Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, March 20, 2015

Easy Queries

    Let me ask you some ridiculously simple questions leading up to a ridiculously obvious conclusion.  We begin by reiterating one recently posed in "Challenge":

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #115
1.      If there were no fans or players, such that the scorekeepers and coaches had to take the field, would you call that endeavor thriving, like film or football, or moribund, like tiddly-winks and Ollamaliztli?

2.  With little time and no flashlight, where should we look for our lost car keys?  Near the streetlamps or in the pitch darkness?

3.  Is it better to do one or nine things well?

4.  Do we tend to look better at home, alone, or at work, meeting and greeting the public?

5a.  Where are we more likely to find an item?  At a kiosk or a marketplace (which contains many kiosks of every sort)?

5b.  Where will we find an article more quickly?  In a book with or without an index?

6.  Where would you expect to find better jumpers?  From the group who can leap over a 1-foot bar or those who can clear a 3-foot hurdle? 

7.  Which performances tend to be better?  Dress rehearsals or opening nights?

8.  Who knows your tastes better?  You, a friend or a stranger?

9.  Many will enjoy the book rather than the movie but how many will prefer the screenplay to the film?  Does your answer change if someone is reading the script to you?

10.  Would you prefer a doctor who has studied anatomy or one who hasn't?

11.  When you want to say something do you prefer to be heard or ignored?



Connecting the dots...

1.  If there were no fans or players, such that the scorekeepers and coaches had to take the field, would you call that endeavor thriving, like film or football, or moribund, like tiddly-winks and Ollamaliztli?

     Everyone understands that poetry is dead, including those who deny it due to misguided self-interest. 

2.  With little time and no flashlight, where should we look for our lost car keys?  Near the streetlamps or in the pitch darkness?

     Rather than stumble around like a blind squirrel why not look for peanuts at the ball park?  Why seek on dusty, far off shelves before you look on the same Internet you're using to read this?


3.  Is it better to do one or nine things well?

     Baseball legend Dagoberto Campaneris Blanco played nine positions and pitched ambidextrously.  Not surprisingly, he was in great demand.  One trick ponies seem to think that winning a niche prize like the Nemerov will establish them as a poet.  That may be so but, with very few exceptions, those who win such awards or contests are versatile.  For example, none of the canonical free verse poems was written by someone who couldn't write at least competent verse.  Thus, observers will, consciously or unconsciously, rightly or wrongly, assume that one who writes only prose poetry or only villanelles is not a good poet in general.  

4.  Do we tend to look better at home, alone, or at work, meeting and greeting the public?

     So, would you expect better poetry from those writing about and for their navels (or friends, family or fellow poets) or from those presenting their work to the public?

5a.  Where are we more likely to find an item?  At a kiosk or a marketplace (which contains many kiosks of every sort)?

     Obviously, you'd go the the market that has the more variety and, all other factors being equal, the greater competition for your money.  What is more, due to their proximity, if the shop doesn't have what you want they can likely point you to a nearby provider who does.  Similarly, if looking for anything--contemporary poetry, in this case--are you better off in a book store, with a few hundred titles, a library, with a few thousand, or the Internet, with a few billion?

5b.  Where will we find an article more quickly?  In a book with or without a quick and efficient index?

     So why go with the Dewey Decimal system when you could be using a web browser?

6.  Where would you expect the better jumpers?  From the group whose members can leap over a 1-foot bar or from those who can clear a 3-foot hurdle¹?

     In general, published work tends to be better than self-published writing, if only because the latter needs to please only the author.  Similarly, poetry published in critical circles is going to be better than that produced among blurbers.

7.  Which performances tend to be better?  Dress rehearsals or opening nights?

     Others from the theatrical community are often invited to serve as an audience at dress rehearsals.  These allow the troupe to iron out any wrinkles before the big night.  Only when they are ready for prime time can we expect perfection.

     Similarly, the reason institutional poetry doesn't appeal to non-poets, regardless of sophistication, is that it isn't prepared--in both senses of the word--for them.

8.  Who knows your tastes better?  You, a friend, or stranger?

     A Facebook buddy may well recommend a novel, play, television show or movie written by someone you don't know but will rarely, if ever, Share a link to a poem unless they or a close friend or relative wrote it.  Strangers are more likely to be blurbers than objective reviewers.  What few reviewers there are seem wedded to a failed aesthetic.  Editors need to please writers, not readers (tanr).  With nothing but broken filters, then, people give up on poetry.  What little good stuff there is out there will be too hard to find until we can see beyond the tiny eddies² in which we are caught.

