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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Buzz Versus Copyright

     Would songs be as popular if we were afraid to sing them?¹

     As you may know from reading "Who Killed Poetry?", copyright played a significant role in the decline of verse.  It remains the single biggest buzzkill in human history.  Those song fanvids on YouTube?  Except in rare cases where the video maker got permission from the copyright holder (roughly:  the songwriter), all of these are infringements.  Pretty soon, singing in the shower will be against the law!

     Oh, wait...¹

     Buzz requires not just freedom but facility of speech.  Imagine the bottleneck if everyone who wanted to make a video, pass along its URL or discuss a complete lyric or poem with a buddy actually flooded the author with permission requests.  YouTube has come to an understanding;  they allow the infringements and act only if the copyright holder to object.  This, alone, distorts the discussion, tilting it away from critical presentations.

     One of my students had a successful single in the 1960s.  She was recently surprised to see royalties start dribbling in after decades without a sale.  A friend asked her if her song was on YouTube.

    "What's YouTube?" 

     Her buddy showed her that a fan had made a crude video of her hit song.  MP3 sales began, leading to pleasant surprises in the singer's bank account.

     More than any other artistic endeavor, poetry has relied on word-of-mouth dissemination.  In fact, that is its very definition:  information transmitted verbatim [even before the advent of writing].  What is more, poetry needs and provides its own context;  excerpting it simply makes no sense.  So, how can we buzz about something we cannot discuss?

     As the word suggests, buzz spreads quickly;  there is no time to play "Mother, May I?" every time we want to read someone's poem at an open mic.  If you understand that copyright and buzz are incompatible, consider some of the options Creative Commons make available to artists.  I'll keep it simple:

     If you (i.e. the copyright holder) want users to acknowledge your authorship while being permitted to do just about anything they like with your work except make money from it attach the symbol on the left when posting or publishing it.

     If you go to the Creative Commons site they will make a symbol containing your particulars:  name, URL, title, etc.  This will make it easier to prove you are the author (or, at the very least, the poster).

     If, again, you want attribution of your work while allowing users to do just about anything they like with it, including make money from it, use the symbol on the right.

     Creative Commons always assumes the author wants proper credit (i.e. attribution).  The first problem is that some authors prefer anonymity.  The second problem is that many replications won't include the creator's name.  For example, think of how many epigrams or photomemes you see on Facebook without knowing [or caring] exactly who created them.  Will the rights holders be affronted if their names were dropped along the way?  Unfortunately, the term "Creative Commons" is not as well known or easily understood as "public domain".  Are you prepared to field a lot of questions from well-meaning people concerning terms of use?

     The best way to avoid any such questions about who can copy what, where, how and when is to place the piece into the public domain.  This surrenders all the rights of ownership except one:  no one other than the creator can claim authorship. 

     There is a counterintuitive catch here:  while it is brain-dead easy to copyright a work--just create the thing--it takes whole firms of Philadelphia lawyers to officially give up those rights before they expire on their own.  That said, the symbol (above left) should suffice to clarify your intentions.

Caveats:

     These symbols are very helpful, if not crucial to the public distribution of art.  However, they are virtually irrevocable.  As an editor or blogger, please make double-damned sure that you have the author's informed consent before you apply any of them.

     If using something available under Creative Commons or with a Public Domain assignation it may be a good idea to take a Cover-Your-Ass screenshot or photo of the source.

     Here's a quirky twist:  Arguably, everyone who hopes to appeal to a broader audience should utilize these signs.  Does it make sense that we make a campaign of encouraging their use, like condoms, floss and a Mediterranean diet? 

     No.

     Currently, the two most prominent users of Creative Commons and, in particular, Public Domain symbols are D.P. Kristalo and the greatest poetry videographer of our time.  As such and in an albeit perverse way, these notices are becoming symbols of quality.  Don't spoil that.  Save these signs for your best pieces and encourage only your favorite poets to employ them.

Exit Question #1:

     Consider two superlative poems.  One appears in a high-end magazine that will jealously guard its copyright against any unauthorized use.  As such, it appears in no memes, videos, T-Shirts or placemats.  The other piece is in the public domain, such that fans can [and will] distribute, memorize, and perform it anywhere and anytime they like.

     Which poem will die wherever it appeared and which might proliferate on YouTube and social media, becoming the first iconic poem in the last half century?

