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On the matter of career

By Sina Queyras

Poetry as career is always a contentious subject. My rather light-hearted attempts to open up the discussion this week make it seem as though I have a light-hearted approach, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s an important question. As important as the poet-critic question. And as someone who comes into contact with young would-be poets it’s a question I take very, very seriously.  Perhaps too seriously in fact, because you know, there is a lot of joy in poetry and these discussions make it seem more fraught than fun.

But I do feel a sense of responsibility to discuss the realities of the writing world as a career choice. Though admittedly, when I decided, way back when, to apply to do a BFA in Creative Writing the chair of the department advised me strongly against it. I can’t recall what he said exactly, but it made my blood boil, and I said something like, “I’m going to write with or without your program.” Which is to say, I make my own decisions thank you very much…

It’s a cliché by now to quote Rilke on the matter, and I wonder if it’s still relevant. On the one hand, yes, write only if you must. If you can’t do anything else. But that’s not quite it, is it? I believe everyone can and should write in some way. The problem is the ever-shrinking space between writing and publication. The one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other does it? Should it?

To write, we seem to believe, is to publish. Okay, fair enough, particularly in our age when to publish is to click, but then to write, is to publish, is to have a career. Was it always the case? What happens to the way one approaches apprenticeship if one is not expected to have an apprenticeship? Worse, what happens to the writing when what is on one’s mind is a certain trajectory?

Maybe I’m just reacting to the overwhelming sense of frustration I get from so many writers who don’t feel they have achieved enough, or need some external marker of having arrived some place else. What is it that creates such a sense of unease? Of not having achieved enough? Or the right markers? Maybe it’s more a matter of simply shutting out the noise, but many of us, particularly those of us who do teach, who are in contact with many poets all the time, must engage with these questions, and these desires.

The reality of the writing world is few writers—even those who write more popular forms such as fiction—actually make a living from writing let alone find readers. So the question is how can one find a way to sustain oneself as a writer. It’s a big question, and it doesn’t only include financial concerns. The reality of time to write is a big reality, and the matter of how one uses one’s time, and one’s brain, impacts the quality of thought and the level of resources one brings to poetry. I’m not really arguing for much more than a little space around some of these formulas and assumptions. There is no perfect poet’s life. Why all this anxiety in search of it? And what does it look like? A major prize, a plush teaching job, perfectly intelligent students, half the year off?

What about the ability to live as a poet? That is one thing that makes me shake my head every time I say it. Who knew? One can be a poet. I have never come down from the high of that simple fact. The technician who came to give an estimate yesterday was fascinated too. I was the first poet he had ever met. What is it like?  What does the life of a poet consist of?

It’s easy to forget what a privilege being a poet is. We get to organize our lives around poetry? For real? To partake in readings, conferences, have publications, reading groups. We share a network of colleagues having read similarly. Now if we could just loosen up our thinking about the ways in which we can build our lives around that, about what constitutes “success.”

What configurations best suit the poet? The academy is one track, but surely there are other workable trajectories that might excite young poets? In an ongoing thread on Facebook I have heard from poet-librarians, poet-editors, a poet who is also the head of an NGO, poet college teachers, poet high school teachers, poet-arts administrators, poet-techies. Here are a few in more detail.

RON SILLIMAN says for the past decade he has “been a market analyst specializing on the hardware support marketplace in North America. The decade before that I worked in various organizations that sold & delivered PC support services in a variety of marketing positions. The decade before that I was the executive editor of The Socialist Review, a college administrator & briefly taught literature at the college level. The decade before that I worked in the prison and inner-city tenant movements as an organizer. The decade before that I was a kid.”

It was practical concerns that made him “shift from non-profit to for-profit labor.”  He “needed to pay for the mortgage on my house & my wife & I were trying to have children. The computer industry was (a)  local & (b) growing rapidly, absorbing the over-educated under-employed very rapidly.” Does his work feed his writing?  “I enjoy the analytical side of my work, the writing, the cross-sections of the world I get insight into. My work has brought me into contact with everyone from Charles Manson to the solicitor general of the United States. From my perspective, one real advantage of working in the technology sector has been that it changes quite rapidly. It’s hard to get stale in an industry that is completely different every four years.”

A role model? “Walter Benjamin without the whining, perhaps. I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Silliman studied creative writing at SF State in the late 1960s “because it put me in touch with other writers–it was never about a job.” He learned his craft “by reading voluminously & writing every day” and he means voluminously:

My first year at SF State, I was unable to get all the courses I wanted, so I used the extra time to read the entire library collection of American poetry, A through Z. Robin Blaser had just left his position as the poetry buyer for the library, so it was a terrific collection at that point. When I finished the collection, I started in on the hard-to-get magazines in the rare book room. SF State did not have the Black Mountain Review, but it did have the early series’ of Origin.

Is an MFA useful? “About as useful as polio, and about as crippling. Other than access to other writers at roughly the same level of development, it is mostly something that has to be overcome if one is to write seriously. I’m always impressed at how many do seem able to set that aside & become real writers.

The idea that the MFA will lead to a job is mostly a fraud.”

On the matter of being satisfied? “I don’t think I’m ever satisfied, and I think that’s inherently harder the older one gets. I do have a daily writing practice, but it evolves over time and turns out to be very different from one year to the next. I don’t have book currently scheduled, but am working on several projects. Right now the conclusion of the tenth & final volume of The Grand Piano, the collective autobiography I’ve been working on for over a decade with several other poets, is my darling.”

What is satisfying though, is community. On that score he is “absolutely” satisfied. “I have felt that way since I was 18 years old in 1964.”  What makes for a vital life as a poet?  “Pay attention. All the time.” Is all of this simply biding time until that teaching job comes along? “It would be interesting to teach again just for the students–they have so much to teach us.”

DON SHARE edits, but notes that in “ the past, that is to say, as an adult, I have worked as a van driver, busboy, library worker, curator, and Internet trainer for people from third-world countries.” He has a PhD (not in English), but no MFA:

You’re gonna thank I’m nuts, but until I saw it at first hand, I simply had no idea that people got MFAs in order to teach.  I learned my craft (if that’s the right word for it) from books, two mentors, shooting the shit with other people, and sorry-assed soul searching.  I don’t think that poets in academia are more ‘professional’ than those who aren’t, but that’s only because I don’t look at poetry as a profession.

Share does not have a “daily writing practice,” per se: “I write whilst taking public transportation to work and back; and I have a manuscript that I doubt anybody will undertake to publish.  It’s called In a Station of the Metro because Ray DiPalma convinced me not to use the more accurate title, In a Station of the Metra – a rail service I spend many hours of my life using when I’m not on Chicago’s famous El.”

