Poetry News

The Editors of Commune Editions on Gwendolyn Brooks and Opting-Out at Jacket 2

By Harriet Staff


At Jacket 2, the editors of Commune Editions write about "opting out," particularly in relation to Gwendolyn Brooks. She's one of our favorite poets. The editors of Commune Editions are pretty far up there too. Learn more here! Begin reading, here:

As we’ve been writing about our thinking over the last few years, we’ve been attempting to understand what sorts of forces shape poetry. We have often turned to political economy to attempt to understand the impact of late 1970s precarity on the genre. At other moments we have attempted to understand the poetry institutions — its conferences and its foundations and its not for profits and its publishing houses and its creative writing programs in higher education and its distribution modes and also its DIY tendencies. At other moments, the state’s funding of poetry and use of it in soft diplomacy. As we have written these thoughts, we have not arrived at any sort of easy and legible story. If anything we've noticed a sort of mess of connections among these various sorts of things, forces that push and pull contemporary production in various often contradictory directions.

Not infrequently, as we have shared these thoughts, it has been presumed that we have some sort of ideology of purity. That we think that if one just refused to do something — to teach in a university, to go to AWP, to not apply for an NEA — then one's poetry could be free or ethical or politically right. And yet that has not been our intention. We are not convinced that one can opt out of much of this. Or at least not conference by conference. Nor one by one as individuals. All of these forces write all of us. We feel these pressures on our own work and we know we are involved in many of these institutions and we do not know how to opt out of them in this current world we live in (and part of our interest in attempting to think about what poetry might look like in a different world after a revolution originates with this realization). Plus, we are often naïve; at moments we don't even know what we are getting ourselves into. Once we did a workshop for a week in Tijuana. When we finally got paid, we noticed the check was from the Department of Energy. We still do not know why the Department of Energy was funding cultural diplomacy, but when we got the check we had the slightly queasy realization that we had naively agreed to be a part of the soft power of the Department of Energy and not realized it. And yet to not attempt to understand these forces as an artist and to say well the fact that the workshop was sponsored by the Department of Energy doesn't matter because poetry really doesn’t do anything and the Department of Energy (here functioning as a wing of the State Department) is dumb to think this or to say we talked about Mark Nowak's Coal Mountain Elementary and that book is very cool and also workerist and about the damages of energy would be naive at best. If poetry does nothing really meaningful for the state, the state’s involvement in poetry does something to poetry. Figuring what it does seems part of what poets should be doing.[...]

Feed thy brain!—while reading this essay at Jacket 2.