9.  Many will enjoy the book rather than the movie but how many will prefer the screenplay to the film?  Does your answer change if someone is reading the script to you?

     The mere fact that we speak exclusively in terms of reading poetry is, paradoxically, the main reason that Nobody Reads Poetry.  It's meant to be heard, if not seen.  If a voice-over, it will be by competent performers who won't sound like they're reading from a script.

10.  Would you prefer a doctor who has studied anatomy or one who hasn't?

     If you prefer physicians familiar with human body parts why not apply the same logic in poetry?  Why read poetry being written, published or blurbed by those who don't know iambs from trochees?

     If you patronize healers who think "humerus" refers to the funny bone you should consider life insurance.

11.  When you want to say something do you prefer to be heard or ignored?

     If you prefer to be read you should write prose.  If you want to be heard you're in the right church but the wrong pew.  Post your finished products, not mere scripts, to YouTube.



Unavoidable Conclusions

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #60
     If poetry is reincarnated:

1.  it will be over the dead bodies of those in denial about its death;

2.  it will be in an open, visible location (i.e. the Internet);

3.  it and its producers will be multi-talented and flexible;

4.  it will usually involve polished, professional-looking productions;

5.  it will be easily located on an individual basis despite the oversupply;

6.  the best of it will be published by discriminating editors;

7.  it will, by definition, appeal to the public³;

8.  it will be passed along by friends, most commonly on social media;

9.  it will be performed, not read (at first, at least);

10.  it will be written, published and reviewed by people who know that anaphora is not an Argentinian pop singer;

11. its words will matter, not just its storyline or moral.

     One last question:    "Why deny the obvious, child?"





Footnotes:

¹ - Do you know any bridgeplayers?  If so, they'll love this application of The Hurdles Rule.  Ask them this:  "The auction goes 1C-Pass-1S-Pass.  Which passing opponent is [slightly] more likely to have the King of Diamonds?"

Answer:   The original passer's failure to bid while facing a much lower obstacle than the second passer suggests a weaker hand.  Thus, the second passer is somewhat more likely to have any outstanding Ace or face card, including the Diamond lord. 

² - ...something that doesn't present a problem in any other endeavor (e.g. film, theater, sports, fiction, television, etc.).

³ - A word which brings out the poser in many poets today.



    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below or, failing that, mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull".  Also, feel free to expand this conversation by linking to it on Twitter or Facebook.  Please let us know if you've included us on your blogroll so that we can reciprocate.

    If you would like to follow us, contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please befriend us, "Earl Gray", on Facebook.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel





Thursday, March 19, 2015

Have you ever seen a poem?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #35

     When you speak of going to "a film" or "a movie" without qualification do you mean a script reading?  A home movie?  A panorama without a plot or actors?  Or is it understood that you mean a feature film with actors who don't sound like they're reading from text, camera operators who know how to remove a lens cap and directors who know the difference between a script and a film?

     While critiquing one of our reader's manuscript I remarked that the work lacked performance value.

     "That's okay," she replied, "I don't plan on performing any of it."

     [Blink]

     I stopped myself from asking "Then why are you writing it?  Why worry about the sounds and rhythms of something that isn't going to be spoken or heard?  As a critic, on what should I comment?"

     In this excerpt from the movie "Begin Again", down-and-out music producer Dan Mulligan, played by Mark Ruffalo, happens upon songwriter Gretta James, played by Keira Knightley, performing one of her compositions at an open mic.  The crowd ignores the song, rudely conversing throughout it, but Mulligan hears it as it should be, with accompaniment and editing.  As a producer, he "hears" the finished product.


Excerpt1-BA-2013 from Earl Gray on Vimeo.
 
Adrian Mitchell
     Poetry has no producers.  That most poets believe text to be a finished product--which is true only for writers--reflects the fact that Nobody Reads Poetry and explains why poets and readers ignore each other.  It's a vicious circle.  Why worry about quality in general and sound in particular when there is no audience?  Why be an audience for something not designed to please us?

     Imagine the film or television industries without those who turn a script into a production:  no players, no producers, no videographers, no nothing.  Whole generations have grown up without ever seeing¹ a finished contemporary poem.

     Think about that.



Footnotes:

¹ - ...as opposed to merely reading...or listening to someone else merely reading...



    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below or, failing that, mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull".  Also, feel free to expand this conversation by linking to it on Twitter or Facebook.  Please let us know if you've included us on your blogroll so that we can reciprocate.

    If you would like to follow us, contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please befriend us, "Earl Gray", on Facebook.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Challenge

    If there were no fans or players, such that the scorekeepers and coaches had to take the field, would you call that endeavor thriving, like film or football, or dead, like tiddly-winks and Ollamaliztli?