Exit Question #2:

     Tangentially, which poet is more likely to write such a viral/iconic poem in the first place?  A sapient one who understands the need for buzz--the role of an audience--or a primate who won't drop the cookie in order to extract a hand trapped in the jar?

     Remind me again:  What is 100% of nothing?



Footnotes:

¹ - It violates copyright--at least if anyone can hear you.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hype Versus Buzz - Ramifications


From "Hype Versus Buzz - Introduction"

    "Call it crude, scattered, unmanageable and often unmeasurable, but the democratization of speech has shifted influence from hype to buzz.

    "What will this mean for the arts in general, poetry in particular?"



Are icons good or bad for an art form?

     Both.  In the decades after payola, radio stations hyped superstars because they brought crowds of listeners and defined categories.  The radio show that played the Rolling Stones would not follow them up with Hank Snow.  Same station?  Maybe.  Same show?  Certainly not.  For better or worse, household names give us a common culture, something two strangers can discuss on an long flight.

     However, even as icons helped the art form's bottom line, they almost destroyed it aesthetically.  Talented songwriters and performers like John Stewart¹, Ferron and, later, Alison Kraus were largely overlooked in favor of actors who didn't even play instruments:  most of The Monkees, The Partridge Family, etc.  These were the "artists" being hyped.  As we were to learn, what succeeds in a 3-network television world doesn't work so well in today's 1,000-channel universe.  Instead, we have the "budding star" talent shows which, if nothing else, are based on actual performance.

 




Cost of Production

     It's movie night.  You've already watched all the blockbusters so you type "top 100 movies 2013" into your search engine, scan the lists, read the reviews, and follow one of the recommendations.  In doing so, you have demonstrated the value of the aftermarket and the buzz that fuels it.  Please hold that thought for a moment.

     Because of costs, only a few individuals are entrusted by backers to direct full-budget feature-length movies.  Inevitably, this leads to a lack of variety, as evidenced by the number of sequels.  Such large investments cannot risk their fate to word-of-mouth and reviews, especially with the need to create momentum in opening week.  This explains the unprecedented rise in advertising--especially television ads.  (Of course, hype is often a priori;  by definition, buzz, such as YouTube videos of Charlotte and Jonathan or Susan Boyle, can only come after the fact.)

     At the opposite extreme is the publication of poetry in e-books and e-zines.  With few or no publication costs or returns, hype is usually limited to a blurb by a friend or teacher.  Buzz from readers doesn't materialize for the simplest of reasons:  Nobody Reads Poetry.  Verse doesn't have an aftermarket simply because, duh, it doesn't have a market.

Don Marquis
     "Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." -  Don Marquis

     Imagine if the fates of these two disparate ventures were to converge.  What would happen if a movie's costs were not merely reduced but eliminated?  Today, anyone can do the "Blair Witch Project" thing.  Pick a script on Zoetrope, grab your video camera, make one stop at a diner to recruit actors, another to pick up a beautician at the nearest hair salon, and you're in business!  Post the final product to a download and/or streaming site and wait for the reviews to roll in.

     If even a few of these Indie efforts can make an impression on the public the film industry will face the same overproduction (in both senses of the word) problems that poetry has.  As for quality, how much worse could they be than Dennis Dugan, Steve Carr, Uwe Boll, or Michael Bay?  I'd bet we'll see the same phenomenon as we observed in poetry with the arrival of the Internet:  a hell of a lot of drivel and a few gems.  As you know, of the 21st century's three best poets and six best poems, two thirds are onliners and one third are crossovers.  There is a lot of undiscovered talent out there...but can we find it?

[Re]Presentation

     As film moves closer to poetry's experience, the reverse will be equally evident.  At the risk of stating the obvious, the presence of rhymths and sonics gives poetry its mellifluence, proving that it is meant to be heard, not read.  Fortunately, the formula for producing poetry videos is much the same as for feature films:  pick some text, grab your camera, a performer, a bag of weed and get to work!

     Now let me ask you this:  Can you count the number of times you've seen a sign on a book store saying "Buy some words here!"?  That would be never, right?  How about "Buy some prose here!"?  No again, right?  Authors, publishers and promoters of fiction and non-fiction don't identify which mode--prose or poetry--they will employ.  Why, then, should poets?

