A while back, Joseph Hutchison posted this poem on his blog:

To Writing Programs: A Canticle
This way, that way, that way, this,
Here and there a fresh love is.
—Robert Herrick,

Realize the greatness
of your voice. Inspiration
comes in many forms.
Discover the writer's life
in New York City.
(You're not in Iowa
anymore.) Write
in Miami! Write
from the Heartland.
(We'll let our reputation
speak for us.) Write
from the heart
of writing. (The world's
focus is on our faculty.) My
words, my time, my MFA.
Otis emphasizes the writer's
ability to articulate
innovation. What makes
us different? Expect
more. Big thinking
for a big world.
Finally—an MFA
that trains you
for a career, not just
a genre. Study
your way. (Scribbling on
the ether.) Achievement!
Change the world
with words.

Pretty funny, I think, and thoroughly nauseating.

Like everything else in America, poetry has become a racket. It promises you much more, deep meaning, fame and an oblique sex appeal, perhaps, than it can deliver. Get a loan--quick, before the bank shuts down altogether!--go into debt and in return you will be taken seriously by (mostly moonlighting) poets the rest of society doesn't give a caesura about--except during Poetry Month, of course. Just pay your tuition on time and at the end of the tunnel, you will have a comfortable, middle class career coated with a bit of bohemian juju, or so the student is led to believe. If everything goes well, you can encourage the next generation to stumble down this same path.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against young people wanting to learn about poetry or poetry writing. Those are beautiful yearnings, to be encouraged, but the system as it's set up demands a careerist mentality from both purveyors and suckers. Like every other ponzi scheme, it must entice its customers, the students, so that they don't shop at the next stall. This, it does mostly by flattery, since the poet's ego is always vulnerable and eager to vibrate. Poebiz must present its models, the professors, as somehow significant and relevant, though they may be nothing but careerist creeps. Oh shit, has the mike been on all this time?!

The mike is on?!

OK, all I mean to say is that the academy is fine and neccessary but it’s not good when nearly all of our poets are walled inside it. The academy is a utopia because that’s where our most untainted, optimistic and beautiful gather, and I’m only talking about the students, of course. Poets shouldn’t loiter in paradise. Paying through his nose, a young person drops into utopia, does a few hits of acid then leaves, but you can’t get rid of a tenured rhymeister with a crowbar, even if he hasn’t written anything in decades, if ever.

Originally Published: April 1st, 2010

Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...