From "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins¹

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope  
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose  
to find out what it really means.




Earl the Squirrel's Rule #164
    Obviously, whatever we teachers, critics, geeks, editors, performers, and poets are doing has not been working for more than two generations.  Let's start with our educational system.  Its mandate was to preserve and support the great poetry of the past, present and future.  Our English departments have abdicated the latter two responsibilities.  Prosody, which is the measurement we employ to judge technical merit, is no longer taught as a matter of course.  Worse yet, we have abandoned the search for readers (tanr) to such an extent that only writers are hired to teach poetry.

     With the benefit of hindsight we know that no generation has produced more than a handful of authors whose work deserves study.  With so many positions and so few such worthy candidates, we have chosen as mentors mediocre poets instead of expert readers, critics, prosodists and analysts.

     Despite being found almost nowhere else, cryptocrap is currently among the two dominant genres in academia² for a pair of reasons:  it's crypto and it's crap.


Crypto

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #2
    Imagine giving a college class on, say, "Do not go gentle into that good night".  For context, you might begin with a short bio of the author, Dylan Thomas, and some background about the terms (e.g. "gay", meaning "happy" will draw giggles) and times (1951).  You recite the poem.  Does the class have any questions?  No.  Perhaps you use the poem to describe its form, the villanelle.  Questions?  Still none.  If you've done your homework and researched some of the available analysis you can talk about that.  When you're done, you check the clock your watch your laptop and discover, to your horror, that only 25 minutes have transpired!  What will you do for the remainder of your 1-hour class?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #92
     If you had chosen a postmodern poem you and your students could waste days, even weeks, guessing at the meaning of the poem--not its motif, technique, ramifications, significance or nuances, mind you, but it's actual surface meaning (if any).  Selecting a great poem like "Do not go gentle into that good night" was a mistake you won't repeat.  In the future you will ignore accessible poets such as Frost, Byron and the Brownings in favor of classical ones that let you kill time translating Elizabethan³ or earlier language into today's English...or go with contemporary cryptocrap.

     In essence, the "poem" becomes a Rorschach test and the class becomes a group therapy session.  Other than validating Law #92 and wiling away class time, what does this accomplish and what does it have to do with poetry?  No one knows.

Crap

     While their meaning mustn't be accessible, the poems themselves must be readily available and in endless quantity, such that if you need a poem about a 19th Century Outer Mongolian hemp farmer you can easily find or generate one.  The recipe is easy to follow.  The whole idea of crap is to lower the bar until enough college students say "Hell, even I can do better than that!" and register for class.  Keeping up this vanity trap works perfectly as long as Nobody Reads Poetry.  Once people are exposed to better contemporary poets and verse, such that they can pass simple tests like this one, the jig is up.

     Suppose every poem published and taught today were as good as this one.  Why, you'd never stop singing "What a Wonderful World", right?

     Hardly.  Verse is already dead on the demand side;   this could kill it on the production side as well.  We would have The Watermelon Problem on a pandemic scale.  Publications would close down because their product couldn't compete.  Whole faculties would disappear from universities because students would be discouraged and might wonder what could be learned from anyone who fails to distinguish this dreck from, of all things, poetry.  In a worst case scenario [sophisticated elements of] the public could take an interest in poetry.  That is the very thing cryptocrap seeks to avoid.

A Challenge

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12
     The best way to uncover an addiction is to quit--even temporarily.  A few DT shakes should be enough to convince us that we really are alcoholics.  Thus, I encourage every institutional publication to reserve one edition for non-academics.  This exercise will raise awareness of the 98+% of poets from outside the Ivory Towers.  If nothing else, this will serve as a foil for what is normally published.  At the very least, it should generate controversy.

     Meanwhile, I challenge independent venues to put out a "Best of..." list of poems online, similar to this one.  By "Best of..." I don't mean "My favorite..." or "Our Best...". I mean poems that discerning readers (tanr) might enjoy based largely on objective technical merit, regardless of source [as via a URL].  It would be fascinating to compare these lists to what academic periodicals produce.



Footnotes:

¹ - Yes, we're quoting Billy Collins, including the completely redundant finale where, ironically, he beats us over the head with the moral--you know, in case we missed it being spelled out in the preceding strophe paragraph.

² - After confessional (aka "email from rehab"), of course.

³ - Shakespeare's plays may seem difficult to us in this century but his livelihood depended on illiterates in the pits understanding what was said.  It was the farthest thing from cryptology.  It observed Law #12 as distinguished from Law #2, which forms the credo of most academic writing.



