The Lost Poets

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking again and again about something Mark Doty posted on Facebook related to the connection between poetry and the idea of (or the term itself) “the academy.”

I was initially irritated by Mark’s implication that poetry existed only within colleges and universities these days, as from my perspective, this is not the case. Then I went back and, in an effort to refresh my own ideas, reread his Facebook note and found myself not in disagreement with him as his actual writing was much more measured and fair than my initial reading of it. The text follows:

I’d like to encourage everyone concerned to just drop that tired descriptor, “academic.” It no longer means anything. Here are some reasons: 1) Much of the reading, thinking about, and appreciation of poetry in our moment takes place within the context of a university or college setting. 2) Since poets are the ones teaching poetry, the curriculum reflects a great variety of preferences; there’s no one sort of poetry favored. 3) If you’ve ever taken a workshop, taught one, been engaged by a book of poems by someone who makes their living as a teacher, been to a summer writers’ conference, or been to a reading sponsored by a college or university, you’re “in” the academy, too. 4) The idea of “the academy” is a myth; a great variety of educational institutions in the U.S. support the reading and writing of poetry, in one way or another, and these schools do not collude, conspire or even agree. 5) It’s hard to imagine what would have become of American poetry without university support, given the character of the second half of the 20th century here. Like a lot of people, I found the art because of a Poetry Center sponsored by a school (in my case, the University of Arizona). It was a place that furthered the education of my spirit, and — I don’t exaggerate — probably saved my life.

But regardless of my personal experience, it seems pretty clear to me that “academic” now means zero, nada, zilch! Let’s bury the term.

I’ve been trying to negotiate these ideas both through my own experience and through my perception of the poetry community as a whole (if it can be so examined). My conclusion is difficult to come by; I feel a tremendous sense of conflict about the notions as stated, what they represent on a larger cultural scale, and how I and others can fit into the current perceived situation.

I recognize many of my peers and colleagues earn their living and health insurance through teaching in some way. It’s true that even I, in the last few years, have worked in this way, either directly in a workshop room or indirectly by coordinating workshops for others. But I don’t know if my personal experience in this area–literary nonprofit organizations–fits with Mark’s assertion. While yes, we were teaching people how to write (at best) or simply engaging their interest in writing (at least), we were perceived by our audience as non-academic, as not the academy. I would say this is true of our national organizations like The Loft, Grub Street, Centrum, The Attic, and Lighthouse Writers, all of whom exist very purposefully outside of the more concrete identity of the “academy” and tend to draw audience to them for precisely this reason.

Does the teaching of how to write poetry alone make something an “academy”? If so, we should let the rest of the traditional academy know as in my own experience, the creative writers were reviled, devalued, or simply ignored by the more “serious” academics who toiled there. I pose this as a serious question.

I was introduced to how to write poetry in 8th grade, by a poet who provided a weeklong residency to my school. I also had a teacher in high school who very intentionally fed me the criticism, readings, and support necessary to continue writing. Are these, too, academies, even if their content fell far outside the normal realm of lesson plans and curriculum standards? Almost all of my poetry instruction in high school occurred in after-school meetings or independent studies. And true, in college, I participated more traditionally in the workshop model of instruction, and true, I pursued an MFA in the academy. All of these were necessary steps for me. But not for all.

Over the last few years, I have encountered and had the pleasure to work with some amazingly talented poets who live entirely outside the academy. I’ve come to understand this is more common than many people think, particularly those who spend the majority of their lives and careers within the academy.

These “outsider” poets generally have no idea that poetry is so entrenched in higher education. They perceive poetry as open to everyone, not as a cloistered and privileged pursuit. They have less awareness of the inner machinations of what some folks call “pobiz” and are generally the happier for it. They may or may not have heard of AWP if they’ve attended it. They read many poets, focusing, perhaps, on what their friends in their poetry circles are reading, what has been nominated for national awards, or what their booksellers or librarians recommend.