     As an experiment, I'd love to write a best selling novel.  After a few weeks, I'd reveal that it is written in corata (i.e. verse in paragraphs, like this rhyming iambic tetrameter "prose").  Would the sales go up or down?  Probably neither, until it began to be described as a book of poetry.  Then sales would plummet, I'm certain.

     As with poetry, Indie needs to stop calling itself "Indie".  Producers, critics and consumers need to think of films, plays or books as [gasp!] films, plays or books.  Period.  Otherwise, when you do your web search for "top 100 movies 2013" you will never find such a film listed.  It will be "nichified" under "top 100 Indie movies 2013".  Ditto plays or books.

Filters:

     Hype is not a filter.  It is what we filter out.  People today are very good at spotting and avoiding hype, to the point of synchronizing excretions to coincide with television commercials.  As the next few years progress, artists who rely on and inspire buzz will tighten the squeeze on those depending on hype.  Directors² Jason Friedburg and Aaron Seltzer may not understand their fate--they don't seem to understand anything else--but they are going the way of the video rental store.  Canary.  Mine shaft.

     In an albeit perverse sense, we poets have a one-century head start on theater, film or book promoters facing disappearing ad budgets.  It's as if Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the Koch brothers just joined us on skid row.  True, we haven't learned how to find an audience/job yet but we certainly know how to survive without one.

     Insofar as art is concerned, direct responses from audiences will be the new lifeblood, if not the new currency³.  We consumers need to stop thinking of speech as a right or privelege.  Voicing our opinions is a duty to everyone who respects them.  Friends don't let friends watch "The Hangover Part III".  Similarly, friends should not let friends miss the next "Beans" or "Studying Savonarola".

    Democracy is coming.



Footnotes:

¹ - At the video's 1:40 mark:  "...'happy' is working real good for me..!"  LOL!

² - Can "Directors" possibly be the right word here?

³ - Some may be surprised by how easy it is to turn satisfied viewers into cash without charging them anything.  Think of Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.



 Links:

1. Hype Versus Buzz - An Introduction

2. Hype Versus Buzz - Ramifications



    Voicing your opinion can start right here!

    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 contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please use the box below, marking your post as "Private" and including your email address;  the moderator will bring your post to our attention and prevent it from appearing publicly.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hype Versus Buzz - An Introduction

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #58
hype

verb
1. to stimulate, excite, or agitate (usually followed by up  ): She was hyped up at the thought of owning her own car.
2. to create interest in by flamboyant or dramatic methods; promote or publicize showily: a promoter who knows how to hype a prizefight.
3. to intensify (advertising, promotion, or publicity) by ingenious or questionable claims, methods, etc. (usually followed by up  ).
4. to trick; gull.

noun
5. exaggerated publicity; hoopla.
6. an ingenious or questionable claim, method, etc., used in advertising, promotion, or publicity to intensify the effect.
7. a swindle, deception, or trick.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #9
buzz

slang

2. a rumor or report.
4a. a feeling of intense enthusiasm, excitement, or exhilaration: I got a terrific buzz from those Pacific sunsets.

verb
8. to whisper; gossip: Everyone is buzzing about the scandal.




Earl the Squirrel's Rule #43
Antonyms

     Given that they can both involve unadulterated praise, hype and buzz may seem synonymous until we look at their sources.  For our purposes, at least, hype is generated by interested parties:  artists, their family, friends, agents, managers, publishers, organizations, media or government.  Buzz is informal, usually shared between friends in the audience.  Advertising versus rumor.  Producers versus consumers.

     Deft promoters can "hype the buzz", as we saw with screaming throngs greeting the Beatles even before North American's had heard their music.  Occasionally, we'll encounter fans "buzzing the hype" by quoting some of the promotions.  For example, recording company execs might let it slip that their band, "The Bohemian Warthogs", were topping the charts, without bothering to add that this occurred only on two of Bug Tussel's alternative radio stations.  Hyping the buzz.  A listener might turn to a buddy and say:  "Check out the Warthogs;  I hear they're the hottest new band around."  Buzzing the hype.

Where did the supergroups go?

