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Poetry—Unlike sports, an unregulated industry
Quiet is usually kept extremely well. Speculations and whispers circulate, underground and in backwaters. Yet bad things occur, and God-awful things happen. Tires are slashed. Snail mail is rerouted to oblivion. Pending tenure thought favorable is suddenly denied. Despite well-honed syllabi and books ordered on time, classes are reassigned to another schnook on the day they’re set to begin. In these, and like situations, there is no recourse, no one to take to court. The would-be workshop instructor or seminar lecturer is left to fill their emptiness with speculations, in anger or dismay, a devastating activity when no reason is given save a crimp in the academic protocol. Poets who manage to stay out of the classroom don’t always fair much better. For the unlucky and the poor, potential writing time is spent toiling at less satisfying professions to make money. The poor ones pass the hats at readings, slams, and fund raisers. They sell books, CDs and, increasingly DVDs—if they feel they have something to sell. The recluses don’t worry about this stuff. But poets who are activists, in one literary arena or another, are repeatedly faced with the quandary of undesirability or lack of salability. Seldom does the right prize, honorarium or endowment come along. Often competing for these in an unregulated market, where mean-spirited cliques and biased clowns proliferate, is like being chased across the moors by the Baskerville Hound. Influential friends and/or influential critics do literary careers make. No matter how diligently practiced the craft, if the work is not sanctioned, forget it. Unlike athletes who make godzillion dollars for the best 5-10 years of their lives, American poets remain sorely underappreciated, underpaid, and under sung. It’s a tragedy that’s made allies of many different voices within the art. That—at least—is a good thing. The best news: Lab tests for steroids and illegal drugs are rare.