    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below or, failing that, mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull".  Also, feel free to expand this conversation by linking to it on Twitter or Facebook.  Please let us know if you've included us on your blogroll so that we can reciprocate.

    If you would like to follow us, contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please befriend us, "Earl Gray", on Facebook.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel




Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Curgina

     In the first scene of Hamlet we see this piece ("stich") of iambic pentameter:

It would be spoke to.
                        Question it, Horatio.

     It is split into two lines because different people, Bernardo then Marcellus, are speaking.  What if we could find other reasons to separate lines of verse?  What if we want to enjamb for all the reasons free versers do?

     For example, what if we want to create temporary ambiguity?  Consider the last sentence from the first stanza of DPK's "Joie de Mourir:

Beyond this arid pit is life,
lived incognito. Dreams resist
our beckoning. Just coax the one
that's closest: I can see my wife,
a rose corsage adorns her wrist;
her iris catches the voyeur sun.

     Note what happens when you break the lines thus:

 I can see my wife, a rose
corsage adorns her wrist; her iris
catches the voyeur sun.

     Now we see the speaker compare his wife to a rose and that "iris" is a pun, referring to the flower and the part of an eye around the pupil.

     What if we want pauses within lines to give weight to what has just been said or is about to be?  Here we see an elegy for Chilean President Salvador Allende where the writer pauses to think up a euphemism that won't bring down the wrath of those listening:

September came like winter's
ailing child but
left us
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
doctored moment lied. You lie with
orphans' parents, long
reviled.

     Were there no consequences, the speaker might want to say:

September came like the worst disaster in our history winter's
ailing child but was murdered
left us bereft of freedom and leadership
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was, poignantly now,
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every treasonous scum
doctored moment lied. You lie with massacred innocents
orphans' parents, long revered by lovers of democracy
reviled by treasonous scum.

     What if you know an editor who is phobic about metered work?  Because these poems must operate as both types of verse, free and metered, they may be the perfect disguise for a naughty prank.  Of course, all of this is lost without these linebreaks.

September came like winter's ailing child
but left us viewing Valparaiso's pride.
You face was always saddest when you smiled.
You smiled as every doctored moment lied.
You lie with orphans' parents, long reviled.

     Suppose we want our performers to speak naturally, not necessarily or exclusively in ten-syllable bursts?  Check out the iambic pentameter presentation of A. Michael Juster's "Plea":

This is the time for mercy, time for letting
rage recede.

     Ten syllables might constitute a regular breath pause but who stops after "letting" here?  Here is how this sentence appeared in the poem when it was published in the November 1988 edition of "South Carolina Review":

This is the time
for mercy,

time for letting
rage recede.

     It still breaks on "letting" but after two syllables, not nine.  The voice is now more hesitant and breathless. 

     This is the definition of a curgina:  meter with free verse linebreaks.  Thus, while "line" and "stich" (i.e. the stretch of beats or syllables--ten in the case of pentameter--that make up the meter) mean much the same thing in other poems, they have little or no relation in curginas.  For example, the first stich in "Plea" is stretched out to form three lines.

     What if we want to highlight some internal rhyming?  Recently, Catherine Chandler's "Wherein the Snow is Hid" appeared in "Autumn Sky Poetry Daily".  Every stanza followed this pattern:

My roof is tempest-proof, my kitchen bright;
still, a bleak expanse
blinds my bedroom’s line of sight
as if to tease,
in squalls of gusting, icy sibilance,

     We see iambic pentameter, trimeter, tetrameter, dimeter and pentameter, with rhymes on lines 1 and 3, 2 and 5.  Thus, it is heterometer.  Indeed, we could leave things there.  However, if one wanted to reduce the number of meters to two and make the rhymes less conspicuous--which is the modern trend--one could combine the final four lines into two heptameters.

My roof is tempest-proof, my kitchen bright;
still, a bleak expanse blinds my bedroom’s line of sight
as if to tease, in squalls of gusting, icy sibilance,

     In this "decurginated" version we see pentameter, heptameter, heptameter.

     The curginic approach works seamlessly with others, old (e.g. sonnet, acrostic) and new (e.g. DATIA, cliché collage, etc.).

     While the term is barely a decade old, the concept of the curgina² likely wasn't new in 1923 when W.C. Williams published "The Red Wheelbarrow".  Watch for it in the 5th edition of the "Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics".