Peter Dinklage
     All things being equal, buzz beats hype.  Always.  This is because buzz is better targetted, coming as it does from those familiar with us and our tastes, cheaper and more reliable, free as it is of financial considerations.  The problem is that, before the advent of the Internet, things were hardly equal.  Even without payola considerations, 20th century promoters, through the power of their budgets, dominated the market with superbands, superauthors, and box-office hits from Hollywood to Broadway.

     Cyberspace in general and social media in particular have blunted this advantage.  With so many channels, so many interests and such accessible avenues, it may be impossible to monopolize the conversation and create another Star Wars, Beatles or John Gresham.  Thus, it is difficult enough to create a common reference (a "mini-icon"), let alone a Frank Sinatra or a Star Trek.  Can we mention Peter Dinklage with any confidence that people who don't get HBO will recognize the name?  Yes, hypertext linkage can help but it is a tedious and distracting substitute for pre-existing familiarity (especially in verbal communication).

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #52
The Buzz-Hype Gap


     When hype fails, as it often does, it involves a loss of credibility.  Blurbers, publishers or awards committees do themselves no favors by giving us quotidian text like this:

We walk
the grid road alongside furrows. I’m numb
to my friend’s talk of her car ride from the coast,
time she took to ponder -- should she leave
her daughter’s father? I can’t care now about her choices,¹
I’m just grateful that she’s here.

    If someone were to rave about your poetry you would, no doubt, be flattered until you saw them praise the above lines, at which point you'd recognize their comments as meaningless blurbing and flattery.  This is the "Miller's Son" dilemma that poetry organizations and their publications face:  in trying to please everyone they end up satisfying no one.  They may still serve as handy reference libraries but their lack of aesthetic consistency discredits them as discerning authorities. 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #18
The Bottom Line

    This is modern art's version of The Great Compromise:  the move toward open, fair competition has come at the cost of the other, equally important, need:  objective filters.  This is all the more vexing in the absence of a significant market.

    People hate hype and hyperbole (except as humor).  That is why they zap commercials and avoid politics.  Today, new products seeking viable profiles will succeed or fail largely through word-of-mouth.  This is why Facebook is profitable. 

    Call it crude, scattered, unmanageable and often unmeasurable, but the democratization of speech has shifted influence from hype to buzz.

    What will this mean for the arts in general, poetry in particular?




Footnotes:

¹ - Then why should we?



 Links:

1. Hype Versus Buzz - An Introduction

2. Hype Versus Buzz - Ramifications




Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poet Laureate - Part II

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R)
     While cruising the online forums I came across the funniest line I've read this century.  I'll share it with you, largely because, in the firestorm over the North Carolina Poet Laureate Scandal, some comic relief might be welcome.  To fully appreciate the humor, though, we need some background facts for context.  Not the least of these is that Nobody Reads Poetry.

     Apologies for the rehash.

     In " Numbers" we saw Mark Halliday drastically misguess the number of poets in America at 10,000 to 30,000.  I'd wager that Manhattan alone has more than that.  For a certainty, one of the most obscure critical venues on the Internet, Zoetrope, currently has 113,689 members, most of them in its poetry forum.  This is only one example of an almost universal trend among academics:  they grossly underestimate the number of Americans who write poetry (~3,000,000), even as they overestimate the number of others who read it (~0).  In addition to the onliners, Print Worlders seem honestly unaware of millions--yes, millions--of open mikers, slammers, vanity types and lovers who dabble in the art form (and haven't been offered any book deals).  Barely a handful know who Margaret Ann Griffiths or Marc Smith are. 

     In most pursuits professors number fewer than 1% of all practitioners.  In poetry, it might be as high as 2%.  When the other 98+% speak of this tiny minority we often hear expressions like "Ivory Tower", "detached", "isolated" and "out of touch", along with some anti-intellectual terms not worth mentioning.  Could you imagine how funny it would be to see someone from the least circumspect 2% presuming to communicate on behalf of the entire poetry community, let alone as the vox populi? 

     Speaking of the populace, we must always bear in mind how indifferent the public is to this position in the absence of such unprofessional behavior by Arts Council partisans.  Did I mention that Nobody Reads Poetry?

Valerie Macon
     Notice that, while a few of the online articles have posted links to Valerie Macon's "Vegetarian Meat Lover" (from "Shelf Life", 2011) and "Detour" (from "Sleeping Rough", 2014), not one has included links to poems or performances by any previous Poet Laureate.  How can we be asked to compare without examples from everyone?  Can Ms. Macon's work be worse than her predecessors'?  Perhaps, but not by much.