I think this community of poets is growing not more larger, but more visible. We can account for the growth in MFA programs as one factor contributing to the ever-larger crowds at AWP, but I think, too, that the Internet has afforded outsider poets new opportunity to become tourists in the other world of poetry. And I believe they are enriched in their visits–they encounter new journals they may otherwise have little or no access to in the real world, they meet new colleagues, they hear their favorite poets give readings.

I respect Mark’s perspective and don’t wish to imply his statements are wrong. I will say my experience suggests the divide between “the public” and “the academy” is generally only perceived by those within the academy. Those who are outside are fortunate for they generally have no idea they are outside of something.

In my thinking, poetry is something many Americans do respect, appreciate, and value. It’s just not the way most contemporary poets would prefer they value it. We (and I include myself here) would rather our fellow citizens read our books, attend our events, engage in dialogue. We want citizens to come to us–to find our location, which, as Mark wrote, is very often within the walled garden of the academy.

But poetry in America, I think, is less about location and more about occasion. You can lead an American to poetry, but you can’t make her or him read. Americans want to read poetry not where they want, but when they want.

Poetry is our natural impulse for processing sadness, grief, and loss; for celebrating momentous happiness like births and marriages; for ushering in a new era when a President takes office; for communicating the tremendous value a single person has or had in our lives.

The most widely read form of poetry in America? The greeting card.

Poets all over America who read this just cringed. I’m not overly thrilled about it myself, but I also think that’s my own arrogance creeping in. Who are we to determine what poetry is “valuable”? That’s a dangerous path to tread as it invites us to make all sorts of exclusions–some random, others purposeful. It is precisely that impulse to exclude that has helped us construct a falsely white male canon of literature.

A tremendous number of people also write poetry. If you want to determine how many, simply let the person sitting next to you on an airplane know that you write poetry. If you make them feel comfortable enough, you can bet they’ll regale you with some of their own verse. Of course, these poets are “untrained,” so they’re probably not worth listening to–which might be an attitude you’d find inside the academy, where training is the necessary credential for access. Outside the academy, nobody cares. Those people aren’t writing for audiences and adulation; they’re writing for themselves, maybe their families, maybe some friends. And that is awesome.

The people will select their own value. We live in the era of self-aggregation, where everyone gets to curate their own content to their own liking. I’m not saying poetry should take over the greeting card industry, although I would enjoy sending cards so much more if we did; but I am saying that we need to remember that poetry matters to a great many people, in ways that extend far beyond our own books, our own classes, and our own presses. We don’t get to choose the way it matters to them, or even when. They will find us when they need us. In the meantime, we keep writing, we keep recording, we keep remembering.

Consider life without the NEA

Here’s roughly half of the literary organizations receiving support from the NEA in 2010.

Consider the number of presses, publications, and author support organizations here, and then consider how your involvement in advocacy will make a difference this year.

A Public Space Literary Projects, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
$10,000
To support the publication of the quarterly literary magazine A Public Space. The journal will pair emerging writers with mentors to develop new pieces of fiction for publication.

Academy of American Poets, Inc.
New York, NY
$35,000
To support the publication and promotion of American Poet magazine. The Academy also will expand its online publishing initiative, poets.org, which serves nearly one million visitors each month.

Alice James Poetry Cooperative, Inc. (aka Alice James Books)
Farmington, ME
$36,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of books of poetry. The selected poets will also read from their works at venues around the country.

American Poetry Review
Philadelphia, PA
$10,000
To support the publication and distribution of American Poetry Review. The journal will expand its reading audience through direct mail campaigns, Web promotion, and advertising.

Antioch University (on behalf of The Antioch Review)
Yellow Springs, OH
$5,000
To support the publication and promotion of The Antioch Review. The journal will hire a part-time staff member to carry out a Web-based marketing campaign, and increase support for artists.

Archipelago Books, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
$54,000
To support the publication and promotion of works of fiction in translation. Proposed titles will be translated into English from German, Swedish, Russian, Arabic, Dutch, Polish, and Croatian.

