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Two Perspectives on the Whole AWP-MFA-Glut Thing

By Harriet Staff


Remember the other day when we posted on Seth Oelbaum’s explosive piece at HTMLGiant? It’s caused something of a perturbance in the blogsphere and spurred poets to do what they do best this time of year: get dirty on AWP. Hey, we’re guilty too! To keep the fires well-stoked, make your way over to The Volta where one blogger responds to Oelbaum’s spirit of blatant self-promotion, writing:

Congrats to the author for recognizing that an inflammatory article featured on HTML Giant—most of whose readership will assuredly be attending AWP, contribute to whatever “glut” there may or may not actually be—and concerning both the glut and AWP would get his name circulating in, well, places like this. Poetry sites with almost as many writers as readers. I’m embarrassed enough about my perpetuating this publicity machine, so I won’t include a name directly. That said, as a fellow young kid trying to make it in the poetry world, I appreciate the tactic, if not the lack of tact. Hence this bit. In the tiny world that is (professional) contemporary poetry/poetics, a hubub of forty-seven comments is a big deal. A sizable population.

Approaching things from this lens of self-publicity—the slamming of MFA’s by an author who advertisedly has one; declaiming of known, named poets with jobs like those the author presumably wants as “bourgeois”; and identification of one’s well known mentors as among the 1% doing something “real”—the article assumes its proper ironic registers. Yet as neat as all this is, I’m trying to avoid digging in. Isn’t my reading of ironic-self-publicity enough? Isn’t that what’s actually going on? Need I get caught up in the specifics of what’s designed for me to get caught up in?

Then the post looks at the problem young poets face as they try to get an audience to pay attention to their burgeoning work/careers:

I really hate this move, this sort of publicity. I really hate that as young poets we feel that we have to do this sort of thing to get noticed. That we may, in fact, have to do this sort of thing to get noticed. To get anyone to even look up our chapbook. To even think about getting a book book. To even think about thinking about getting a job in our field. This seems to be the larger point of the article.

Attention-getting is certainly a rough racket. Blog-bombing is one way to get it. Here’s another way.

The Volta wasn’t the only one to respond. Lina Ramona Vitkauskas offers sagacious perspective and (much needed/appreciated) humor about the whole AWP-MFA-Glut thing.

Ok. I don’t know who this kid is who wrote this piece for HTMLGIANT, but I read it. And I’m responding with my own post addressing AWP because a lot of people seemed pissed off about it, and some sort of articulate it and/or stay out of it because they can’t really say much or it might mess up their job. I respect that.

So, AWP, yes, it’s a massive trade show. All that’s missing are the chicks in bikinis and a drawing for a Prius…it’s capitalism, blah blah blah. No news here. Tell me something good (as Chaka & Rufus so eloquently put it).

Lookit, I think the reason everyone is disgruntled and/or conflicted about this hot-mess of a integrity-killer is because what it sets out to do (create a genuine community) backfires immensely, because like everything else in this country, when it’s corporatized and flattened out like a big map of Disneyland and the ticket price is $300, we all feel like David Bowie at a 90’s University of Arizona fraternity party (“Play Smashmouth, thin white dude!”). It’s ruined when the corporate seagull flies by and takes a huge crap on your poem-pile/piece ‘o art. This should not surprise anyone who has been doing it a long time. And by a long time, I mean, more than two years out of an “MFA” program.

The long and short of it is this:

My take: AWP 
is more for the fiction writers. They know who they are and they know where they stand. They’re in it to sell books and they’re not shy to say so. That’s what they do. I’m not saying poets can’t sell books. Sell away! Have a blast! But, poets (we awkward bunch of nee-erds) tend to gather at off-site
 events in dark rooms, read our stuff to one another (and for ourselves) and get shit-faced. The audience at our stuff is mainly other poets. It’s a
 circle jerk. I’m sorry to use that term, I’m not trying to be offensive, but
 that’s what it is. Poets stroking other poets and themselves in front of other poets. And by stroking, I mean touching you awkwardly on the knee after a few pinot noirs and saying, “I really like your work.” And you saying, “Thanks, man.” (And you not saying back to me that you also like my work and me going home trying to reconstruct that conversation to frame it as a simple oversight, not to make a huge deal out of it, because I’m not an egomaniac, I’m not going to read into the fact that you did not return my compliment.) … I’m sorry. Are you still reading this?

The two posts make good points, so please make you way over and read both. And yes, we’ll see you in Boston next week!

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 1st, 2013 by Harriet Staff.