     The official job description for the position of North Carolina Poet Laureate is to "act as an ambassador of N.C. literature, using the office as a platform from which to promote N.C. writers and the potentially transformative quality of poetry and the written word."

     Did you catch where it said "ambassador...to promote..."?  Compare this to the Arts Council's criteria:

 - A North Carolinian with deep connections to the cultural life of this state

 - Literary excellence of the writer's work

 - Influence on other writers

 - An appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state.

 - Statewide, national or international reputation

 - Ability and willingness to conduct the public engagement duties of the office

     Notice how the only reference to "the public" mentions not to the great unwashed themselves but the candidate's willingness to engage with such rabble as one of her duties?  Perhaps council members fear that non-poets will think "Laureate" refers to some kind of rope trick.  Notice how self-serving (e,g. "literary excellence" will be judged by academics, not geeks and certainly not by the public or the 98%, all of whom Arts Council members are completely unaware), self-absorbed (e.g. "deep connections", "influence on other writers", "reputation") and unrelated to the job description these guidelines are?  The position is explicitly that of a promoter, not some combination gadfly/writer-in-residence.  Did you gag when they mentioned "diversity"? 

     Unlike Arts Council members, the governor is elected by the people of North Carolina.  Love him or hate him, it is his job and no one else's to pick the next Poet Laureate on behalf of the citizenry he represents.  Imagine the uproar if, having done his job by selecting Valerie Macon, Governor McCrory had wasted the Arts Council's time on a redundant search process. 

Ed Southern
     And now, in all its glory, the punchline, from Ed Southern, Executive Director, North Carolina Writers’ Network, expressing the jilted Arts Council's concern over the Governor daring to make a decision on his own:

    "Choosing to ignore this process means choosing to ignore the people of the state."

     Bwahahahahahahahahaha!

     "...the people of the state", no less!

     Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

     Erk!

     Coffee.

     Keyboard.

     Damn you, Ed!



Links:

1. Poet Laureate

2. Poet Laureate - Part II

3. Hurdles Rule - Part I

4. Hurdles Rule - Part II

5. "Vegetarian Meat Lover" from "Shelf Life" (2011) by Valerie Macon, with a 2011 Pushcart nomination

6. "Detour" from "Sleeping Rough" (2014) by Valerie Macon, with a 2013 Pushcart nomination

7. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2005-2009) Kathryn Stripling Byer Reads from "Descent"

8. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2010-2012) Cathy Smith Bowers reads "Snow"

9. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012-2014) Joseph Bathanti Reads "Knocked"



   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 contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please use the box below, marking your post as "Private" and including your email address;  the moderator will bring your post to our attention and prevent it from appearing publicly.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Friday, July 18, 2014

Hurdles Rule - Part II

North Carolina Governor Pat McClory
From "Poet Laureate":

Question #2:  Regardless of the endeavor, should you choose a complete unknown or from a group with a long, unbroken record of abject failure?

     If you went with the latter you should avoid games involving odds, starting with poker, bridge and backgammon.  If you answered "a complete unknown" then you can understand why an Arts Council is the last place anyone should seek recommendations for Poet Laureate.

From "Hurdles Rule" (Part I):

   If one group is filled with people who can't jump higher than a foot and a second group has participants who can't jump higher than three feet which group probably has the better leapers?

    While nothing is certain, the odds favor the second group producing better hoppers.



Valerie Macon
     Suppose one individual fails in two attempts while another fails in five tries.  Looking forward, which is more likely to succeed on their next opportunity?

     Now suppose the 5-time loser had a lot of help and still flopped.  Clearly, this is all the more reason to put our money on the 2-time stumbler. 

     Now suppose we are talking about poets.  One self-publishes two tomes without achieving a significant public audience.  Fail!  Another poet produces five collections through reputable publishers, enjoying the benefits of editors, promoters, college degrees, blurbers and friendly awards committees;  all five collections are utterly ignored by poetry lovers outside the author's coterie (and inside it on YouTube).  Epic fail!
    
     Which author is more likely to create something worth reading eventually?