Aspect, Inc. (aka Zephyr Press)
Brookline, MA
$20,000
To support the publication and promotion of new bilingual books of poetry by Zephyr Press. Proposed works will be translated into English from Chinese, Polish, and Hebrew.

Badgerdog Literary Publishing, Inc. (on behalf of American Short Fiction)
Austin, TX
$20,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of the quarterly journal American Short Fiction. The journal also will publish short stories exclusively on its website, updated monthly.

Bard College (on behalf of Words Without Borders)
Annandale-Hudson, NY
$25,000
To support publication of Words Without Borders, an interactive website devoted to international literature. The free-of-charge website features audio recordings, nonfiction, short stories, poems, and novel excerpts drawn from more than 66 languages in 86 countries.

Bard College (on behalf of Conjunctions)
Annandale-Hudson, NY
$10,000
To support the publication and promotion of the journal Conjunctions. Published twice a year, each issue of the journal has a unifying theme and averages more than 400 pages.

Big River Association (aka River Styx)
Saint Louis, MO
$5,000
To support the publication and distribution of River Styx, St. Louis’s oldest literary magazine. Contributors are selected from an annual pool of 6,000 submissions.

BOA Editions, Ltd.
Rochester, NY
$30,000
To support the production, promotion, and related expenses for new volumes of poetry and fiction. Scheduled authors include Peter Makuck, Wyn Cooper, Craig Morgan Teicher, Anne Germanacos, Barbara Jane Reyes, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, and Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Boston Critic, Inc. (aka Boston Review)
Somerville, MA
$15,000
To support the inclusion of fiction and poetry in the general interest magazine Boston Review. Fiction selections will be chosen by novelist and editor Junot Díaz.

Boston University (on behalf of AGNI Magazine)
Boston, MA
$15,000
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal, AGNI. The journal will automate its website, continue a direct-mail campaign, and place advertisements in a national publication.

Bowery Arts and Science, Ltd.
New York, NY
$10,000
To support the publication and promotion of books of poetry. Authors include Cynthia Kraman, Fay Chiang, Celena Glenn, Rachel McKibbens, and Ishle Yi Park.

Center for Religious Humanism (on behalf of Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion)
Seattle, WA
$10,000
To support the production and promotion of, as well as increased writers’ fees for, Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion. The journal will increase its national reach through a direct-mail campaign.

Center for the Art of Translation (on behalf of Two Lines)
San Francisco, CA
$7,500
To support the publication and promotion of anthologies of literature in translation. The center will publish one book of Francophone literature and one of Arabic literature.

Children’s Book Press
San Francisco, CA
$36,000
To support the publication and promotion of multicultural and bilingual board books for early readers. The press will continue a five-year program to encourage reading among bilingual children.

Coffee House Press
Minneapolis, MN
$72,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of volumes of poetry and fiction. Scheduled writers include Karen Tei Yamashita, Travis Nichols, Andrew Ervin, Aaron Morales, Ange Mlinko, Greg Hewett, and Lightsey Darst.

College of Charleston (on behalf of Crazyhorse Literary Journal)
Charleston, SC
$7,500
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal Crazyhorse. The journal will undertake a direct-mail campaign as well as increase its print runs, author payments, and advertisements.

Colorado State University (on behalf of Colorado Review)
Fort Collins, CO
$7,500
To support publication and promotion of the Colorado Review. The journal will offer free subscriptions to 150 rural public libraries.

Copper Canyon Press
Port Townsend, WA
$84,000
To support the publication, promotion, and national distribution of books of poetry. Proposed authors include Richard Jones, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Jean Valentine, Ruth Stone, Stephen Dobyns, Juan Ramon Jiménez, and Chase Twichell.

Creative Nonfiction Foundation
Pittsburgh, PA
$5,000
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal Creative Nonfiction. The journal will launch a redesign of its issues, featuring long-form essays, as well as columns about books, writers, and the craft and business of writing.

Curators of the University of Missouri at Columbia (on behalf of The Missouri Review)
Columbia, MO
$20,000
To support the publication, promotion, and related expenses for The Missouri Review. Audiobook versions of the journal also will be produced.