Footnotes:

¹ - Notice that all of the words that end stichs (e.g. "bright", "sight" and "sibilance") also end lines (e.g. L1, L3 and L5) in the curginated version.  Put another way, no line in the curgina contains text from more than one full line in the decurginated version.  When speaking of entire poems this is called a "terminal" curgina.  All other examples we've seen are "enjambed" curginas.

² - Do not confuse the curgina with the corata, which is metered poetry rendered as prose, in paragraphs, or in unlineated text, like Beowulf.



    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below or, failing that, mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull".  Also, feel free to expand this conversation by linking to it on Twitter or Facebook.  Please let us know if you've included us on your blogroll so that we can reciprocate.

    If you would like to follow us, contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please befriend us, "Earl Gray", on Facebook.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Open Letters

Dear Ryan Boudinot, author of "Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One":

     I read with interest and have bolded your explanation of why everyone, including you, celebrates your retirement from academia.  Your swan song begins with a startling example of True Bullshit that makes me wonder if your choice of professions was well-advised:

Writers are born with talent.

     Writers are born with imagination and drive.  Their talent, if it exists in quantity,  is a verbal acumen found in polyglots, cruciverbalists, etymologists, and spelling bee champions.  Talent makes learning easier. It does not make learning possible.

     If we insist that all of our students be "The Real Deal" we won't have enough tuition income to pay our beer tab, let alone keep a department or university afloat.  Wanting to teach only self-motivated geniuses who, by definition, don't need much instruction smacks of laziness.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #159
If you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it.

     Utter nonsense.  The majority of teenagers, including those who will make the most interesting writers, are busy "collecting life experience."

If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

     Ibid. 

     Also, I can't cite a single writer who hasn't made the same complaint.  Can you?

If you aren't a serious reader, don't expect anyone to read what you write.

     Danielle SteeleCharles BukowskiE.L. James.  Need I go on?

No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer.

     Again, see above. 

You don't need my help to get published.

     Then what do they need you for?  Why take your course?  Doesn't everything people learn there help them get published?  Shouldn't you be telling them everything you know about this, the most practical aspect of writing?  Why hold back?

     As for attracting notice so that their work will, at least, be considered, what are filters for?  What are university presses for?  Stop worrying about "The Real Deal" and start thinking about the real world.  You may be the agent your students can't afford.  With so many other professors recommending their prize pupils what will your silence say? 

It's not important that people think you're smart.

     This is not something you need worry about, Ryan.

It's important to woodshed.

     Even more so to watershed.



Dear Laura Valeri, author of "Those Who Teach, Can -- A Formal Reply to Ryan Boudinot’s Post on Teaching":

     I agree with your basic premise that, as teachers, our job is to instruct whomsoever attends our class while encouraging them to continue doing so.  I have a few nits, though:

...are you the best judge of students’ talent?

     Probably.  In this age of esteem-based education, Mr. Boudinot might be the first objective, critical source they've met.  That said, I agree that he confuses the endpoint with the start.  Evaluations measure how much progress they'll make later.  Nothing more.

...we teach our students not to make sweeping statements that are unsupported by serious data. Where is yours?

     It's a blog, not Scholar's Quarterly.  If we see something demonstrably incorrect it is incumbent on us to make our own arguments in situ, on our own blogs or elsewhere.



Dear Chuck Wendig, author of "An Open Letter To That Ex-MFA Creative Writing Teacher Dude":


Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel



Friday, March 6, 2015

Independent Poetry

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #141
     In every aspect possible, independent (aka "private" or "Labor of Love"/"LoL") publications are the polar opposite of "institutional poetry" publishers.  It begins at the top, where independents tend to be privately owned and operated.  Think "Mom 'n Pop" versus Walmart.  Decisions are made by individuals without regard to oversight committees.  Because Nobody Reads Poetry, independents serve those who write poetry, as opposed to those who teach it.  At this time, a publication credit from an independent, no matter how good, will rarely make a strong addition to one's resumé.

Watermelon Convergence

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #157
     Few Labor of Love editors have any experience with or understanding of The Watermelon Problem.

    "Why," they wonder, "would any editor put a cap on quality?"

     If handed one of the great poems of our time they would do cartwheels and then publish it.  WTP?  Why overthink this?

     Different crowds.  Different goals. 

     In terms of quality, poems in academic periodicals coalesce perilously close to the Billy Collins level.  Those in private publications usually range all the way from Maz down to Amiri Baraka wannabes.  This "hit or miss" tendency is part of their charm.

     The danger in any one-person-band is that all the songs will end up sounding the same.  Similarly, independents worry about convergence, not watermelons.  There is the risk that, over time, people will do exactly what the venue's guidelines insist:  they will read what is published there and submit more of same.  One aesthetic fits all!  If the editor falls into such a rut there will be no reason for subscribers to read a second poem.  That is one less reason for them to be subscribers in the first place.  What distinguishes even the most successful independents is how they deal with convergence.