Does he feel part of a community? “I do.  I feel that I ‘know’ lots of people I’ve never even met in person – you, for instance, and that’s a kind of community.”

What makes for a vital life as a poet? “I’m not sure that vitality has a lot to do with it.  I’m pretty enervated myself.”

Is he waiting for that perfect teaching job to come along? “What’s a perfect teaching job?!?  Look, teaching is an honorable thing to do; and you can’t blame anyone who’d dream of having the perks of a tenured position.  Maybe this is too Platonic a view (literally), but if people are good at teaching, then they should teach.  If they are not, on the other hand, then they shouldn’t. Some of the smartest people I’ve known, and some of the best poets, too, have no business teaching; and some of the best teacherly types I know can’t get a teaching job for anything in the world.

The key thing is: what are the credentials for being a poet?  There aren’t any.”

VANESSA PLACE represents indigent sex offenders and sexually violent predators on appeal. Does she find it feeds her? “Yes, incessantly.” Why did she become a lawyer? “I was good at it.” Were there poet role models?  “I don’t think there really are role models for me, save Pound’s radio broadcasts.” She did an MFA program to “meet other writers” and notes “a level of professionalism with poets as ballplayers.” She is “reasonably satisfied; writes daily, if not more” and publishes regularly.

In response to the question of what makes for a vital life as a poet in your mind, Place said, “yes.”

And on the matter of whether or not she is waiting for the perfect job?

JACOB McARTHUR MOONEY is a client-support manager for an online adult entertainment firm. “If that sounds sexy and/or devious, it’s really neither. Basically, I do math all day. In the service of things that may be sexy or devious.” His employment definitely feeds his poetic practice, though not in any direct way. “I like working with people who don’t know I’m a poet, and wouldn’t care if I told them. That knowledge shrinks you, in a really positive way. It gives context.”

Mooney did an MFA at the University of Guelph so he would “have an excuse to centre my life around poetry for a couple years, and as a means of working with people who cared about it as much as I did.” He says he didn’t consider teaching at the time, though “most people who did that program with me are now teachers.”

He would “argue that non-MFAers, if they are serious enough about their work, possess a greater professionalism than us coddled factory-produced poets. They’ve done the DIY thing, through self-made chapbooks and shows and whatever. Happily, my program had something of that spirit, perhaps because I came in with the first cohort and it was sort of developing around me as I progressed.”

On the other hand, he “fell into” his “first book deal by accident. A teacher told an editor who told a publisher, who called me to ask if I had a manuscript. Lucky boy.” His second collection is coming out in Spring 2011, from McClelland & Stewart. “It’ll be called Folk. It’s a book about communities and airplanes.”

Is he content? “I live in Parkdale, Toronto, which is one of the great writer-infested neighbourhoods in North America. I have a blog that keeps me in dialogue with poets from other cities. Basically, I want for nothing, I’m happy.”

Is he waiting for that teaching job?

Well….maybe. Though it’d have to be perfect. I’d take 60k a year to teach eager, well-read youngsters about writing poetry, sure. But I wouldn’t take 30k a year to teach their uninspired siblings about the basics of grammar, or how to write a paragraph. And there’s a lot more positions available for the latter than the former. I’d much rather stay where I am, for now, thanks.

In the interest of time I’m posting this now, but there are several more interviews to be added on here…and of course I’m hoping to hear from you. So, what about poet architects? Organic gardeners? Wind farm developers? How do you maintain yourself as a poet?

Comments (60)

  • On March 16, 2010 at 2:18 pm Michael Dickman wrote:

    Dear Sina Queyras,

    Having a career of some kind or another, for anyone, writer or otherwise, is of course an important question, as the answer often leads to food in the fridge, food for the kids, the lights staying on, etc… I myself can’t imagine that many poets out there expect to have “Poetry” as a paying career though. Do they? Do we? I find the idea or the assumption that we would or should both boring and slightly mystifying. But not as mystifying as Mr. Silliman comparing the results of two years of reading and writing poetry or fiction to contracting polio!!!! Yikes. Certainly he meant that MFA’s were as harmful as wearing Polo…or playing Marco Polo…or eating undercooked pollo…
    Truly,
    Michael

  • On March 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Well, there are many who do, yes. As I said, for me it’s still a matter of pinching myself that I get to do what I do at all mixed in with the occasional whine as we all do…and yes, I do stay away from undercooked pollo. Good advice.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm Jason Crane | jasoncrane.org wrote:

    I enjoyed this as much as — and found it as surprising and useful as — anything I’ve read online in a while. Thanks. I’m looking forward to the other interviews.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm Behrle wrote:

    I’m kind of looking forward to dying penniless in the gutter. That was the last page of the “So You Want to be a Poet?” brochure I got when I was 12.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Well, my mother promised me an empty garret, but I guess you can’t be too choosy.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm Behrle wrote:

    Can we talk about the evils done in the name of “I Want My Summers Off!” at some point?

  • On March 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm Mabool wrote:

    To the extent that I did anything at all I did technology and money. I attempted to combine the two on the early Internet. This didn’t work. Left with with nothing to do, I began looking at poetry pages.

    I put some stuff on Don Share’s blog several months ago. I recently put a link here to Helsinky.

    Helsinky first appeared on web 1998. It was clear that she was in Israel. I was later to learn that her native tongue is Spanish, that she was living in Israel speaking Hebrew on the street and hacking the web in English. Forums where she posted were the more prominent interactive boards ( which had just come into existence ) and I found her at one of these. I immediately recognized the only talent on the web. This situation changed two or three years later and I lost track of her. Then about five years ago we reconnected and became collaborators on a book which cannot be published because of copyright problems, among other problems, although the samizdat has a small following in the boonies. The collaboration between the two of us was by email, and with real names. She did not use her real name on the web, nor is Helsinky the name she usually used on the web. About a year ago we met, in propria persona, at a restaurant in Seattle. It was at short notice and I said I had to be going. For some reason, I think because of misunderstandings of written word, I began receiving hostile email from her after the meeting and then I received a death threat, by email, from overseas, not from Helsinky but from someone acting on her behalf. I reported this to the federal Transportation Security Administration. The TSA had little interest in the case, but nevertheless gave me a record locator number, which I forwarded to the authorities in Seattle.