Dalkey Archive Press
Champaign, IL
$48,000
To support the publication and promotion of works of translation of fiction and nonfiction. The press will publish titles from Albania, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, and Slovenia.

Emerson College (on behalf of Ploughshares)
Boston, MA
$10,000
To support the publication and national distribution of Ploughshares. The editorial policy of Ploughshares stipulates that each issue be guest-edited by a writer who is given editorial autonomy to apply his or her aesthetic vision.

Fence Magazine, Inc.
Albany, NY
$15,000
To support the publication and promotion of Fence magazine, titles by Fence Books, and a catalogue. Scheduled poetry titles include Ben Doller’s Dead Ahead, Aaron Kunin’s The Sore Throat, and Martin Corless-Smith’s English Fragments/A Brief History of the Soul.

Four Way Books, Inc.
New York, NY
$42,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of books of poetry. Scheduled authors include Priscilla Becker, David Dodd Lee, Jamie Ross, Daniel Tobin, Monica Youn, and Megan Staffel.

Graywolf Press
St. Paul, MN
$96,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of volumes of poetry and creative nonfiction, with an emphasis on international fiction and emerging and mid-career writers. Scheduled authors include Alyson Hagy, Jeffrey Allen, Robert Boswell, Per Petterson, Bernardo Atxaga, Nathacha Appanah, Tiphanie Yanique, and Maile Chapman.

Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts
Houston, TX
$5,000
To support printing expenses, website development, and artist fees for the journal Gulf Coast. The project also will include a free reading series, a literary contest, and a small press journal and book fair.

Heyday Institute (aka Heyday Books)
Berkeley, CA
$15,000
To support the publication of an anthology of African American writers in California. Contemporary emerging writers will be featured alongside established authors such as Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, James Madison Bell, and Maya Angelou.

Kenyon Review
Gambier, OH
$15,000
To support publication and costs and related expenses for the Kenyon Review and KR Online. The publication will integrate its print and online content and will launch a marketing campaign to promote both the journal and the website.

Les Figues Press
Los Angeles, CA
$5,000
To support the production, distribution, and promotion of new works of poetry and prose as part of the press’s TrenchArt series. The series specializes in innovative literary work that may not fit into a specific genre.

Milkweed Editions, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
$66,000
To support the publication and promotion of works of poetry, fiction, and an anthology. Scheduled authors include Eric Gansworth, Kira Henehan, Éireann Lorsung, and Arra Lynn Ross.

Muae Publishing, Inc. (aka Kaya Press)
New York, NY
$5,000
To support the publication and printing of Asian American literature. The press plans to promote its titles with reading tours, conference appearances, on the Internet, and through direct mail.

Narrative Magazine, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
$10,000
To support the artists fees for Narrative Magazine, a free online journal of new literature. Recent contributors have included Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, Amy Tan, and T. C. Boyle.

One Story, Inc. (aka One Story)
Brooklyn, NY
$15,000
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal One Story. Each issue features one short story by one writer.

Orion Society
Great Barrington, MA
$15,000
To support feature-length pieces of literary prose in Orion magazine. A bi-monthly literary and visual arts journal devoted to exploring the relationship between people and the natural world, the magazine currently has 20,000 subscribers.

Oxford American Literary Project
Little Rock, AR
$15,000
To support the publication and promotion of the literary magazine The Oxford American. The magazine continues to highlight the work of emerging and established Southern writers and Southern culture.

Poetry Flash
Berkeley, CA
$10,000
To support the publication and distribution of Poetry Flash, a free tabloid of event listings, readings, workshops, and literary news. Divided into geographical sections, Poetry Flash lists programs throughout California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest.

Provincetown Arts Press, Inc.
Provincetown, MA
$5,000
To support publication of the 25th anniversary issue of Provincetown Arts. The press will improve its website, increase artist fees, and publish a companion anthology of previously published work.

Rain Taxi, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
$10,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of the Rain Taxi Review of Books. The quarterly magazine has a national circulation of 18,000 copies.