Earl the Squirrel's Rule #33

    Chris Vitiello's soon-to-be-infamous opinion piece, "McCrory’s mean joke, a poet laureate who’s barely a poet", is disturbing, representing as it does the opposition to Carolina Governor Pat McCrory's selection of Valerie Macon as Poet Laureate.

    The article begins with a hint of misapprehension.  It seems Mr Vitiello thinks that the Arts Council makes the decision.  They don't.  They advise the governor, whose job is to make the appointment.  Period.  In this case, the governor, having found a suitable candidate, had the good manners not to waste the Arts Council's time with an unnecessary pro forma search process.

    Chris then goes to great length to establish that he doesn't know what Poet Laureates do.  After a self-serving and off-point description of the Arts Council's guidelines¹ for their recommendations, he exhibits his misunderstanding of the role thus:  

   "A poet laureate should be a truly stellar poet and, more importantly, an educator..."

"...a truly stellar poet?"
    None of Ms. Macon's predecessors come close to meeting the first criterion.  Nor can many others we can name at the state or national level.  As for the second misconception, let me explain this in terms every tarheel other than Mr. Vitiello and his ilk understands intuitively:  A poet laureate is a cheerleader, not a player, coach or scorekeeper.  Their ability to write, teach or assess poetry is, at best, secondary.  Ask yourself what recent initiatives have succeeded in promoting poetry within the broader public.  Those are the only measure of a Poet Laureate's success.

      Take a close look at the last four Poet Laureates in North Carolina (or anywhere else, for that matter).  Do you see many performance poets?  Geeks?  Talented hobbyists?  No.  Just academics.  Not even their graduates.  Just the teachers.  The role of arts organizations and councils is to support and encourage the interests of their job-seeking supply-siders.  While this is a noteworthy and necessary task, that of a Poet Laureate is the exact opposite:  to support and encourage interest on the demand side.  We are comparing a labor exchange to a public relations firm.

    The list of poets whose names would not be put forth by such an arts council begins with Margaret Ann Griffiths, both Brownings, and William Shakespeare.

    Mr. Vitiello then lapses into naked politicalized condescension:

    "Hey, doesn't that nice lady on the first floor write poetry? I think I saw something pinned to her bulletin board. She should be poet laureate."

    As a Facebook friend observed, even if this were true it would constitute more care and involvement than other governors, most of whom blindly and obediently rubberstamp their Art Council's recommendation.  Given that the idea is to impress the public with poetry, why does it not make sense to begin with their elected representative--the person who is hiring you?  Is it really so inconceivable that the poetry an Arts Council approves might not be what the general population [or, for that matter, a more knowledgeable geek] enjoys?

    As outrageous as this is, Mr. Vitiello then predicts an announcement after Ms. Macon's 2-year term:  "We’ve evaluated the effectiveness of the poet laureate over the last two years and have decided the position no longer merits taxpayer funding."

    How could poetry's profile be any more obscure in 2016 than it is now?  (To be fair,  I could ask the same question in any jurisdiction in the English-speaking world.)  Mr. Vitiello's chutzpah is astounding;  does anyone doubt that if the position of NC Poet Laureate is abolished it will because of the uproar from misguided critics like Chris?

Chris Vitiello
    Yet again, Mr. Vitiello tangents on and on about Ms. Macon's abilities as a poet without, you will note, mentioning the lifeless prose "poems" of those who preceded her.  This is almost as irrelevant as Chris Vitiello's own poetry (which, in case you are curious, is every bit as professional and lucid as his photograph).  He then insults self-publishers without mentioning that they share the same 0% success ratio as third party publications achieve.  This is followed by a critique revealing that Vitiello has never seen an incomplete sentence before, at the same time explaining why he doesn't frequent serious (i.e. online) critical forums.  He seems to believe that all poetry is journalism, making it incumbent upon poets to interview everyone mentioned in their poems.

Kathryn Stripling Byer
    Many of us who oppose the misinformed Mr. Vitiello will resent him for forcing us to defend a decision made by someone like Governor Pat McCrory.  As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Of course, all of this comes before any discussion of elitism.

    Rather, let us compare Mr. Vitiello's sneering tone and lack of generosity to the actions of past Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer in offering to help Ms. Macon.

    More to the point, compare Mr. Vitiello's partisanship and disingenuity to the grace Valerie Macon displayed in her letter of resignation².

    Enough said.



