Friday, April 30, 2010

On the matter of the Laureate

There are some aspects of the contemporary poetry world that I find particularly disturbing. The fact of what Emily Warn described recently on Harriet as the Pyramid Scheme that is the MFA industry is one. The popularity contest is another. That I allowed poetry to become muddied this way bothers me. I don't take readers or followers of this blog lightly. Nor do I take my friends and my network of poets lightly. So, that I spent time this week advocating for votes is strange and a little off-putting.

On the other hand, the best part of the entire process was hearing from people who share a similar vision of poetry. People who believe in poetry as community, but not a community made only of inspiration and support, but of advocacy and difficulty, of agitation and experiment, innovation and archive, disagreement and challenge, a community that presses one another to think beyond and move beyond the small world of the "I."

As well, I heard from family, which for me was particularly sweet. My only living maternal aunt, some 80 years, got wind and was advocating on my behalf. She got hold of cousins I have not seen in twenty years and urged them to vote. My uncle was a politician, and my aunt understands the process of acquiring votes you see, so it was a surprise, her energy at my virtual doorstep, and if anything spurred me on, it was her desire to aid me in this way. Poetry, she may not quite understand, or like, but votes--that she could do.

So while I am thankful for that energy, it is back to the actual work of poetry now. Which is, as I said in a Tweet the other day, more a business of silence and introspection than self promotion and publication. Whether the poetry is conceptual, or lyric, or narrative, or formal, or comes from a place of play, or political will, or a desire to express emotion, silence is the air of poetry, the depth, the elasticity. There is a reason writing poetry takes time--and it is not only about the crafting of it, or the gathering of material, it is that relationship to self and to values that one needs to constantly keep in check.

As for the laureate, the tie, the sudden calling of the vote without letting anyone know that the voting was actually over? It's actually a fitting end I suppose. A reminder that, as Mr. Jacob Mooney said, people make too much of things. And it is arbitrary and artificial, unlike the oil that will reach the shore some time this afternoon. That is very real. And at the risk of sounding melodramatic, that, and our addiction to oil is what we need to be taking more seriously.

Thanks again to all who voted and advocated and believe in poetry. I was truly inspired by your support. And congrats to my competition.

I will report on the matter of my status of half-laureate and what I will accomplish with my tenure shortly. Perhaps we should have been required to supply these statements prior to the madness?


Rachel Dacus said...

Insightful comments about the dichotomy between the public, "po-biz" aspect of the art, and the introspective and communitarian aspects of making art. I'm glad for this competition, Sina, as it gave me an opportunity to read and now follow your excellent blog. Keep up the good work, it's a gift to us all.

Don Share said...

This is gracious, graceful, and humane. *Like*

Daniel Zomparelli said...

Wonderful post. I also just want to comment on how it seems poets appear to take everything quite negatively or maybe misunderstand is a better word. It was weird how, although there was very few negative words spoken in the blogs themselves, commenters and some poets were taking these words and turning them into words that they considered "sour." Now, this is coming from a kid of internet upbringing, so maybe I don't understand where these poets/commenters are coming from, but I assume it is from the medium. Blogs and comments have been pushed to such a black/white, bad/good, love/hate dichotomy, that anything that isn't praising is considered an insult and instead of creating discussion it creates opposition.

You had stated in your reading that blogging and the entire structure of the internet is built on creating apposing sides, which proved to be true.

But then again, poets are always up for a fight (ie. everything posted on the Poetry Foundation blog).

Digress. Your reading was amazing. I hope that the poet laureate blog time allowed for poets to at least have some fun. I wish poets could learn to step back and not take everything so seriously, and I say this in the least sassiest way I can (which is really hard for me to do).

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks Rachel, Don. Still a bit startled by it all...but again, very touched by the show of support last night, and these past two weeks.

And very worried about our oceans!

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks Daniel.
It's strange, isn't it? This is perhaps the strand of thinking that the "going negative" critics are responding to (and if that's the case, in this instance, I might back them...). I've long advocated that a default position of "negative" in reviewing and discussing poetry is really not great for poetry worlds, and I do believe that still.

But I have never said that sharing opinions that aren't similar to mine is negative. There seems to be an unwillingness in some quarters to engage in anything but excessively positive affirmations and anyone who introduces the least bit of self-reflection is cast as being negative.

Or yes, as you say, anything that isn't praise is necessarily an insult...