig. I must poke fun at you for claiming a mid-life crisis at the ripe ol’ age of 30.

    I’ve found that my poetry training has given me a foundation to work with language outside of academia, which is a route taken by many: publishing, advertising, marketing, and other assorted evils. These tend to take personal writing energy away though.

    But if the goal is to remain in academia, the near future isn’t looking bright. Although, and this sentiment won’t be popular, I am curious to see what’s going to happen when the Boomers who currently populate academia either retire or *ahem* buy the farm. While this doesn’t solve the underlying problems of academia and the humanities, I do think that a combination of the future retirements plus this economy could provide a new landscape in the next decade.

    What’s interesting to me is what will happen when the academic chain is broken. More people wanted to go into academia so academia responded by offering more programs and more advanced degrees (a Creative Writing Ph.D. really?) to separate people from their money. Then those people had nowhere to go but academia to teach. But now that system is overburdened and I think it’s due for some deflation.

    Now the trick is to wait and see. :) But you’re keeping yourself so busy, I can’t imagine you having a career crisis!

  • On February 3, 2010 at 2:36 pm barbara jane reyes wrote:

    i adjunct in philippine studies at usf, so i get one arts course per semester. this means i have a full time job outside of education/poetry/arts to pay the mortgage, and any spare income (however little) goes back into community arts orgs, and soon, into indie publishing.

    i love being in philippine studies (as opposed to creative writing, and places where po-biz reigns supreme). I’d recently told a tenured prof poet that i teach phil studies courses that are both creative and critical, and this person looked at me so disdainfully, very politely changed the subject. i hate that bullshit.

    i know you love being an educator, and i think you’d be awesome at community college, where you can actually be attentive to your students, introduce diverse lit in comp classes. if tenure track positions become available, i think you’d be great in ethnic studies! señor alfred arteaga brought that poet/scholar sensibility into his courses (i never took, but i did come in as a visiting author once).

    this is to say, keep it varied, and make sure you have resources to continue being able to publish achiote press.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 3:41 pm Adam Strauss wrote:

    I’m sooo happy community colleges are being discussed! I’m teaching a basic writing class at one in Las Vegas and am finding it to be delightful! I hope all’s well with everyone!

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm csperez wrote:

    @ peter: dude, dont feel so old more now. i minored in psychology as an undergrad…and seriously considered getting an MA in Art Therapy (i was also painting during that time). i think i would have made a good art therapist. sigh.

    yeah that’s what scares me too…all these years of work simply to get a job at a paycut salary.

    glad though that you are able to devote so much time to poetry and your misbehaving novel. thanks for your comment & good luck to us all ;)

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:20 pm csperez wrote:

    @ david: thanks so much for your comment! great to see you here. i think your point about slams is a really important one–something i hadnt thought of. and, you know, why can’t i have a relaxing, stable day job and then go slamming at night? like you say, some who slam do make money. i am doing an event with poetry for the people here in berkeley in april…maybe i will try it out! thanks for this good advice.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm csperez wrote:

    hey b,

    i think you are rare in the poetry world. seriously, i dont know anyone else who has a full-time non-academia job and adjunct just for fun (ok, i know you dont do it just for fun, but it still seems crazy). tho i have mad respect for the fact that you are stretching your time to contribute to the fil-am community both thru the adjunct & community arts org.

    that tenured prof poet is a punk.

    yeah, i want to do what alfred did! i really dont know if that kind of position exists anymore tho…

    i have a question i want to pose to you and others, but i will do so at the end of the main thread (related to your last comment)

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:27 pm csperez wrote:

    one word at a time. one day at a time. sigh.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm csperez wrote:

    hello karen–Don’t poke fun at me! i’m very fragile right now.

    you know, i was always curious about what it’s like in publishing / advertising / marketing…what do you do exactly? i think i wouldve been good at marketing. sigh.

    yeah, i’m interested to see what happens too when folks begin to retire…will this open positions or will universities simply eliminate the position and overload profs already there and desperate for tenure?

    what wrong with a phd in creative writing? i think i wouldve good at a phd in creative writing. sigh.

    well jeez after your comment i’m so deflated now. at least i still have harriet.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm Momotombo Press wrote:

    Here here to this last part!

