To: The Reanimated Membership and Interested Parties
From: Chinee, The Grand Poohbah
Subject: Picking Up Where We Left Off
Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone. Why wade into a controversy that is old news, has dropped from the radar, is barely relevant at this point, and can only make enemies and alienate people (poets, in this case)? Although The New Black Bart Poetry Society proposes to be more sensitive to issues of common courtesy, it might be instructive to dig (archeologically speaking) into this particular affray and have a closer look. The membership will no doubt remember that among the suggested topics for discussion listed in the Provisional Mission Statement was one entitled Professional Poet, Harbinger or Oxymoron. What follows touches (gingerly) on the heat generated by the perceived professionalization of the art of poetry.
Unless one is in the habit of surfing HuffPo, an item last November comparing a Pulitzer Prize winning poet to Rush Limbaugh might have escaped notice – Google “Rush Limbaugh of Poetry” if you are among the pathologically curious. It is an onerous comparison, but certainly not one beyond contemplation. If the poet had been Charles Bukowski, perhaps, but The Buk, although the best selling poet in the world if you believe the sales figures, did not win the Pulitzer Prize. It might have been Ferdinand Celine, but he doesn’t qualify, and besides he is also way past worm repast. No, this Limbaugh-ish poet is none other than Franz Wright. Ok, take some times to riffle through your poet rolodex. That Franz Wright! Son of James Wright, also a Pulitzer winning writer. And what did Wright fils do to earn that sobriquet? He spoke nasty on Facebook* about MFA** writing programs. Imagine!
As evidenced by some of the commentary to the post by David Biespiel at The Rumpus, what Wright said regarding academic writing programs had already been addressed in other forums so they felt justified ignoring the rhino in the classroom and proceeded, instead, to concentrate on the poor man’s mental health. The temperature of their concern was tepid at best. Was Wright’s mental health at the root of this outburst, not the prize winning poet’s very real issue with MFA writing programs turning the participants’ minds to mush? Or perhaps, more properly, misleading the mush?
Biespeil’s screen shot of a Facebook reply by Franz Wright to a request to ‘like’ an MFA Writing program was a cheap shot befitting the snark arena, and typical of the low blows of that self-aggrandizing, self-devouring, attention seeking milieu. No one really speaks to the issue of Biespiel’s violating someone’s private space. Self proclaimed lords of the internet know no shame and from their relative anonymity goad their mindless and equally anonymous followers to continual platitudes. Bullies and sociopaths have found a new playground.
Is it such a stretch to guess why an innocuous request would set Wright off? Aside from the mental health issue everyone seems so intent on pointing out, and which, of course, for poets is somewhat de rigueur and will always be a part of the persona – really, does anyone in their right mind choose to be a poet?*** Granted, to be asked to ‘like’ something in the endless polling that passes for opinion on social media can be irritating. No reply is the common recourse. After all, no one is under any obligation to respond to unsolicited requests for approval. In this instance, perhaps it is the sheer banality of the request that broke the poet’s patience. Since the link to the Rush Limbaugh of Poetry is easily searched there is no need to re-post the screen shot. Salient extracts should suffice.
“MFA programs have turned poetry into an occupation, and a joke. . .have weakened American poetry, have desecrated into an artifact instead of the result of the soul’s progress in solitary devotion. . .a real writer has always sought solitude, not group therapy. . .writing programs have lowered the bar so far down anyone can trip over it and get a degree & consider themselves A MASTER OF THE ART OF POETRY. . .real talent means nothing now – a business sense and niceness is all [that is required]. . .we now have more writers than readers of poetry – we have ACADEMIC POETS as THE GREAT ASPIRATION OF 21 YEAR OLD KNOW-NOTHINGS, the very enslavement real writers have been fleeing forever. . . .”
In the great scheme of things regarding the pros and cons of the relevance of MFA writing programs, Wright’s outburst (more of a snarl) is piffle. The private is made public. But that’s what the poet does, isn’t it? Cassandra-like, perhaps, a warning. More disturbing however is commentary to the post, a chorus of mealy mouthed self-justifications, the droning self-assurance of those who have imbibed the kool-aid of the MFA party line. Hardly anyone in the initial seventy two hours worth of commentary addressed Wright’s contention of the evils of MFA programs, and when they did, dismissed them as old news. To Franz Wright it is not old news, and it is a cause for concern.
Imagine if Antonin Artaud had been asked to ‘like’ someone’s writing program. The response would probably read something like this: “All writing programs are pig wallow. People who come out of the workshops trying to put into words what passes for poetry are pigs. The whole writing program scene is a pigsty, especially (name program here.) And so on.
As Wright contends, it is impossible to encounter within the frame of a graduate degree what it takes a poet a lifetime to learn. Writing programs encourage the cult of undigested regurgitated curriculum, a prime example of the adage that a little knowledge is dangerous. Those who become poets are self-nominated and spend the rest of their lives proving it to themselves. To paraphrase something Ted Berrigan once said, writing workshops are a good place to meet people who also dislike writing workshops. An MFA will serve no purpose unless the poet candidate has PIE: personality, intelligence (inspiration, imagination), experience. If poets have PIE they don’t need no stinking MFA.
Submitted to the Membership,
Chinee, Grand Poohbah,
*Facebook is the ultimate bourgeois tool, a social registry that offers a clear stratification of class, originally designed for the wannabe educrat.
**MFA stands for “Middle-class Fashion Accessory”
***True poets have always been wild men and women, autodidactic outlaws.
Notice: Meetings will now be held in the anonymous ambiguity of cyberspace where many of the rules of classical physics, polite society and poetry don’t always apply hence a blog named Parole being one of those wonderful linguistic occasions known as a paronym in which a word functions in two or more languages without a change in lexical characteristics though there may be considerable semantic drift. To participate in the virtual meetings see the menu item Conditions Of Parole.
Recent poetry additions to the Society bookshelves:
Maureen Owen, Edges Of Water, Chax Press, Tucson, AZ
Lucille Friesen, The Grass Is Greener, Coracle Press, Montreal, PQ
Lucille Friesen, Primavera Patagonica, Ideal Café Editions, Sebastopol, CA
Andrei Codrescu, So Recently Rent A World, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, MN
Norman Schaefer, Fool’s Gold, La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, NM