I hear a lot about the state of poetry these days, which seems to be something like Nevada – mostly wasteland with a bit of flashing lights and empty dreams here and there. I recently reviewed an essay collection, for example, that talked about how poetry needs to come down from the elitist heights to the piss and shit where the common man apparently lives. This is a common theme. The folks writing this stuff say poetry has become inaccessible to the apparently slow minds of the common man. They say poetry is dying and it’s the MFA programs’ fault! I think this is a bunch of bullshit, and the folks saying this need to get out and actually go to a poetry reading every now and then.
Let me be frank (I’m so tired of being CL!): I’m not the biggest fan of MFA programs for a couple reasons, but the idea that they’re churning out the same types of writers across the board is an idea born of laziness. The kind of writing referred to, here, is ‘experimental’ writing. Let’s not split hairs; we’ll just pretend we know what that means (stuff that’s really hard to read and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense?) – but not all MFA programs endorse experimental writing. Mine didn’t. Actually, to be honest, I attended two programs (I transferred) and neither did. So how about that?
Also, the idea that MFA writers are the only ones writing and publishing is bunk. Maybe the prizes are going to mostly these writers, sure, but really – name me an art form in which the ‘prizes’ aren’t rigged. Go ahead. And we’re not talking about money when we talk about the survival of the art form; we’re talking about vibrancy. And I have to say that when I do readings (maybe 2-3 a month) I see a lot of different folks in the audiences and a lot of different folks behind the mic. Some of them are probably MFA students, but a lot of them don’t seem to be. And a lot of different kinds of poetry are being read. I was at a reading a couple days ago with an open mic which included poets reading formal poetry, spoken word, prose poetry, etc. on any number of topics. And it was accessible.
There are a lot of journals out there publishing a lot of crap. Nobody’s arguing this. Most of the ‘hip’ journals and the ‘hip’ writers will not be remembered by history, as has always been the case. But there are quite a few solid writers out there chugging away. And they get into print. I see them. I read them. It’s our duty, as writers and readers, to applaud these good writers and to defame the bad. Just because someone’s popular or hip – or a journal’s popular or hip – doesn’t mean it’s any good. But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water; don’t say poetry’s dead just because there are a bunch of crappy poets out there. Find the good ones. Support their work. Fight the good fight.