    On the boards she was a horrible potty mouth, got herself kicked off some boards, and was generally uncooperative. But she was only poet to find the voice that the web required: brief, original, spontaneous, ployglot, though her material on the web usually consisted of fantastic farragoes of complete worthlessness. Her favored sites have since mostly gone dark, all the material has been deleted, and google will not turn up any record. The above link is an exception.

    psst!
    hey you
    yah
    pssssssssssssssssssst!
    oh yayah

  • On March 16, 2010 at 3:56 pm pam lu wrote:

    Always an interesting topic, and I enjoy hearing what others are doing out there, as a kind of check-in for the questions I ask myself everyday, incessantly. Thanks for this.

    I’ve been making my living as a technical writer ever since I graduated from college. Contrary to its title, my job is not terribly technical and doesn’t involve a whole lot of writing, but it does pay the bills and when the workload is light, like now, I can steal hours and hours of company time for my own reading & writing. I thought about applying to MFAs when I graduated, but my immigrant family viewed such degrees as self-indulgent and a frivolous waste of time (a view I don’t personally share, but try arguing this with a family member), and indoctrinated me with the paranoid belief that I needed to develop an immediately marketable, portable skill that would sustain me during peacetime and make me less dispensable during times of war, famine, revolution, coup, expulsion, etc. So in this sense at least, I caved in to their status quo.

    But my real personal reason for not getting an MFA was that I knew it was not the right decision for me at the time. My writing fell into the cracks, genre-wise, and I felt an MFA program would force me to make a choice, poetry or fiction. I wouldn’t have felt right in either box, and if I’d chosen the fiction box, I’m pretty sure I would have become discouraged enough to stop writing for good.

    Also, I was conscious that entering the MFA or academic circuit would put me on a certain “trajectory,” and I didn’t want to feel all the pressures & rules & expectations of that trajectory. I wanted to keep the economic and writing sides of my life separate b/c I didn’t want the economic side influencing what I wrote or how I wrote in any way. Some people thrive on the trajectory and are able to produce integral works while at the same time managing and resisting the various pressures of the trajectory, but I am not one of those people. Also, I wouldn’t have been able to fall into a pit for about ten years or do any of the other embarrassing things that I’ve found to be essential to the development of my writing.

    This comment qualifies for the TMI or TLDR tag, and in about five minutes I’m going to totally cringe at the sight of it, but I’m going to go ahead and post it anyway.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm pam lu wrote:

    Can I get a copy of that brochure? I have a young cousin in danger.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm Emily wrote:

    I’m not getting a MFA but a MA in Creative Writing in April. But I’m doing this because I wanted to learn more about the art of writing poetry (especially the hybrid type–to learn the Lyric Essay, to learn the sound poem!)

    I used to think that if I wasn’t getting a MFA I was going to be deemed useless. Which is ridiculous. To earn money, I’ve decided to become a Librarian. I think that the fact that so many “famous” poets had “day jobs” escapes a lot of Creative Writing students. I can’t imagine being a poet “full time” getting up every day to write poems. I think it would be lovely for awhile but to be able to be in the world, to continue to learn, to be able to support myself… I find more inspiration in that then being a monk-poet, living in a cave writing poems. But, maybe I’ll change my mind on that as I age.

    I think that I will get a MFA one day. But not because I’d like to teach–a job dedicated to shaping young poets work, not your own– but because my writing demands change. I want to continue learning, to gain knowledge…Isn’t this what University is about? For now, I feel happy to call myself a Poet (with a MS ready to be sent out!), and to one day call myself Librarian–What better work for a poet? To serve the community words!

  • On March 17, 2010 at 2:19 am Eric Landon wrote:

    I began writing on 1/1/01 in London, after 34 years of failing at everything. A last throw of the dice by a chancer, and liberating because by 2001 I’d painted myself into every scene except the one where writing makes reality into a dream in order for the dream to become real. Telling lies and fictionalizing life to keep one bouyant. Onward.

    By the end of that January, it became clear I was wasting my time waiting for a faery godfather from the fame and riches England Academy, to grant this one prayer all share as dear luvvies. And so one decided to show one’s hand publically, go with my head for the very first time and quit make-believing guff that made one – ‘One’s a pal of someone famous’ – vicariously through them, breathe a second-hand dream not one’s own, everything except thee, oh to be sure… I dunno.

    By the end of March I’d wrapped up my secular affairs, and moving to Cork, on the next step of what is by now a nine year devotional spin of some logical prayer bent-to religion facing a myth all one’s own, and connected to the universal sieve through which only skeletal form haunts within, a container through which to move and effect poetry’s locution in something learnt at birth, asking if ‘the root of poetry in a person; is in the body or in the soul?

    ‘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.’

    But this came afterwards, the poetic quote above few know. Came long after falling out of Cork and into a dentist’s chair in England, where fate moved me to when a molar flared up and it needed urgent removal. It was here, in Ormskirk, Lancashire, early May it was extracted, and whilst there I learnt my home town’s tertiary college population had mushroomed – in the intervening years since last there I sported as an underage bluffer on the mid-eighties tear in Ormskirk, when the hair was black thick and curly, not straight thin and silver – from three to eighteen thousand students, stuying in one’s home town where learning – I am a stranger, a stranger in my old home town – in the university of perfect peace, is the nuts and bolts behind contemporary American poetry, and off-course, bardic lore and Irish myth.

    It was all very jolly the you know, being a stranger at home. For the first time I took cognizane of some compact grace and huge benefit the place in itself is, as a ‘home’ community.

    I learnt a Drama and Writing Studies B.A. had been running there since the start of the nineties – one of the earliest in England – and radical at the time of its inception, because the poet who wrote the curriculum, Robert Sheppard, is the most important UK arm in Charles Bernstein’s poetic. For a child of Irish immigrants with accent and class issues, for fate to deliver one’s home town as the most logical, joyful poetic route for a thity four year old bluffer, three months after the decision to waffle full time was made, to wear my heart on a sleeve and dropping the dream of Spielberg and me accidently meeting as I slaved on the shovel, empyting buckets of rubble, an actor trapped inside the body of an educational drop out so far down the road to abject failure, fate almost it seems now, looking back on the past ten years since first I fell into life of learning how to intervene on deck and deal the hand to all in a flop, who fold, raise, call and won or lose, fifty-fifty chance of an English farm labourer with a head full of silly ideas about spuds, sweedes, beetroot, cows hens and chickencoops, holding the correct cards to make a royal flush L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E bet, whatever it is… I dunno.

    I exited after three years knowing only that I wanted to write langpo and learn more about what that word means, especially in the language and culture whose poetry schools existed for 1200 years, uninterrupted from the 5/6C to the early 18C, a ‘real’ tradition, all there as real as it gets, in translation, additional, equal and – in some ways – superior to Am Po because there’s an old apple-pie order in my old home town, to contend with for those who claim a master of fine arts is all one needs to know how it works, baring the minimum share we all possess. Poetry, yes?