Rose Metal Press, Inc.
Boston, MA
$5,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of works in hybrid genres. Scheduled books include a book of essays and poems exploring the craft of writing prose poetry, a chapbook of short short stories, and a book of prose poetry.

Sarabande Books, Inc.
Louisville, KY
$40,000
To support the publication and promotion of collections of creative nonfiction and poetry. The press will promote its authors online to rural and urban schools and libraries.

Small Press Distribution, Inc.
Berkeley, CA
$60,000
To support the development and dissemination of print and online outreach materials to market small press titles and journals to bookstores, libraries, educators, and other readers. Approximately 450 small and independent presses are represented.

Sun Publishing Company, Inc. (aka The Sun)
Chapel Hill, NC
$5,000
To support printing extra copies of The Sun to distribute free to community college libraries across the country. The Sun is a monthly magazine with 65,000 subscribers featuring prose, poetry, interviews, creative nonfiction, and photography.

Teachers and Writers Collaborative
New York, NY
$30,000
To support the development and dissemination of materials related to the teaching of creative writing and the literary arts. The collaborative will publish Rouse Our Rhyme, a book on teaching poetry in the K-12 classroom, issues of the quarterly magazine Teachers & Writers, and issues of an e-newsletter.

Threepenny Review
Berkeley, CA
$15,000
To support authors’ fees and promotion costs for The Threepenny Review. The proposed issues will be promoted through a direct-mail campaign, collaborative literary events with other organizations, advertising, appearances at local book fairs, and the journal’s website.

Tupelo Press, Inc.
North Adams, MA
$25,000
To support the publication and promotion of new collections of poetry and international literature. Proposed authors include Gary Soto, Ellen Doré Watson, Michael Chitwood, Megan Snyder-Camp, Rebecca Dunham, and Stacey Waite.

Ugly Duckling Presse, Ltd.
Brooklyn, NY
$10,000
To support the publication and promotion of books of poetry and a book of prose, poetry, photography, and essays. Proposed authors include Demosthenes Agrafiotis, Clark Coolidge, Marosa Di Giorgio, Eugène Guillevic, Christian Hawkey, Cole Swensen, and Ivan Yauri.

University of Central Missouri State University (on behalf of Pleiades & Pleiades Press)
Warrensburg, MO
$5,000
To support the publication of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing and books of poetry. As part of its Unsung Masters Series, the press will publish a book of essays and a sampling of poems by an under-appreciated poet.

University of Chicago (on behalf of Chicago Review)
Chicago, IL
$5,000
To support publication and promotion of a special issue of the Chicago Review focusing on new writing from Italy. The journal will bring featured writers to Chicago for readings.

University of Hawaii at Manoa (on behalf of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing)
Honolulu, HI
$7,500
To support the publication, distribution, and design of the literary journal Manoa. The journal features literary poetry, prose, and translations as well as photography and visual art.

University of Houston (on behalf of Arte Público Press)
Houston, TX
$30,000
To support publication and promotion of anthologies celebrating the 30th anniversary of the press. The anthologies will feature previously published poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction celebrating the best of Arte Público Press.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (on behalf of Ninth Letter Literary Journal)
Champaign, IL
$5,000
To support the publication of the literary and arts journal Ninth Letter. Issues will feature new literary prose and poetry from new and established writers as well as graphic design produced by students at the University of Illinois School of Art and Design.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst (on behalf of Jubilat)
Amherst, MA
$5,000
To support the redesign of Jubilat’s website and to print and promote issues.Recent contributors to the journal include Daisy Fried, Terrance Hayes, Cathy Park Hong, Karen Volkman, and Rosemary Waldrop.

University of Nebraska at Lincoln (on behalf of University of Nebraska Press)
Lincoln, NE
$20,000
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of translated fiction and literary fiction and creative nonfiction. Featured authors include Isabelle Eberhardt, Édouard Glissant, Olivier Rolin, Ana María Shua, Toni Jensen, Terese Svoboda, Robert Vivian, Fleda Brown, Ellen Cassedy, Sonya Huber, Patrick Madden, David Mogen, Jon Pineda, and Tracy Seeley.

