Rabbit Holes

"tuff turf" is from Minneapolis artist Brock Davis's collection "2012 iPhone photos," favorites taken over the past year. Lots of wonderful images to be found. 

Amidst teaching classes and finalizing my poetry manuscript (!), on Friday I'll fly to Michigan for a Saturday night reading at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center with Jill Osier. They have designed a broadside of one of my poems--but I don't know which poem. Since it'll be on the snowy side, my sightseeing plans are modest: a series of coffeeshops, the local art museum, and Bell's brewery. Then on Wednesday, February 6, I will trek up to Charlottesville for a reading with the VQR folks. It will take place at OpenGrounds, an interdisciplinary space that didn't even exist when I was at UVA. 

There's been a lot of "po-world" conversations buzzing around the internets in the past month, from Robert Pinsky's announcement that Slate will no longer publish poems; to Richard Blanco's inauguration day poem (and, dare I say, his Huffington Post essay that probably won even more hearts in the writing community); to the laughable inauguration poem authored by James Franco, which becomes less funny when you realize he has a contract for a collection with Graywolf, an opportunity so many poets work their whole lives toward; to the headlines determined to frame Sharon Olds' T.S. Eliot prize in the context of her divorce; to this ridiculous blogpost by Washington Post staffer Alexandra Petri, which was immediately smacked down by Coldfront's John Deming and others. 

I never know how far to go with these discussions, especially in the strange space of social media. The problem with Facebook is that people (myself included) go on too long; the problem with Twitter is that we have to keep comments so short. What I do know is that if I get physical flashbacks to the days of my college debating society--sweating, nausea, loss of circulation in a foot too long folded under me--that's a bad sign. Besides, so much of it is momentary, passing. This is not the month that poetry will live or die in contemporary culture. Poetry is a coelacanth, lurking and ancient. Yet it's also the sparrow; everywhere, accessible. Poetry can take care of itself.

That said, the moments that have interested me have not been Poets vs. The Philistine World, but Writers Disagreeing With Writers. The latter is getting lost amidst the bluster of the former. I was surprised to see a respected editor say on Facebook that Sharon Olds is a particular case who has earned having a heavy biographical reading applied to her work because she lacks attention to craft. I disagree. And I would love to have a deeper discussion of that, looking at exemplar poems from the perspective of line break and figurative language. 

I was surprised when poets said that the "fiscal pressures" that led to Slate's editorial decision (though I doubt that is the real, sole reason) should be allayed by having poetry editors volunteer their time, and poets forgo contributor fees. That is categorically bad precedent to set. No magazine that pays should be encouraged to think of poetry as a mode that isn't "real work" and needn't be compensated in a manner comparable to other genres. Even if that means venues wither along the way because their ROI isn't judged sufficient. But there are poets I respect who would disagree with me. And that's the conversation I'd like to have, in real time and space. Not on Twitter.

AWP in Boston is coming up in March. Most attendees joke about the fact that the hotel bar and the offsites are as much the destination of the in-conference events. It's because the discussions we are craving most can't be pitched months in advance. They lace together news and gossip, personal experience and bias. I'm game to go down the rabbit hole with y'all in discussing these issues, and others. But only if we can hold hands along the way, and drink from the same bottle of potion. You can't hold hands online. As for the potion--well, that's why I carry a flask to AWP.