    I know there’s been talk of Am Po being flat of late, by some who share a view that po-biz is somehow bereft of the poet who can take on CB and beat them in a game of being craftier, strategically dafter than one’s opponent, in straight faced non-stop blather, in a fight to shut up the ‘other’ gas, without interrupton: that’s the game, isn’t it, us?

    What

    Some say.

    Some say this position’s inaccurate, harsh and irrelevent: that Am Po has got ‘real’ poets in there, between the cracks, louder than unheard silent MFA’less nobodies with only Rod McKeun to prosecute their poetic suits and lead, a bit like, you know, me and Rod, what, what, with who all there is in American poetry, there to kick-ass and perform a tough task, getting it right first time, us yeah… I dunno

    So, the first three years of poetic study, as an uncertain lonely bore with only the silly dream of finding what’s within to keep me warm, and by the end of the course, I’d turned into an insufferably smug tosser who knew very little except how to show-off. You kow that, don’t you?

    You see, critically speaking, there’s no such thing as ‘truly objective criteria’ for the critic and poetry judge. Gerald Schwartz recently asked on Poetryetc, if there can be such a thing, and many (men) replied, with Sheila E. Murphy and Alison Croggan, both not here, but who are worth spending a few dollars on, to read.

    You see, the thing is, one can be a mate of this or that famous ‘other’, but to, you know, know how when, why, what and what, what it is you see, the special source and share of an everlasting poetry, then this is called spirit. You know that, don’t you?

    I got out of po-biz after losing all my money in the contest scene. I got a name for myself, and though I can’t prove it, my greatness was collectively conspired against by those less worthy of the name poets, only the phoney blares of three faux names, no Finn McCool, one two buckle my show, three four, feck off.

    It’s the day to go green through love, aglow yourselves a comedic mask, clown with tragic green hair, plastic ass sticking out of baggy shorts, in the land of saints and scholars, sinners dream of donning this measured gift Ogma and Appollo share.

  • On March 17, 2010 at 10:01 am Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

    I don’t care about “having a career,” I don’t care about having a community, and I don’t care about scholarly endeavors. I only care about having time and energy to write, and then maybe to have enough left over to get work out into the world.

    If I thought I could teach creative writing and/or composition classes and play the tenure game and still be able to write at the end of the day, I would have pursued academia. It’s wonderful to have an institution value what you do, and maybe a built-in community to support you. But my Master’s degree experience let me know that academia wasn’t going to get me what I needed. I could not balance the needs of my students against my need to write. I recently decided that a full-time computer job wasn’t going to get it either. To be honest, I miss getting paid eight dollars an hour to run a telescope in the middle of the night, because the time to write was endless. I am fortunate not to be torn by the desire to have children because I know that if I did, no amount of time and energy would be enough.

    Anyway, the problem with my approach is that nearly all the yardsticks for objective success lie in the academic world. The prestigious journals and presses are there, the funding, and the Fame. So how will I know when I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to accomplish? I probably never will.

    I am content with putting the work out there as an act of love, with the hope that I will somehow reach smart crazy freaks throughout time and space. But if I can’t produce, it’s excruciating, maybe because all my eggs are in this basket. So I have to take huge leaps of faith and to accept that any of them may end with me splattered at the bottom of a cliff. For me, the devil’s bargain is trading productivity, ambition, and creativity for safety. I refuse to take that trade again.

    Apologies for the vehemence.

  • On March 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    “Anyway, the problem with my approach is that nearly all the yardsticks for objective success lie in the academic world.”

    I’m not sure the problem is with your approach. I’m not sure how you’ll know when your own goals are reached on the one hand, but isn’t this where the old cliche of “writing is about you and the page” comes in? The markers, it seems to me, have to be there, not external.

    But this is why I continue to bring the subject up. What kinds of measures are we using to assess our own success? What kind of values are others using to assess success?

    I ran into an old professor of mine and she asked, are you still writing? That, for her, was success. Maybe now she would measure me differently…I don’t know.

    But why are we so concerned with any of this? The page, the page, the conversation, the page, and oh, yah, the poem. Remember that?

  • On March 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm pam lu wrote:

    The reader decides whether the work is successful or not.

    But which reader? Is that the question you’re asking?

  • On March 17, 2010 at 4:29 pm David Buuck wrote:

    Michael Gottlieb’s “Jobs of the Poets” seems relevant here. It’s a great essay—

    http://jacketmagazine.com/35/gottlieb-jobs.shtml

    DB

  • On March 17, 2010 at 5:10 pm Lori E. Mazzola wrote:

    I have been blessed to have been surrounded by poets, writers, and journalists of a high caliber. They have been key instruments in my trade. Thank you for writing such an amazing article! :)

  • On March 17, 2010 at 6:17 pm Marty Elwell wrote:

    I work in insurance. There’s a lot to be said for having more time and energy to write. In my mind, the perfect career for a poet is one that doesn’t follow you home, doesn’t steal all of your creative energy and doesn’t take up all of the daylight hours. I haven’t found it yet, but I need to start looking.

    I got an MFA to find more people interested in writing and to learn how to figure out what wasn’t working in my poetry. It helped…

  • On March 18, 2010 at 1:25 am Nikki Reimer wrote:

    Late-ish response to Chloe Joan Lopez re: this:

    “Anyway, the problem with my approach is that nearly all the yardsticks for objective success lie in the academic world. The prestigious journals and presses are there, the funding, and the Fame. So how will I know when I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to accomplish? I probably never will.”

    Thank you. Yes. Not too vehement at all.

    I’ve been internally / externally raging about this for awhile now.

    Not that my own writing necessarily suffers from the lack of being within the academy, ***and I don’t think it does*** but that my entire writing community is made up of academics. That journals are published on topics I would have liked to have written on but that I did not know about them because I’m not at the institution and don’t get on the mail lists. That my peers are all talking about such-and-such’s essay on this or that latest theory or so-and-so’s address at whatever institution that maybe I couldn’t attend because, oh, it was in the daytime on a workday.

    I can’t say that I personally care about fame, or even funding, though funding would be nice, but that it seems that all the important conversations about poetry today are had within the academy, and in making the decision to not be part of the academy, for a hundred and one reasons, one has to contend with always being a poet “on the outside,” if you will.

    The conferences. The conference that I couldn’t afford to go to because I’m out of work right now…..and if I was working I’d have had to have taken 1/4 of my yearly vacation days to attend it. But the academic types can all get funding to attend or at least for them attending counts for something beyond their own edification.

    Yes the page the page. But it’s about so much more than the page. It’s about discourse and conversation and reading and response and it’s difficult to insert oneself into the conversation whilst outside the walls.