  • On February 3, 2010 at 5:54 pm Momotombo Press wrote:

    That is: whatever you do, keep up the great work with Achiote Press.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 6:09 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    As universities mutate, I feel calm. I feel lucid. Five people in the last week have e-mailed or called to say they heard my position was “vulnerable.” I responded: “I do not feel vulnerable.” The reason I am not anxious entirely depends upon having a trade, which I figured out, in my late twenties, that it might be useful to have. I never imagined I would teach. My trade is bodywork; I integrate soft tissue/trauma work with Ayurvedic treatments. I have a loyal and interesting clientele. It has been fundamental to my writing practice: to engage the question of the body, of trauma, of healing, of narrative, of the “scar” — in a place that is so different to a classroom; this said, I love thinking and writing with students of all kinds — and that (this) is the body too. Also, I am always conscious that if this was the UK, I would not be teaching and I am not sure I would have had the chance to develop this work with the body in quite the same way. India…that’s beyond my imagination. I like walking in India and saying aloud, coming home from the market with the raw milk in a plastic bag: “I don’t exist.” Moving on from the question of non-being: hi. I guess I’m responding to the enquiry above, as to what supports the work. (Writing.) Craig, I also have to say, your book came in the mail today. My mother began to read it. She said: “He is saying something that nobody else understands.”

  • On February 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm csperez wrote:

    @ sina: how wonderful that you have had so many interesting sounding jobs! for me, i’ve never had any other job besides teaching. right out of undergrad i taught language arts at a charter school for kids who got kicked out of the public school system–then thruout my mfa i taught at an afterschool center for immigrant children (i taught esl,
    writing, and reading). and then i teach here at berkeley as a grad student. i do kinda regret not trying out a variety of professions. i think i would’ve been a good bartender. sigh.

    well, i’m not sure what people say an mfa ‘will or should’ lead to a cw teaching job. my mfa did lead me to a cw teaching job at a community college–and i had no doubt i was well prepared to teach creative writing. i had wonderful teachers in both critical & creative workshops–and i had been a teaching assistant to d.a. powell. obviously, not all mfas do a good job preparing those who want to teach, but mine did.

    indeed, poetry is not geography. poetry is a craft, an art form. and having 50 years of ‘life experience’ doesnt necessarily mean you know anything more about poetry (tho it is likely)…but also, i dont a cw teacher to teach me about life experiences (we can talk about that during class breaks), i want them to teach me about the craft, history, and theory of poetry.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 7:01 pm csperez wrote:

    @ everyone: barbara’s comment reminded me of something. when i was offered that community college gig 3 years ago, one of the pulls was that the school was mostly ethnic minority students.

    at both the ethnic studies and the native studies conferences i attended last year–i heard several new profs talk about how they decided to teach at midwest colleges for tenure track positions. the difficulty they were having is that they were teaching ethnic literature or native literature to classes entirely composed of white students.

    so i wanted to ask ethnic minority profs or grad students out there: if the only tenure track position you were offered was to teach minority lit at a univ composed mostly of white students, would you take it?

  • On February 3, 2010 at 9:20 pm Gail White wrote:

    Christ Almighty, man, wait until you’re 60 and
    NO students are reading your first book and you’ve
    lived in US Red States your whole bloody life before
    you start moaning about your effing midline crisis.

  • On February 3, 2010 at 9:54 pm Eric Landon wrote:

    There was a week long series of posts on various Romantic poets in the Guardian, and whilst spamming on a William Blake thread at the weekend, I chanced across a quote from Ginsberg, in the Barry Miles biography, in which he famously awoke to Blake in the summer heat of 1948, after the expereince of his first and only auditory hallucination. Something he records throughought his career, as the moment from which his poetic path began.

    Ah! Sun-flower, from Songs of Innocence and Experience, cued him into hearing a ‘voice’ that became ‘something unforgetable because it was like God had a human voice, with all the infinite tenderness of a Creator speaking to his son’

    He claimed to have met a Greater poetic whole, exterior to his own mind, when he had an epiphany in a Religious experience he accords the intellectual moment that initiated His light of life-long learning on a journey through the ‘it’ (poetry), both Blake and Ginsberg cognized as bardically as their imaginations could conceive the it that a Bard would nous, given Prophetic Books,

    .. a deep ancient voice reading the poem aloud’, outside his cognisance and conception of Self, and Allen, for the first time:

    … had the impression of the entire universe as poetry.’