Footnotes:

¹ - "Meanwhile, NCAC guidelines state that the laureate should possess 'deep connections to the cultural life of this state, literary excellence and influence on other writers and appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state."

     Of course, the only criterion that matters is the official job description, which states that a Poet Laureate will "act as an ambassador of N.C. literature, using the office as a platform from which to promote N.C. writers and the potentially transformative quality of poetry and the written word."

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/15/4007210/nc-poet-laureate-criteria-has.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy


² - Valerie Macon's resignation letter

Dear Governor McCrory,

I would like to thank you for the confidence you placed in me to represent our
state as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. However, I have decided to step down
from this position effective immediately. I do not want the negative attention that
this appointment has generated to discourage or distract attention from the
Office of the Poet Laureate.

I remain passionate about the mission of poetry to touch all people regardless of
age, education or social status. I would like to encourage everyone to read and
write poetry. They do not need a list of prestigious publishing credits or a
collection of accolades from impressive organizations just the joy of words and
appreciation of self-expression.

I would like to thank the many individuals who have voiced their support of my
appointment.

Sincerely,

Vmium

Valerie Macon



Links:

1. Poet Laureate

2. Poet Laureate - Part II

3. Hurdles Rule - Part I

4. Hurdles Rule - Part II

5. "Vegetarian Meat Lover" from "Shelf Life" (2011) by Valerie Macon, with a 2011 Pushcart nomination

6. "Detour" from "Sleeping Rough" (2014) by Valerie Macon, with a 2013 Pushcart nomination

7. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2005-2009) Kathryn Stripling Byer Reads from "Descent"

8. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2010-2012) Cathy Smith Bowers reads "Snow"

9. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012-2014) Joseph Bathanti Reads "Knocked"



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Poet Laureate

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory
     Let me start by saying that I do not mix partisan politics and poetry and that I am not a supporter of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.  Unfortunately, politicos on both sides have made neutrality/apathy itself a political statement, if not a crime.  Take, for instance, Gov. McCrory's selection of Valerie Macon as North Carolina's new Poet Laureate...and her resignation days later.  In the interim, the governor and his pick were besieged with protest, centered around two facts:

1)  that the governor chose to do his job rather than delegate it to the Arts Council; and,

2)  Ms. Macon's status as, essentially, a student of the art form with only two self-published chapbooks on her resumé.

    From the Charlotte Observer web site:  "All I can say is I will definitely do my very best to promote poetry," Macon said in an interview on Sunday after the controversy over her selection became public. "I’ll work hard to be the best Poet Laureate I possibly can for the citizens of North Carolina."

Valerie Macon
    What more would anyone want from a Poet Laureate?  That they be great poets?  This would come as a surprise to anyone familiar with most previous choices in North Carolina and elsewhere.  It's not like Governor McCrory picked a semiliterate antisemitic punk for the job, right?

    To put this in perspective, please bear in mind that Carol Ann Duffy was chosen as her nation's Poet Laureate over Margaret Ann Griffiths.  No matter.  In my experience and opinion, this is an inverse relationship:  the better the poet, the worse the Poet Laureate they become.  As for teachers, most that I know would be the first to admit that they don't make good salespeople or promoters.

    In light of the outrage, I researched the three previous NC Poet Laureates, expecting at the very least an A.E. Stallings, a Browning and a Shakespeare.

     Hey, how far off the mark could I be?

     You be the judge.  Feel free to use light years as your unit of measurement.

Kathryn Stripling Byer (2005-2009; appointed by Mike Easley)
Cathy Smith Bowers (2010-2012; appointed by Bev Perdue)
Joseph Bathanti (2012-2014; appointed by Bev Perdue)

    As you watch "Kathryn Stripling Byer Reads from 'Descent'" see if you can distinguish her wordy intros from her elephantine "poems":



     Believe it or not, this is scintillating writing compared to the pallid reportage we hear when "Cathy Smith Bowers reads 'Snow'":



     For self-absorbed journalism, though, it's hard to beat "N.C. Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti Reads 'Knocked'":



     Note the complete absence of comments on these three performances, despite the (51 + 1401 + 248 =) 1700 views (at the time of this writing).

     I did not look at or for any of Ms. Macon's poetry because, as I said, it isn't a significant part of her job.  Still, one has to wonder:  "Could it be any more underwhelming than that of her three predecessors?"