    I could go on. This has touched a nerve. But I’ve been wondering lately if there’s any point in trying to do it as a non-academic. Not having “the career.” But being part of the conversation.

    I don’t mean to sound the victim and there are no perfect choices in life and work. Incidentally in trying to find a new remunerative direction I took a number of career assessment tests last weekend and one section involved gauging how well you might like certain careers…..poet was a choice. Poet is no career choice, I thought.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 1:29 am Eric Landon wrote:

    WARNING COPYWRITE PROTECTED: DO NOT PLAGARISE. BASTARDS!

    Call it having a career, a care, a community or even, if you dare, scholarly endeavor. Is Chloe correct: Should one only care about having ‘time and energy to write, and then maybe to have enough left over to get work out into the world.’ – ?

    Lopez brings up what some (possibly many) may think a very relevant point. The Academy Awards, Who’s Who, and how does one measure poetry in others? Unless one has ten thousand ‘deliberative practice’ hours in a tank of experience as the poet-critic curator in blah blah blah?

    The problem she (and possibly many others) ‘is that nearly all the yardsticks for ‘objective’ success lie in the academic ‘world.’

    The lesson Chlo Jo learnt on exiting her MFA curriculum, was a very powerful aversion to seeking tenure, ‘teaching’ and a seat of CW 101 at the sausage factories of Literature others effortlessly slip into. The integument of scholarly intercourse, difficult doctorates to disagree with, what, what, poetry: Yes?

    Colleague Queyras’ – sister Latino, poet – is ‘not sure’ what the ‘problem’ is with Chlo Jo. Both well educated professionals, as comfortable in corridor and quad of the most prestigious universities, as they are in front of an MFA audience when showtime beckons, I am sure of it, are very talanted human beings and possibly even.. I dunno.

    Like myself, less in demand for tenured poetic events, and free from the academic rigor a top flight ditty-maker experiences, she writes ‘interesting’ poetry of ‘experience’, I suspect, and along the path to self-knowledge, the same as myself, some very interesting verse is there, perhaps, in Lopez.

    But this attraction to Chlo Jo’s mind, is only remote and word-play on a name. I am in a similar boat career wise, essentially working in the different world not 9-5 but 24/7 I cannot even tell you my real name, because it’s illegal for me to appear here officially and seeing a glass half-full, not caring what or who knocks Eric Landon, a sad-happy drinking song of Frost I thought I could teach in creative composition class – the tenure of the game, at the end of the day, a 5 O’Clock square, is able to write in the still of class, also like Lopez, have not pursued a career in the Academy, because no one can employ me to teach, because of a state/condition characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements, a splitting of the mind, what Chloe Joan Lopez terms the institution value, that comes in schizophrenic wonder one has it down pat, building the in-community to support one’s imaginary Master’s degree in fine art experience letting one know that academia was.. I mean, wasn’t going to get what I do, you know that, don’t you?

    What

    Lopez needed, does not balance the needs of ‘her’ students in this now here and need to write the J-Lo recently decided a full-time computer job isn’t going to ‘get it’ either, being honest, Chlo Jo I mean, miss getting paid eight dollars an hour to run a telescope in the middle of a night, across the sky, seeking some comet in flght and distant galaxies far, far, light years hence, where no one’s gonna remember any of us: You, Queyras, Dave Buuk, Pam Lu, Lori E. Mozzala, Elwell Marty, Emily or me Eric Landon – not even my real name but a nom de guerre
    Chlo Jo, because having the life to write, time to write is limited. Eric Landon is unfortunate enough to be torn by a desire to have children, and to stay as he is, Sina and Chloe, a very happy single poet looking for love within to be correctly refracted by a poetic process, out to because and beyond I know, when I find it, no amount of time and energy would be enough to… I dunno – flarf that with a hey ho a nonny nonnny hey, the rain – see Emily – it raineth every day.

    Feste the Fool sings that on stages across the world Lori and – anyway – the problem with my approach is, I got swindled out of my pension by ‘so called’ organisers of ‘so called’ poetry ‘competitions’, who collectively wiped me out. I advise anyone reading to avoid poetry contests ar all costs. They exist to beneift a few. The more prestigious the better returning fees, the more reason to charge even more, playing the lottery of poetry contests where the chance of winning is zero percent. We will probably never know Dave Buuk the billionaire poet, but David Beckham, we know him.

    The games and innocent frolicks of a ‘so called’ organiser strata – managing editors whose ‘special guest stars’ raking a mint being faker and less-than, and with as much talent for ‘true’ poetry in their entire bodies, than in my own ‘special star guest’s Introduction: Poetry Assassin. What Can YOU Do! – small potatoes. Nowt personal. ‘I am content with putting the work out there as an act of love, with the hope that I will somehow reach smart crazy freaks throughout time and space. But if I can’t produce’ there’s no rabid fan-base to dissapoint, the stress of fame and riches, thankfully absent, and as a simple single lover of professional poetry, ‘it’s excruciating, maybe because all my eggs are in this basket. So I have to take huge leaps of faith and to accept that any of them may end with me splattered at the bottom of a cliff. For me, the devil’s bargain is trading productivity, ambition, and creativity for safety. I refuse to take that trade again.’

    What.

    Apologies for the experimental tenor everybody. Keep up the good work. I’ll get my coat.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 9:26 am Gwyn McVay wrote:

    Jesus HP Laserjet Christ, Ron, could the “polio” comparison have been any more ableist? I have a movement disability, albeit not polio, that sometimes requires the expense of considerable energy and pain just to get dressed in the morning. Literally, not figuratively. Just to get dressed. But for some years after my MFA, I could still bound merrily around like a little frolicky underpaid bounding poet; the two conditions are not connected. Ron, you silly man, could you have found no better metaphor than physical disability to say what you were trying to say? Really?

  • On March 18, 2010 at 10:15 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Wow, I’m Latino? Who knew.

    “I could go on. This has touched a nerve. But I’ve been wondering lately if there’s any point in trying to do it as a non-academic. Not having “the career.” But being part of the conversation.”

    Nikki, trends are trends, and they can be frustrating, yes. In Canada though, there really are opportunities outside of the system. The Banff Centre for one is not focused on the academy. And having access to health care makes being a writer much more possible in Canada.

    Part of the conversation I heard a lot in New York around finding the teaching job was at least as much about securing the benefits as anything else.

    In Canada, that’s not as pressing an issue…so again, what do folks want? Hasn’t the KSW operated outside of they system largely?

    The Toronto School of Writing is starting up, outside of the system as far as I know. It’s nice to have funding sure, but then you have the system to contend with.