    And he was right. The Poetic in one of the most ancient, comprehensive and coherently recorded European traditions, centres on this unitarian idea that, in a religious context, is embodied in the concept of the deist God. One being-entity and/or cosmic-force Creator responsible for – not only humanity, but all – ‘mysteries of the elemental abyss’, as the Celtic Hesiod, Amergin refers to the source of space, time and all physical event .. in a Rosetta-stone text which postulates the bardic axiom and argument for and against, the cause and effect of poetry, being as we know it today.

    This Bard tradition’s poetic of Ginsberg’s ‘entire universe as poetry’,

    ‘which bestows the merit of every art,
    through which treasure increases,
    which magnifies every common artisan,
    which builds up a person through their gift’

    … the first question asked of the prospective poet, is

    ‘Where is the root of poetry in a person; in the body or in the soul?’

    A rhetorical question Amergin, the narrator in the text, proceeds to answer with another question:

    “They say it is in the soul, for the body does nothing without the soul. Others say it is in the body where the arts are learned, passed through the bodies of our ancestors. It is said this is the seat of what remains over the root of poetry; and the good knowledge in every person’s ancestry comes not into everyone, but comes into every other person.”

    ~

    Every other person, means exactly that, one in two, 50% of us – are born with a connection to ‘the root of poetry’ .. or rather, an innate ability which, if exercised and developed, will result in that connection to the root of poetry manifesting itself.

    It is a fascinating pedagogical text, framed as a series of questions and answers, which present both sides of an argument that reconciles our relationbship with the Cosmic creator of eternity, and each individual human person, into being a poem in itself. Our life, nothing more than a single poem, and in the sense Ginsberg reached toward … the entire universe as poetry itself.

    It’s a fascinating text, hidden in plain sight, only 30 years in English, literally the Rosetta stone poem from Celtic antiquity, and virtually no one aware of it in the world of poetry .. itself an indication how poetic this set of circumstances, are.

  • On February 4, 2010 at 12:39 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I’ve somehow managed to make mostly a career over four decades teaching poetry to children. California Poets In The Schools for many years, nine years in the sixth grade in a leaky portable in East Oakland, and the last ten years teaching translation and poetry through Poetry Inside Out with the Center for the Art of Translation.

    Working with kids takes me right to the root of where poetry is born. Yesterday I taught Rafael Alberti in Spanish to fourth and fifth-graders who mostly know Chinese. The problem of course is that the schools have no money and guess what’s the first thing to go. Being an artist-teacher ought to be a viable career, but I may be the last one left standing…

  • On February 4, 2010 at 11:27 am evie wrote:

    yay for winning an omnidawn book! (though i think i won by default…) : )

    craig, 40 is the new 30. shelve your mid-life crisis for a decade and be at peace with your basically unmitigated youth.

    as for careers, yes, higher ed is hurting, pretty much across the board, and english departments in particular. no, one needn’t be in academia to be a poet, though things get a lot easier (and yet more stressful, i suspect) if one is.

    my two thoughts/cents: (1) i have been lucky enough for the past few years to be in a department that hired me to teach lit, but is happy to have me teaching creative writing as well. the mix of the two is perfect for me — i’d hate to have it any other way (though i could live with doing either solely). and (2) i’m one, like you, who always imagined being a teacher — of something. teaching is in my blood. if you’re meant to be a teacher, then be one, whether k-12, community college, college/u, community po workshops, tagalog lessons in your home, whatever feels rewarding and pays the bills. we need teachers, good teachers, in all arenas. you need to love your job, however much you get paid. (i say this having leaped from an amazingly lucrative but unenjoyable career into academia awhile back, with absolutely no regrets whatsoever and in fact counting my blessings every day.)

  • On February 4, 2010 at 11:39 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Some years ago I was honored by the Illinois Community College Board of Trustees as “Illinois Community College Teacher of the Year.”

    But why do I feel like a terrible teacher?

    In fact, after coming out of class I usually feel like I suck.

  • On February 4, 2010 at 2:51 pm evie wrote:

    your students’ feelings about your teaching and your feelings about your teaching need not match up, despite popular wisdom to the contrary. : ) congrats on the award!