Four Noteworthy Editors

Timothy Green
4.  "Rattle" editor Timothy Green runs an NFL Fantasy Football league for poets.  Not impressed?  Well, how many versers do you have to meet before you find 14 who don't giggle at the mention of "Tight Ends"?  How many of us are acquainted with 14 poets who might know that William Shakespeare¹ played halfback for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish under the personal monicker "The Merchant of Menace"?  (I'm not making this stuff up.)  Obviously, Tim is one of the most charismatic and friendly editors in poetry.  Along with his wife, Megan, he has made "Rattle" the most recognized independent around, due in part to his masterful use of social media.  In terms of inspiring poetry production he stands without equal.

     Most people assume that poetry editors study the craft and engage in critical discussions.  In truth, very few have any interest in matters technical and many are downright hostile to critique.  One prominent institutional publisher won't accept any poems that have been offered up for informed, objective online critique.  Many private publishers feel the same way.  This lack of sophistication--especially in the original sense of the word--shows in the final product.  Quaint narratives with linebreaks might be more interesting than thinly veiled philosophy lectures but can make a publication seem like the Readers Digest with narrowed margins.

John Amen
3.  Independent verse tends to be more fancentric and may even have [gasp!] stage value.  For example, "The Pedestal", one of the few Labors of Love that pays its poets ($20?), is put out by John Amen, an occasional participant in open mics and slams. This makes the poems he chooses slightly less prose-like than most of his competitors'.

     Previously, at least, John would employ guest editors, thus staving off the threat of convergence while adding an element of unpredictability to his periodical.   By widening the perspective, John or one of the temporary editors will occasionally find a gem.  Thus, while nowhere near as consistent, the average poem in "The Pedestal" edges out its counterpart in "Rattle".

     The question arises:  "Why have 'The Pedestal' or 'Rattle' not made the quantum leap into the top two?"


     Unlike some of his guest editors, John hasn't raised his profile among the best² poets and in places where rising stars can be found.  The old model of an arbiter passively waiting for good stuff to arrive over the transom is long gone.  The key to producing a first rate 'zine--even on a $0 budget--is no more complicated than knowing where to find stellar sources.  Having done so, you hope the best writers will send you their better works, lest you suffer the fate of the New Yorker. 

Christine Klocek-Lim
2.   Private venues tend to be more form-friendly and inventive, with no reservations about including a curgina, corata, DATIA, cada línea, reverser, multimedia or cliché collage.  While institutionals present [allusive] hypertext in the figurative sense, indies might do so literally, as in "Elegy for Eva", published in Autumn Sky Poetry #12.  By contrast, in academia "experimental" means "incoherent".

    Inclusion in the list of "The Ten Most Influential People in Poetry Today" does Christine Klocek-Lim scant justice in general, let alone as the owner-operator of "Autumn Sky Poetry" and, most recently, "Autumn Sky Poetry Daily".  She is everything you'd expect but don't get in other editors.  She is intelligent, gracious, tactful and trusted.  Her two tours as administrator of the Poets.org critical forum established her geek credentials.  (As a SciFi fan and writer, she is also a nerd.  Christine is among the very few poets who can recite the Ferenghi Rules of Acquisition as easily as our Laws of Poetry.)  She may be the one person in poetry who is cherished and revered as much as Maz.  Her "Autumn Sky Poetry" was the most consistently good and diverse source of poetry in the world.  Her unique approach involved going beyond the biggies (i.e. Eratosphere, Gazebo or Poetry Free-For-All) and into the "friendlies".  It seems that every aspiring unknown on the planet took performance enhancing drugs in order to create their career best poem and submit it to Ms. Klocek-Lim. 

     The problem is that the brighter lights weren't as forthcoming.  This was an awkward situation.  To those who adore her, the merest whim from Christine was like a command from on high.  Seeing this, she became the least demanding person on the planet.  On occasions when we could inquire of her talented friends why they failed to contribute more often we always received the same reply:  "She didn't ask." 

Michael Burch
1.   Michael Burch asked.  He approached people collectively on sites like Eratosphere and privately.  He did features, including the poet's best work regardless of whether it had been published or not.  In short order, "The Hypertexts" became a "Who's Who" of skilled poets and the single best source of contemporary poetry in the world.