    What would Guerrilla poetics look like?

  • On March 18, 2010 at 10:32 am Ann Bogle wrote:

    I lead the life of a writer whether I’m within a community or without. I am glad for my studies because they introduced me to reading — my independent reading is more relevant but also more disciplined due to school — and to peers and mentors. My disability is bipolar disorder, not discovered until I was in the second year of a cw Ph.D.-turned M.F.A. In fact, the dx. was based on a writing-related breakdown, mixed genre ca. 1991, one that I’d have again only more certainly next time, as a break through to book publication. What if experimental writing in an academic setting is more difficult? What if discovering it produced hunger & thrills adjacent to religion? The man in our group who had had polio died that year of AIDS.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 10:44 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I’ve been teaching children to write poetry for almost 40 years. California Poets In The Schools, full-time teaching, now Poetry Inside Out. Just finished a workshop at Sutro Elementary in San Francisco. Check out my blog entry on the Center for the Art of Translation site on teaching kids to translate from languages they don’t understand:

    http://catranslation.org/blog/2010/03/11/teaching-kids-how-to-translate-from-languages-they-cant-read/

    Here’s fifth-grader Andrea Chen:

    Every fluffy star
    in the sky
    speaks Peace as
    its first language.

    For awhile it looked as if poet-teacher might be a viable career choice for many. Cutbacks and teach-to-the-test have made such opportunities few and far between. I may be the last of the Mohicans, but I know I’m lucky to still be employed doing this work, and Medicare now picks up the benefits tab. I don’t see how I’ll ever be able to afford to retire, though.

    One poet-friend is a carpenter. He doesn’t have to be famous to get a gig. Just hammer nails straight.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 11:46 am KateBB wrote:

    The reality is that for the better part of our lives, most of us have to work for pay. Obviously academia is the solution for a lot of poets. It never appealed to me–I never enjoyed the classroom dynamic–so I was forced into other solutions. For a number of years I edited books, closely line-editing and working with authors. That’s where I learned the art of self-editing too, and the untold hours I spent “meditating on every “a” and “the” have been of enormous help to my own writing.

    Couldn’t do that forever, though; it was just too time-consuming. So I went to work as an admin. ass’t. in a field that didn’t matter to me (finance); there I earned more than I did as an editor and worked fewer hours. It wasn’t ideal — feeling unhappy and like a stranger takes a toll — but it was a more-than-just-okay solution.

    The business office is as fertile a place as any to find inspiration. There’s birth, death, tedium, triumph, betrayals, disappointments, fury, the whole shebang. When these discussions come up, I seldom hear poets addressing this aspect of things: that we take our poet minds with us wherever we go and whatever we do. Inspiration is everywhere.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 12:56 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    At the risk of beginning to sound like a fortune cookie, KateB, I agree, inspiration is everywhere.

    Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the value of life experience to our writing…how is that possible? The writers I love best have had diverse paths, in and out of things, always putting the mind and the page, not the bank account and stability, first.

    To each his or her own, absolutely, but stability and accolades aren’t poetry.

    I notice how little the work comes up in these discussions…funny about that.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 1:00 pm pam lu wrote:

    Wow, terrific essay. Amazing. Unflinching. Thanks DB for the link. And thank you Michael Gottlieb.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Actually, I thought that what mattered was the poet’s sense of success? Having achieved his or her goals?

  • On March 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm Don Share wrote:

    Patrick Kavanagh:

    “I am always shy of calling myself a poet and I wonder much at those young men and sometimes those old men who boldly declare their poeticality. If you ask them what they are, they say: Poet.

    There is, of course, a poetic movement which sees poetry materialistically. The writers of this school see no transcendent nature in the poet; they are practical chaps, excellent technicians. But somehow or other I have a belief in poetry as a mystical thing, and a dangerous thing.

    A man (I am thinking of myself) innocently dabbles in words and rhymes and finds that it is his life. Versing activity leads him away from the paths of conventional unhappiness. For reasons that I have never been able to explain, the making of verses has changed the course of one man’s destiny. I could have been as happily unhappy as the ordinary countryman in Ireland. I might have stayed at the same moral age all my life. Instead of that, poetry made me a sort of outcast. And I was abnormally normal…

    I suppose when I come to think of it, if I had a stronger character, I might have done well enough for myself. But there was some kink in me, put there by Verse…

    In 1942, I wrote The Great Hunger. Shortly after it was published a couple of hefty lads came to my lonely shieling on Pembroke Road. One of them had a copy of the poem behind his back. He brought it to the front and he asked me, `Did you write that?’ He was a policeman. It may seem shocking to the devotee of liberalism if I say that the police were right. For a poet in his true detachment is impervious to policemen … The Great Hunger is concerned with the woes of the poor. A true poet is selfish and implacable. A poet merely states the position and does not care whether his words change anything or not. The Great Hunger is tragedy and Tragedy is underdeveloped Comedy, not fully born. Had I stuck to the tragic thing in The Great Hunger I would have found many powerful friends.

    But I lost my messianic compulsion. I sat on the bank of the Grand Canal in the summer of 1955 and let the water lap idly on the shores of my mind. My purpose in life was to have no purpose.”

  • On March 18, 2010 at 2:24 pm pam lu wrote:

    But why are we so concerned with any of this? The page, the page, the conversation, the page, and oh, yah, the poem. Remember that?

    I read this as meaning that the poem, the work, is the real standard by which the poet’s success is measured, the only standard that really matters in the end. And that life choices–stability or no stability, academic or no academic–are really just conveyances to get the poet into the right kind of space so that they can write poems that “succeed”– e.g., generate more poetry, I like your expression of this. That’s why I think ultimately it’s the reader who decides. The poem is read. The poet is his/her own first and foremost reader.

    The anxiety of this is, can you ever truly know if you’ve succeeded? Does the validation of other readers besides yourself–other poets, critics, peers, reviewers, the kid in the library–make a difference?

  • On March 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    There are signs of a trajectory, there are signs of ascent, descent, wonder…there are signs for everything. I very much like the idea of a poem finding a reader and in that reader triggering something that might lead, among other things, to another poem.

    Romantic it may be, but poetry makes things happen whether you want it to or not. They’re just not usually visible, or evident, or measurable, or the way one might imagine one’s work making or not making anything happen.

    I’m with you, Don. Even after years of writing and publishing poetry I wasn’t comfortable donning the title…but I’m one who believes in a long apprenticeship with no guarantee of ever graduating.

    This whole attitude is hopelessly old-fashioned you know.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm Ron Silliman wrote:

    Gwynn,

    You are perfectly right. I should have thought of that. I apologize for that comparison.