  • On February 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm csperez wrote:

    hey bhanu,

    how wonderful that you have a trade–and an important one such as bodywork! i could see that working thru your work (i’ve read your previous) and am looking forward to the new one i just received.

    p.s. when my mother read my book, she said the exact same thing as your mother (tho mine said ‘you’ not ‘he’). our mothers should start a book club.

    xo
    c

  • On February 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm csperez wrote:

    damn gail. damn.

  • On February 4, 2010 at 3:09 pm csperez wrote:

    hey john, i think it’s fantastic you teach poetry to children–and to have made a career of it! & i love that you teach translation as well. you know, i am on the mailing list for the center, but have yet to make it out there. sometime soon now that i know you are there.

    peace
    c

  • On February 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm csperez wrote:

    evie, yay i’m so happy to know that 40 is the new 30! i feel more at peace already.

    i hope to find a job like yours. i think i would have been really good at an amazingly lucrative but unenjoyable career, sigh.

  • On February 4, 2010 at 3:12 pm csperez wrote:

    @ kent: maybe you do suck, but all the other teacher suck worse, and that’s why you got the award? ouch! jk

  • On February 4, 2010 at 3:32 pm evie wrote:

    well . . . it’s never too late for law school . . .

  • On February 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Thanks, Evie. That’s nice of you to say.

    And Craig, No, trust me, I suck much more than a lot of the other teachers in my league.

    I fear the State Board of Trustees made a mistake in 2004.

    But I didn’t give the award back!

  • On February 5, 2010 at 11:13 am Michael Robbins wrote:

    Is this post designed to make poets who are older than you—even not quite a decade older, like me—pray that all yr books get remaindered? Why don’t you at least wait till 40 to have a midlife crisis like all of us normally self-involved neurotics do. Jesus.

  • On February 5, 2010 at 11:17 am Matt wrote:

    Buddha.

  • On February 5, 2010 at 11:18 am Michael Robbins wrote:

    Well, I guess being tone-deaf to yr own self-absorption is part of being young …

  • On February 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >Well, I guess being tone-deaf to yr own self-absorption is part of being young …

    This sounds like cartoon caption from the New Yorker!

  • On February 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    In regards to being tone-deaf to one’s self-absorption, and all that, I wrote:

    >This sounds like cartoon caption from the New Yorker!

    Sorry, didn’t quite get that right. I meant:

    This sounds like cartoon caption from *THE NEW YORKER*!

    (or, one might add, *THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS*!)

  • On February 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    Kent, you of all people are not seriously saying what you seem to be saying here. Naw. Not the guy who has seldom left a comment that didn’t begin, “I know it’s not on topic but [here's something I did or something someone said about me or I was mentioned in a footnote here or Ron Silliman called me this or might as well mention that I interviewed this guy here].”

  • On February 6, 2010 at 8:23 pm Joe Harrington wrote:

    Craig -

    Sorry to make you feel bad. And I’m the GRADUATE DIRECTOR for my department – can you imagine how our grad students feel?? I made some very mild remark about the shitty job market to one of our creative writing PhD’s (!) recently, and she said, “You’re not supposed to tell us that!” Maybe I have Tourette’s or something, but I just can’t put my head that far down in the sand.

    Here’s something to consider. I ordered _from_unincorporated territory for my workshop this semester. My colleague Stephanie Fitzgerald ordered your book, too, for her indigenous lit class – WITHOUT any conversation between us beforehand. Dude, you’re huge. And there’s a reason for that. My students really like the book, BTW.

    Here’s one trend to consider: despite the declining fate of the humanities in the era of neoliberalism, creative writing programs are growing apace. Half of our students, grad and undergrad, are CW. We have more CW apps now than we did by March of last year.

    So, you’ll do fine. It’s everybody else I’m concerned about.

    Joe H.

    PS – When I first moved here (Lawrence, Kansas), having lived only in Memphis, Nashville, DC, and Berkeley, I literally thought at one point, “Where are the black people??” This is the Land of the Ugly White Folks.

    PPS – Rob Baumann was whining about being old in his LATE TWENTIES. Somebody commented to his blog: “Dude, if you’re old, I’m fucking DEAD.”

  • On February 6, 2010 at 8:25 pm Joe Harrington wrote:

    oh . . . and I’ll buy you a drink or 30 at AWP, if you want . . . just don’t throw up on me.


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.