Audio Contest, AWP, And The State Of Poetry Today

The Missouri Review hosted an audio contest. The winners of the poetry competition were announced:

First place in subcategory and Editors’ Choice Award, $100: Todd Boss, “To Wind a Mechanical Toy”
First runner up: Todd Boss, “Yellow Rocket”
Second runner-up: Runner up: Susan B.A. Sommers-Willett, “The Golden Lesson”
Third runner-up: Eric Torgenson, “Taking Tickets”
Fourth runner-up: Josh McDonald, “Women in Strange Trousers”

Chekhov’s Mistress Lives It Up Big

Bud Parr is salivating. It’s AWP week and Andrew Sullivan threw him some link love, which led to a pack of ants strolling through his picnic.

I’ve got to say, I’m not all that big on conferences and group activities. It sounds as though Bud is much the same way:

I’ve been to a lot of conventions and most of them are sickening to one degree or another, but there was a certain harmony of purpose at AWP and despite one table of dour interns (from a publisher we know) everyone was pretty enthusiastic about what they were doing.

So from the sound of things, AWP must be a blast. Sorry I’m missing it.

Interesting Quote Of The Day

This is an interesting quote:

“A new, non-corporate internationalism is emerging in literature, an independent web of associations and alliances at whose centre, like a brooding spider, lurks 3:AM. This collection is essential reading.” – Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder

Ron Silliman’s Brilliance

Ron Silliman and I are on the same page. He received a questionnaire from the Poetry Foundation and publishes his answers on his blog. Tidbits:

There are presently at least 10,000 publishing English-language poets. There may in fact be twice that number – it really depends on what percentage of publishing poets you think have active weblogs dedicated to the subject (if it’s ten percent, then the number is 10,000, but if you think the percentage is lower – as I believe – then the actual census of publishing poets would be greater).

And the common wisdom is that we need to promote poetry in order to get more people to read it. I don’t think that’s the problem. I think we have a lot of people who read poetry, and sadly, too many of them think they can write it.

The consequence is that there are more active poets now than ever, but that the total addressable market for any given book of poems is likely to be much smaller.

This isn’t exactly very encouraging. I think the landscape is such that if you don’t have an MFA your chances of finding a publisher for your poetry is severely diminished. Add to that the increasing nichification of poetry and the number of potential publishers that might consider publishing your poetry is even less. Throw in the economics of publishing and the situation is even bleaker.

To speak in this social context of “the decline of poetry” strikes me as completely missing the mark. It is possible that fewer people are reading certain types of poetry and/or certain types of poets, but there has never been so much poetry being written in the United States. I suspect, but can’t prove, that there has never been so much poetry being read in the U.S. as well, only that it is in a far more decentralized and fragmented fashion than before. We do not have a single national poetry audience, but rather hundreds if not thousands of smaller audiences, some of which overlap with one another, but many of which do not.

Is it any wonder then that our poet laureate doesn’t feel any obligation to promote poetry? Why should he? We’re already reading it.

And the final gem:

I am not at all certain that any MFA program should admit a student who cannot name a minimum of 100 books of contemporary poetry – published in the past 25 years – and say a little about each. And I am not sure that I would graduate any student who did not then seriously read 200 more such books over the next period of time – some schools require as few as 25 – and again could say a little about each. This would lead to far fewer students coming out of these programs with only barebones knowledge of what is being done today, far fewer students having to reinvent the wheel, and a much richer sense of what is actually possible in contemporary poetry, from slams to the new formalism, from flarf to narrative, from the prose poem to visual poetics.

And this is the part that is embarrassing for me. I’m not sure that I could meet the 100 book requirement. And I’ve been writing poetry for 20 years. But to meet this requirement, keeping in mind that I’m not enrolled in any MFA program nor do I currently have plans to enroll in one, but if I did then that would pose a slight problem for me. Off the top of my head I could probably come up with 20 titles and be able to discuss them at length, but 100? I’ve forgotten that many.

It likely wouldn’t take me but a couple of months of study time to become familiar with that many books if I needed to, but that is precisely Silliman’s point, namely, that MFA students, and graduates in particular, should have a better sense of what is going on in the field of poetry in general and in their own niche specifically than today’s graduates do. Furthermore, many of them couldn’t tell you the difference between a synecdoche and a trope either and this is what I mean when I speak of Millennialism – poets should study the craft, contemporary poets as well as the classics, and form some kind of style around the elements of form and content while trying to keep continuity with those who have come before.

Related posts:

  1. Poetry Today: Boards, Awards, Book Stores, And Literate Cities
  2. Indiana Review’s Poetry Contest And Poking Fun At Fellow Poets
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