    Ron

  • On March 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm pam lu wrote:

    Hopelessly old-fashioned, yes, but perennially radical.

  • On March 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I like what Patrick Kavanagh wrote, thanks Don.

    Poets don’t have careers. That’s what everybody else has. Poets are the only ones without careers. (Ever notice how nervous people are around poets? They don’t want to be contaminated by the uselessness.)

    Why?

    Poetry is a dangerous thing, said Kavanagh. A mirror rolling down the road. Time & space come to a stop & are suddenly whirling along there within a silver glittering disk…

  • On March 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm SherylLuna@gmail.com wrote:

    “Poets don’t have careers. That’s what everybody else has. Poets are the only ones without careers.”— Henry Gould

    Whew! There’s the explanation! This made my day!

  • On March 19, 2010 at 9:15 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Nikki,
    What you’re describing resonates with me. I wrote for many years before I took a job teaching. And then that job teaching took many years to turn into something…and so on. What I am trying to suggest is that there are many ways to create a fluid lifestyle that supports a balanced life in which poetry is a strand–there are many ways to be in the academy outside of teaching creative writing, for example, many ways to move into more professional jobs with holidays that will accommodate one’s interests and lifestyle needs…my point is that it’s actually a huge part of being a poet. One needs to figure out a way to sustain a life as a poet. All artists need to solve the problem. And I would argue that even the most imaginably perfect teaching job–isn’t.

    You’re young, why not do a PhD if you want? Or, as they are doing in Toronto, start a new writing school/book shop and make your own world.

  • On March 19, 2010 at 10:34 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Glad to be of help with your career -

  • On March 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm Brenda Schmidt wrote:

    “there are many ways to be in the academy outside of teaching creative writing”

    So true. I think of the work of some of the Canadian poets I keep returning to – Don Domanski, Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen, Sylvia Legris – all of which are critically acclaimed, undeniably distinct, and operate outside of the academy.

  • On March 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm SherylLuna wrote:

    Thank you Henry.

  • On March 19, 2010 at 2:29 pm Joshua wrote:

    One big reason to have a “career” here in the U.S. is health insurance. For oneself and for one’s family. I don’t think that can be an underestimated motivation.

  • On March 19, 2010 at 5:27 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Yes, I agree, Joshua. I understand that this is a big motivating factor for poets south of the border. I sense though, that this is becoming more of an issue north of the border as well–not the health care but the perception care for lack of a better word.

    In Canada one can have a pretty great standard of living, including not having to be stressed about basic health care (quality and waiting times being another matter), without having the “perfect” job or even a full time job. There is a great history here of supporting a variety of streams of writers and artists–thanks to the Canada Council and various other organizations such as the KSW etc.

    I really hope to see more divergent ways of making meaning for poets, and poetry communities. I still have heard from the urban planner/architect poet visionary…

    Hm? Hello?

  • On March 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm Michael Gottlieb wrote:

    Thank you David, and thank you Pam (and you too, Drew!). For those who are interested, a longer version of Jobs Of The Poets (and yet another shout out to John Tranter who originally published it in Jacket, and Al Filreis who is taking over Jacket), is going to appear in MEMOIR AND ESSAY, a book of mine which Faux/Other are about to bring out. The memoir portion of the book tells the story of early Language poetry days in NY. The book will be available through SPD.

  • On March 22, 2010 at 6:41 pm Glenn Ingersoll wrote:

    You should write more things that make you cringe, Pam Lu. I’ve actually found myself encouraged by writing things that embarrass me – it’s a strong emotion and if the writing makes me uncomfortable it’s better than making me sleepy.

  • On March 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm pam lu wrote:

    I agree, good advice! Embarrassment is the great self-conscious barrier that must be overcome on the way to the wellspring. Together we will cringe, Glenn Ingersoll, as we type abject Morrissey-type haiku on the slanted rooftops of our neighboring refurbished doghouses…

  • On March 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Yes, cringe is good. Well, actually it feels crappy, doesn’t it? But it’s a chance I take over and over again.

    Thanks to everyone who posted here. It’s hard to speak of these things.

  • On March 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks` Michael. I also liked it very much. Look forward to the book. Thanks for letting me/us know.

  • On March 23, 2010 at 1:18 am Seth Abramson wrote:

    If ever I want to know about what’s going on in the world of MFA programs, Ron Silliman is the first person I go to. I can’t think of anyone better qualified to speak to what MFA applicants believe — and are being told — about this degree in 2010. That the nation’s 3,500 annual full-residency MFA applicants are routinely being assured by undergraduate mentors, program faculty, program administrators, fellow applicants, and freelance journos that acquiring an MFA degree will immediately secure them one of the twenty-five tenure-track creative writing jobs available in the U.S. each year is, admittedly, not something I knew myself, but I can believe it because Ron, who follows this more closely than anyone — repeat, than anyone I could think of or name — has said it is so. That this fraud is being perpetrated on such a wide scale — that 3,500 young poets and writers are annually being convinced that they can all, simultaneously, be successful in securing twenty-five full-time positions, is an abhorrence. And yet it’s so easy for young poets and writers to believe — after all, if you attend an MFA you must be half a drooling idiot anyway, so why shouldn’t 3,500 fit nicely into 25 mathematically? I can only lament that so few of those 3,500 young poets and writers wish to attend an MFA for the same reasons Ron did: i.e., to be “put in touch with other writers” and to have “extra time to read.” If those 3,500 young poets and writers were as intelligent and perceptive and (importantly) as *committed* to innovation in art as Ron is, it would be all but impossible to compare a Master’s in creative writing to polio, as clearly it wasn’t at all like that for Ron. Alas — there are so few people who understand MFA programs. Certainly few who understand them as well as Ron does (and has since the 1960s, the last time he was involved with one). Hopefully in the years ahead those 3,500 annual applicants to MFA programs will begin to understand — though whether they have the mental equipment for such understanding is in deep doubt — that attending an MFA program may “put one in touch with other writers” and give one “extra time to read.” I must admit, sadly, that four years of researching MFA programs and writing countless freelance articles online and in print, and an equal amount of time interviewing hundreds and hundreds of MFA applicants in person and via e-mail has led me only (indeed!) to a more dire conclusion than Ron’s more charitable one: apparently 91% of current MFA applicants say that they are applying to MFA programs “for the sex.” That’s followed hard upon by the 86% who report that they are primarily attracted to such polio factories by the “absolute, iron-clad, unretractable assurance of a job immediately upon graduation.” I’ve tried to point these folks to all the CHE articles pointing out that there *are* no such jobs available, but alas, lamentably, nearly 78% of the nation’s 3,500 annual MFA applicants don’t own a computer or, owning one, do not know how to turn it on.