     He managed this despite being Ms. Klocek-Lim's mirror opposite.  His lack of interest in technique accounts for the clunkers on his site.  His political and religious stridency is alienating and continues to cost him goodwill and attention.  Nevertheless, he usually heeds aesthetic advice from reliable sources, thus benefitting from bird-dogging and referrals.

Solicitation

     Reflecting their focus on poets rather than poems, institutional and literary³ venues often request poems or articles from well-known poetry teachers, including some current contributors.  Such celebrities are usually listed in an "About [Us]" section, along with one or two glaringly
godawful gargoyles (one of whom managed to parlay a BA into a 5-year stint as a university professor emeritus) to "represent" the non-academic world.  The honored instructors spark interest among colleagues, alumni, and students on a school-by-school (literally or aesthetically) basis.

     It is like college football, complete with cheerleaders.

      Independents tend not to have such pantheons.  Why?  It's not like poets don't have heroes and heroines among their peers and predecessors. 

     Soliciting poems from established authors is controversial because those who submit through normal channels, expecting work to be judged solely on intrinsic merit, view celebrities as jumping the queue.  This conflicts with the editor's need to produce exemplary verse.  The solution is to do so discreetly and either at startup, to make a splash, or when the quality of submissions has dipped below acceptability.  Posting a list of people whose work the editor will favor would be counterproductive, if not suicidal.  Thus, the practice that encourages participation in academia discourages it elsewhere.

     Becoming the world's best poetry editor seems straightforward enough.  Learn to use social media as well as Tim Green, familiarize yourself with performance and pinch-hitters as John Amen has, approach experts individually as Michael Burch does and do everything else like Christine Klocek-Lim.



Footnotes:

¹ - He claimed to be a direct descendant of the Bard before and after failing sophomore English.  When the Pittsburgh Steelers took him in 1936 he became the third person ever drafted in the NFL.

² - Not the best known.  The best.

³ - Literary magazines, which include prose and poetry, are often constituted like independents (i.e. with specific owners rather than committees) but they tend to act like institutionals, their poetry (if not their prose) efforts serving only the academic community. 



Links:

1. Institutional Poetry

2.Independent Poetry


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Institutional Poetry



"...the players couldn't take the field; 
the marching band refused to yield
the day the music died."

     - "American Pie" by Don McLean



From "The Watermelon Problem - Part I":

     Please take this Commercial Poetry Challenge:  Go to, say, Poetry Magazine and try to read the verse there without saying to yourself:  "Surely they have better submissions than this...!" followed by the inevitable "So what do they do with the good stuff?"



Earl the Squirrel's Rule #1
     Venues associated with a public¹ foundation, university or arts organization are "institutionals" as opposed to privately owned "independents".  Because Nobody Reads Poetry, independents cater to people who write poetry while institutionals engage those who teach it.  Amateurs versus pros, in the best sense of the words.  Indeed, the terms "institutional", "professional" and "academic" have become interchangeable in recent years.  Not surprisingly, there is a consistency/groupthink evident in editorial and strategic decisions.

     These venues provide publication credits in a publish-or-perish environment.  Every work reflects the same underlying need:  material for interpretive analysis.  Without exception, we see substance over form, nuance over prosody, what over how.  Aside from some droll puns and sly literary references, humor is absent, as are entertainment and performance value.  Tragedy and narrative are rare.  Drama and romance are verboten.  Aside from austere readings by the poet, there is no room for additional media:  performing, graphics (except for the occasional ekphrastic), video, music, etc.  One observer labeled this "business card poetry":  concise unadorned text designed to increase one's profile and opportunities.  A more charitable view is that it is serious and professional. 

     One of the inevitable consequences of the death of contemporary poetry is that those preserving the classics would create their own echo chamber.  When asked to guess the number of poets alive, one authority forgot to include anyone from the 98+% who are neither MFA nor English graduates.  Not only has the marching band taken the field and refused to yield, they don't acknowledge the existence of players.  To this day, none of the institutionals has mentioned the name, let alone the work, of the two greatest poets of our time.  When was the last time you read a criticism or review of a poet from outside academia?  If we consider poetry today and exclude those charged with judging it, not only does Nobody Read Poetry but, apparently, nobody writes it, either!

     Here comes the punchline:  These are the first people to deny that poetry is dead.  LOL!

Don Share
     The best of the institutionals is the Poetry Foundation's "Poetry" magazine.  It is less regional than, say, university presses and has better funding than the next 100 poetry publications combined.  It forms the nexus of the PoBiz.  While we geeks were somewhat disappointed by his predecessor, Editor-in-Chief Don Share has proven to be a master of promotion, beginning with his thought-provoking links on Facebook.  He and his magazine define professional writing.   True, purists and amateurs tend to abuse him but, perversely , that is progress!  When we're talking about an art form in need of revival disrespect is better than disregard.  This guy gets noticed.  

