It's the economy, stupid
I will have to agree with Olena that now that Sarah is back in Alaska, I can now stop tourettically clicking the refresh button and begin to think about poetry.
To assess the last three months? It’s been an obsessive relationship I have had with the Internet. Occasionally I managed to extricate myself from the cold glow of my computer and transform obsession to action: a stint to Philly, for instance, where I canvassed for Obama in immigrant neighborhoods. While Obama’s Ivy-League education was a handicap to working-class white Americans, all I had to do when speaking to Korean immigrants was mention “Harvard” and “Obama” and they clapped their hands and demanded an extra Hope button for their minister.
But other than those rare occasions, I basically had an intravenous tube running from my veins to dailykos, FiveThirtyEight, talkingpoints, andrewsullivan, huffingtonpost (even a gander at the National Review to see who else might be defecting from the Right) and all online newspapers. I’ve had conversations with poets who moaned about procrastinating due to their helpless addiction to the Internet. Perhaps Nate Silver (he of FiveThirtyEight) should do a graph on the productivity level of writers from the month of September – November. Can you imagine the sharp downward slant marking everyday you wasted hours monitoring polls from Zogby to Gallup? Am I just speaking for myself?
Of course, after the election, there are other means of distracting oneself with life’s realities—such as the economy! I am concerned how it will affect the arts. Many artist friends of mine are nervous. Last week’s auction portends a grim future: no more fat cats hanging out at Chelsea openings, no more glowy features on fresh-out-of-Columbia MFA painters in the pages of Vogue. This could be a very good thing. My boyfriend, who is a video artist (this commercially handicapped genre is kind of like the poetry of the art world), is elated. He hopes for a return to thought-provoking, subversive art that can exist outside the gallery confines. An end to vacuous painting. A return to the 70’s where video artists like Vito Acconci stalked strangers (who shockingly got an MFA in Iowa for poetry! Will mull over this in another future post). Art will be liberated from the wayward clutches of the market.
Will the economy affect poetry at all or how poetry is decimated? Probably not. For the absurdly obvious reason that poets must earn their bread somewhere else like the inner sanctums of academia. Look back to the 90’s recession which blasted away 80’s decadence and injected a political/multicultural awareness in the art world. As far as I can tell, I can’t detect any kind of shake-up in the poetry world during that period. It is a blessed thing—I think—that poetry can continue to be uncompromised by market. (Although a shake up won’t be so bad for the poetry world). One concern I have is how the economic downturn will affect small presses. One marvelous trend in the last ten years or so has been the proliferation of innovative small presses to offset the domination of anointed first-book prizes and major publishers. Many of these presses seem to be funded by universities and I wonder if these presses will suffer since universities will be doing major cutbacks. Will there be less incentive to start new presses and journals because of the lack of funding? Or will there be more? I’m not an expert on this. Just thinking aloud. I guess we will see.
Cathy Park Hong is the author of Translating Mo'um, (Hanging Loose Press, 2002); Dance Dance Revolution (W.W. Norton, 2007), winner of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; and Engine Empire (W.W. Norton, 2012). She is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the NEA, and the New York Foundation for the...