    S.

  • On March 23, 2010 at 1:50 am Seth Abramson wrote:

    P.S. Maybe the revolution has already started? I just went onto one of the three primary MFA-applicant blogs (which I had assumed were all incredibly difficult to find, until I put the acronym “MFA” into my Google search engine, and just such a site was the fourth hit out of 10.3 million), and I randomly selected the first comment I saw: a young male MFA applicant who wrote, quote, “I am pursuing the MFA for two primary reasons, 1) TIME, and 2) surrounding myself with like-minded people.” What struck me about this was how much it sounded exactly like the reasons virulent MFA opponent Ron Silliman recently gave for attending a Master’s in creative writing program in the 1960s! I was shocked by the correlation, and then thought to myself that if only there were other MFA applicants who felt the same as this randomly selected young writer, perhaps matters would be nothing at all as Ron has so ably described them in this post. But I must restrain myself from such enthusiasm–Ron’s unique vision of the MFA as a place young writers go for “time” and to “surround themselves with like-minded people,” will never be realized in my lifetime. Such is the sad state of affairs. –S.

  • On March 23, 2010 at 8:20 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks Rachel Levitsky for pointing out Dale Smith’s poem on the matter of the poetry career over at Absent.
    http://absentmag.org/issue03/?p=25

    Here’s a snippet:

    You can be drunk staggering fool
    high on any manufactured pharm
    barfing your morning ritual
    hung-over sleep-deprived waiting
    for that first can of beer

    You can subvert the romantic modus
    of genius, inspiration and taste
    but that’s old hat

    You can sleep with a teacher or student
    to break the transferential code
    of pedagogy or simply to make
    a name in the banter
    that makes a scene a scene

    You can be reserved, austere, pitiless agent
    of the toothless muses
    but take it easy
    someone may laugh

    You can publish the elder poets whose work
    remains in neglect, make a name
    for yourself as another maker of
    maps in the poetic geneaologies

    that might perhaps counterbalance Seth’s staggering statistics.

  • On March 23, 2010 at 11:02 am Mabool wrote:

    Merciyoubahbeleemistergiftgavesweedoolooshowooley

  • On March 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm Mabool wrote:

    Things are slow on this corner of the web right now so I will present my second and last chapter of Internet history. Seth Abramson I recognize from the old days. I was Monsieur La Terre back then, French, but about five years ago I had to change to Mabool, Hebrew for flood or deluge.

    Unlike Poet B ( B=Helsinky ), who I have already described here on Harriet, Poet A was on the web only briefly, nine years ago. Like B, A usually posted in English. Unlike B, A used her real name, and it was clear that she was French, although the name was not Francophone.

    L’éventail dans la main
    bat son-la-si plein
    sur les-ci draps de lin
    frais l’été-ci sur le salésucré
    lin si mordu l’été
    sans crainte des trous
    dans la toile.

    Her written English on the web was impeccable, but on the phone I learned that her spoken English was not automatic. She was alert to the smallest things and paranoid and so when I got to France I asked no questions. However the name of a Polish village which sounded something like Little Maui was vocalized. When I got back to the States I tried to find this with google and eventually was led to Libiąż Mały. I fired off an email in English to Libiaz. I was answered in the Polish Language. Libiaz is now in part crumbling Soviet-style exurbia, nondescript dispiriting unlovely and inglorious, adjacent to the Polish city of Oświęcim, know to the world by its German name of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the 1930’s and 40’s Libiaz was separate, and the Janinagrube sub-camp was located there, equal to the coal mine and coal-fired power plant which supplied electricty to the Camp. One of the relatives died in the Camp, my Polish Language correspondent told me, mentioning the Polish custom of “the plucking of goose down”, skubania pierza, which is part of remembrance.

    Prawdopodobnie o tej tragicznej historii ktoś ułożył piosenkę. Kobiety podczas zimowych wieczorów i skubania pierza, śpiewały ją. Niestety nie znalazłam nikogo, kto mógłby pamiętać chociaż trochę tekstu tej piosenki.

  • On March 25, 2010 at 11:58 am Joshua wrote:

    This is like reading the history of someone’s digestion.

  • On March 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm Don Share wrote:

    … which reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson –

    Fame is a fickle food
    Upon a shifting plate
    Whose table once a
    Guest but not
    The second time is set
    Whose crumbs the crows inspect
    And with ironic caw
    Flap past it to the
    Farmer’s corn
    Men eat of it and die

  • On March 25, 2010 at 3:54 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I heard the Earth was famous in this part of the galaxy.

  • On March 25, 2010 at 5:15 pm Mabool wrote:

    I put a portion of this story on your blog and was surprised you let it remain. As I indicated over there, at other boards my posts were often deleted and my password revoked.

    We can see for example, how unhappy Joshua is with the whole thing.

    Blogspot is falling behind Facebook and will probably shut down. No one is going to mass produce java script for small blogs and Harriet is probably going to shut down. The written word on the web that we have known for the last ten or fifteen years is probably at an end. The unimaginable future is now the long forgotten past.

    Drumadruma skimaskim brushabrusha broombroom

  • On March 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm roz wrote:

    I actually read Joshua’s comment as a compliment. A history of digestion– isn’t that a description of a praiseworthy feat?

  • On March 26, 2010 at 10:21 am Joshua wrote:

    It was just a fact of my reading experience, neither good nor bad. It’s as if someone decided to describe the history of their digestion on a post about poetry and careers. But it doesn’t really shock me that mabool might have been booted from other boards and blogs and whatevers. Another crusader for truth held down by the man! If only there were some platform for easy publishing of one’s opinions on the web! Then he could use such a platform, but sadly since it’s all top down here on the web he must come to where the action is and post his missives here. Sad.

  • On March 26, 2010 at 11:19 am Mabool wrote:

    If I am abusing the board as you say, why don’t the moderators simply delete and revoke? Moderated boards generally do not allow abuses. What is it that the moderators see that you don’t?

  • On March 26, 2010 at 11:32 am Henry Gould wrote:

    I read Mabool’s post as interesting in itself, though I didn’t understand it. & relevant in its irrelevance – a little picture of a world far outside the enclosure “careers in poetry” (with a glance at a very different kind of enclosure…).

    More interesting than your easy put-down makes out, Joshua. Just my opinion.

  • On March 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    At this point it’s all crop circles.

    I have a few more jobber poets to add to the list when I find a minute.

  • On March 27, 2010 at 7:16 am Mabool wrote:

    i have a new poem,
    fresh as a silverbottomriver fish.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 by Sina Queyras.