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #2
     In terms of quality, institutionals maintain a very strict and narrow common denominator, achievable by all contributors.  This translates to Three to Four range on the Egoless Scale.  Occasionally we'll see a Five or Six from an exceptional poet but it will almost always be among the worst pieces that artist has produced.  In this regard, The New Yorker sets the industry standard.  With professional jealousies and territoriality running high, the Watermelon problem becomes a defining concern.  Among the many reasons for admiring institutional editors is their ability to reject outstanding poems in order to preserve the peace.  I confess that I lack the diplomatic sophistication to do the same.

Brooklyn poet Tina Chang
     Let me cite two poems as contrast.  We begin with one of the best works I've seen on a professional site in a while and a rare example of free verse (as opposed to arhythmic prose poetry or prose qua poetry):  Tina Chang's "Origin and Ash" from the Poetry Foundation site.  The challenge is to read it without saying "Wait a minute!  I have dozens of poem just like this in my 'work in progress' file!"

     The piece begins with the dreaded list of unrelated objects, in the midst of which we see this 14 feet of almost perfect binary:

A cup | of milk | before | me tastes | of melt|ed al|monds.  = Hypercatalexis

It is | the stor|y  of | the eve | of my | begin|ning. Gifts | for me:

     Were this verse we'd be complaining of the metronome.  This stretch establishes a dominant rhythm--something that would be apparent to anyone with a grounding in performance.  A more common approach is to use such strict patterning to underscore vital passages, as she does (again with an extra syllable at the end of the penultimate line) in her finale:

If I hurry, I will dance with my father before the sun sets,
my slip|pers click|ing        = Hypercatalexis
on a | thin lay'r | of rain.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #13
     The short "i" sounds are nice but the last strophe of a poem is a poor time to discover assonance.  The lack of cohesion and sonics, along with the preponderance of iambs, reveals this to be unfinished verse.  This is the random jotting of lines we save in a notebook, hoping to hammer them into a poem later.  It isn't even a draft.  Rather, it is a collection of nice imagery cast wantonly onto the negligée of a narrative.  It is a Four with sprinkles.

     While over-interpreters take up classroom time ascribing more and more obscure meanings to "Origin and Ash", let us examine a poem that is like catnip to geeks but would never appear in a professional 'zine.


     First, it's in meme format:  graphics without an accompanying text file.  This being the case, most institutional editors would see the ".jpg" file extension and not bother clicking on the picture.

     Secondly, it is technically imaginative, an expression that translates to "gimmicky" among professionals.  This explains why you won't see evidence of new prosodic concepts, including curginas or cada líneas (of which this is both), in academic writing.  To wit, if we rearrange the linebreaks we see that it is iambic trimeter throughout, albeit with an abbreviated denouement.


Ros|ie knows | the night
is a | forgiv|ing thing. 
She takes | her daught|er's corn|er,
pos|ing just | a lit|tle
clos'r | to the | street light. 
It's a | school night | for Lynn; 
someone | will have | the child|ren|
in bed | by ten.


     Metrically speaking, we could say that the final rhyme, "ten" and "children", promotes the "-ren" to a lame foot.  In any case, the ending comes short and sharp.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12

     Thirdly, the sonics, including rhymes (e.g. "street light" "school night"), don't make random cameo appearances, as in "Origin and Ash".  They begin in line 1 and remain throughout.

     Fourthly and fatally, "Paradise Has No Colonies" follows the traditional fancentric aesthetic, as illustrated in Rule #12, rather than the Postmodern writer-oriented one captured in Rule #2.  At first glance, it is a sympathetic picture--literally--of a prostitute and her extended family.  The technique keeps these words in our minds and, ideally, brings us back.  Only when we examine the breaks do we see the storyline unfold with each line (hence the genre's name, "cada línea"), viewed in isolation, encapsulating a different facet of their lives.

Rosie knows the night            = Experience
is a forgiving                  
= Redemption
thing.  She takes her daughter's
= Incest
corner, posing just a little    
= Artifice
closer to the street            
= Environment
light.  It's a school           
= Education
night for Lynn;  someone        
= Humanization
will have the children          
= Childbirth
in bed by ten.                  
= Pedophilia



Footnotes:

¹ - This distinction can become blurred when, for example, owners run the publication through a [more or less] private non-profit organization.  The real test is the aesthetic/demographic they serve.




Links:

1. Institutional Poetry

2. Independent Poetry




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