The Argotist Online
(Jake Berry’s interview where he responds to the responses can be found here)
hard to refute Berry’s narrative concerning poetry in the U.S. and his
assessment of poetry in the 21st century, though I’d bet many will make
attempts, if they take him/Grumman seriously. At a certain level his narrative
is dead on. However, all narratives are subjective and problematic.
response/alternate ideas/wildly subjective opinions:
note on the above poets: most wouldn’t fit into either school Berry mentions.
Okay, maybe Lowell, Bishop, and O’Hara would fit into The Iowa School, but to
be honest, I included them (Lowell and Bishop), as an afterthought and Frank
O’Hara gets a pass because he ran with some famous people, and Don Draper, a
character from the HBO series Madmen, read one
of O'Hara's poems aloud in Episode 1 of Season 2 (?). See how
objective/informed decisions are made?
lens (and maybe too fine a point):
journals run by universities are pretty darn conservative. Having been the
poetry editor at a fairly respectable literary journal, I understand why this
happens. More often than not, the poems in the slush pile are read by undergrads
or grad students who’ve barely cut their teeth when it comes to reading
poetry. They are responsible for jettisoning the bulk of submissions. The
remaining manuscripts are then passed on to one or two editors or an editorial
board. If a poet is doing something fairly new/interesting, she probably won’t
make the initial cut; if she makes the initial cut, her poems may have to pass
the noses of two or three editors or an editorial board. In this case, too many
cooks spoil the soup.
main reason this affected the Iowa School: tenure and promotion. A professor in
a creative writing program once told me that administrators at his university
would only acknowledge poetry and fiction publications in journals that were
listed in a certain print index (published by a fairly conservative publisher).
You don’t need to know the name of the index, but you should know that some
university librarians and many academics in the humanities weren’t familiar
with said index. Needless to say this index excluded MANY decent and even
excellent literary journals. If a poet can’t get published in the “top
tier” journals, then it’s unlikely that a university press will publish her
book. If she can’t publish individual poems in “respected” journals, or if
she can’t publish a book, then bye-bye academic job and hello cubicle or
academic poets won’t be remembered. Most Language poets won’t be remembered.
And, of course, most Otherstream poets won’t be remembered. Today, we remember
Wallace Stevens, a lawyer who worked in the insurance business and reached
something we could perhaps call fame late in his life; Emily Dickinson, a
recluse whose work was found after her death; Silvia Plath, a young
up-and-coming poet who committed suicide; Charles Bukowski who worked a variety
of demeaning jobs and survived mainly through the grace of a very diligent small
press editor; Walt Whitman, who self-published his own work and then hawked it
in the streets. There are multitudes of contemporary poets out there. Survival
will probably depend on the quality of the work (in a few cases) and whether or
not an influential person finds the poet and champions his or her work.
poets I like from previous generations who aren’t in the list above: Charles
Bernstein, Lorine Niedecker, Simon Perchik, C. D. Wright, John M. Bennett, Frank
Stanfod, Jean Valentine, Hank Lazer, Edwin Brock, Bill Knott, and many you’ve
probably never heard of. Will their work survive? I hope with all of my heart
that it will/ I try not to worry about it.
© Alan May
May holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama. His poems
have appeared in The New Orleans Review, DIAGRAM, 9th St. Laboratories,
Scythe, Willow Springs, The Nervous Breakdown, and others. He is the
author of two books and his latest e-chap, Tracking
Systems, is available for free through Argotist
Ebooks. He is a part-time lecturer in the School of Information Sciences at
the University of Tennessee.