University of North Carolina at Wilmington (on behalf of Ecotone)
Wilmington, NC
$5,000
To support the publication and promotion of a trade paperback collection of Edith Pearlman’s work. Other planned activities include raising artists’ fees and a cross-promotion of this series with the biannual journal Ecotone, which seeks to bridge the gap between the literary world and the worlds of science and environmentalism.

University of Texas at Austin (on behalf of University of Texas Press)
Austin, TX
$7,500
To support the acquisition, publication, promotion, and distribution of English-language translations. The University of Texas Press is an international press, dedicated to publishing English-language translations of literature from all over the world with a specific focus on Latin America and the Middle East.

ZYZZYVA, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
$5,000
To support the publication, promotion, and related costs of Zyzzyva, a journal featuring the work of West Coast writers. Each issue includes approximately 20 writers, one-third of whom have never been in print.

How to Be Community

Been thinking about Steve Fellner’s post here about perspectives on gay male poetry community.

There are a few things I personally think are important about being in a community, any community, and having good experiences there:

1. Be nice to other people.
2. Don’t say shitty things about other people in the community.
3. Help other people get to where they’re going.
4. Respect that people have different expectations of the community.

Not saying shitty things about other people doesn’t preclude the necessity of critical writing on others’ work–but such writing can be done respectfully.

I think about Tyra Banks, how she hates girlfights. A girl got kicked off Top Model a few cycles back for throwing beer in another girl’s weave. You know why? You don’t throw beer in another girl’s weave. This cycle, Tyra called out Celia for revealing to the judges that Tahlia didn’t want to be in the competition. She made coy allusions to her feud with Naomi Campbell.

“You don’t mess with another girl’s money,” she said. Or, for us (since there is no money in poetry): you don’t mess with another girl’s right to write what she (or he) writes.

I don’t love all gay poetry. Some of it I don’t even really like. But I make no claims of being the arbiter of good taste (in fact, I think we can all agree that I often confess to being the Arbiter of Questionable Taste, or at the very least, the Arbiter of Fourteen-Year-Old Girl Taste). And I wouldn’t want to do anything to someone in my community that would, in Tyra’s words, mess with another girl’s money.

It’s not true for everyone. And so what? Everyone has different expectations of the community. So I don’t get to say they’re doing it wrong if they spill beer on my weave or mess with my money.

I don’t go into the community expecting to get something. I try to go with something to give away. Maybe I sound very Buddhist right now, and I’m okay with that, but I always think about what my mom used to tell me when I’d complain about not getting any mail:

“You have to send a letter if you want to get a letter.”

Yeah. Community’s like that.

For Your Consideration

This slick little site just popped up on my radar. What do you all think?

WEbook is a revolutionary online book publishing company, which does for the industry what American Idol did for music. (Modestly speaking, of course.) Welcome to the home of groundbreaking User-Generated Books. WEbook is the vision of a few occasionally erudite people who believe there are millions of talented writers whose work is ignored by the staid and exclusive world of book publishing. It just makes logical sense that if you create a dynamic, irreverent, and open place for writers and people who like reading to meet, write, react, and think together, the results are bound to be extraordinary. Cue WEbook.com, an online publishing platform that allows writers, editors, reviewers, illustrators and others to join forces to create great works of fiction and non-fiction, thrillers and essays, short stories, children’s books and more.

It’s All Official Now.

The papers are signed….

The powers that be have been notified….

So now I can tell you…

I’m leaving ASU effective June 20! I’ve accepted the Director position at The Writer’s Center, a literary nonprofit community center, in Bethesda, MD!

For those of you keeping score, this is my 18th move in 13 years. At roughly 2300 miles, it tops my previous record of carting sticks of furniture 1750 miles from MN to AZ. This time I’m pretty much taking books and clothes, and that’s about it.

Never a dull moment here at kinemapoetics.