     Regardless of what misstatements may have appeared on Valerie Macon's website, driving her away because she wasn't vetted by academia does no credit to her critics or their [a]vocation.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50
       In fact, let's frame it as a game show quiz:

Question #1:  When, exactly, did academia devote itself to the same goal that a Poet Laureate does:  the repopularization [as opposed to the preservation, interpretation and study] of poetry?

     If you answered "Never" then you get to proceed to:

Question #2:  Regardless of the endeavor, should you choose a complete unknown or from a group with a long, unbroken record of abject failure?

     If you went with the latter you should avoid games involving odds, starting with poker, bridge and backgammon.  If you answered "a complete unknown" then you can understand why an Arts Council is the last place anyone should seek recommendations for Poet Laureate.



Links:

1. Poet Laureate

2. Poet Laureate - Part II

3. Hurdles Rule - Part I

4. Hurdles Rule - Part II

5. "Vegetarian Meat Lover" from "Shelf Life" (2011) by Valerie Macon, with a 2011 Pushcart nomination

6. "Detour" from "Sleeping Rough" (2014) by Valerie Macon, with a 2013 Pushcart nomination

7. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2005-2009) Kathryn Stripling Byer Reads from "Descent"

8. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2010-2012) Cathy Smith Bowers reads "Snow"

9. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012-2014) Joseph Bathanti Reads "Knocked"



   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.

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    We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who Talks Like That?

Rich Smith
     Rich Smith grew up in Belton, Missouri, but studied for an MFA at the University of Washington.  In "Stop Using 'Poet Voice'" Rich Smith speaks of the artifice used by poets more accustomed to public speaking than public performance.  He defines the problem thus:

     "'Poet voice', is the pejorative, informal name given to this soft, airy reading style that many poets use for reasons that are unclear to me. The voice flattens the musicality and tonal drama inherent within the language of the poem, and it also sounds overly stuffy and learned."
 
     As with  Julie R. Enszer's "Are Too Many People Writing Poetry?", Mr. Smith won't overwhelm us with his literary ability.  (Nor will his poetry, as we'll soon discover.)  Nevertheless, he makes a number of excellent points.  I'd like to pick up where he left off.

     Gregory Orr Reading "Gathering the Bones".



Earl the Squirrel's Rule #28
     First, I'd like to get the other bookend in place:  the opposite of "poet voice" is "slam voice", where participants speak too loudly, too quickly, without modulation or pause, much as an auctioneer does.  Second, I need to highlight a few other characteristics of "poet voice".

1.  Droning.

     Poet voice is every bit as monotonous--literally and figurative--as slam voice;  it's just quieter.

2. Overenunciation.

     Poets must think they're talking to people who are new to the English language.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #37
3. Random emphasis.

     The first thing a verse performer (e.g. an aspiring Shakespearean actor) learns is to avoid overstressing every second [or third] syllable.  It makes the cadence sound metronomic.  When free versers overemphasize monosyllabic words it has the opposite effect, underscoring the utter lack of rhythm.

4. Artifice.

    It is impossible to listen to any poet voicer [or slammer] without asking ourselves:  "Who talks like that?"  The problem is that speaking naturally while reciting free verse makes it sound like what most of it is:  prose.  This is the principal raison d'être for poet [and slam] voice.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #11
5. Random pauses

     Why do performers stop without warning or cause, especially after each clause?  Does every poet on the planet suffer from emphysema¹?

6. Examples.

     I hate quibbling about examples of well acted poetry outside of the theater, especially since I cannot come up with many myself.  That is the state of the art.  Yes, the poets whose performances he praises (i.e. Heather McHugh, Tim Seibles, Mary Ruefle, Jane Wong, Ed Skoog, Lisa Ciccarello, Jessalyn Wakefield, and Anthony Madrid) do sound better than other poet voicers but that is largely because they are:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #1
a) performing from memory (a must for anyone wishing to be taken seriously) for the most part; and

b) getting help from multimedia (e.g. background music, graphics, cartoons, video, et cetera).

7. Eye contact.

     Rich mentions the need to speak with, not at or down to, the audience ("the bear").  He fails to stress that comfortable eye contact is key.

     "A Poem By Rich Smith"




Earl the Squirrel's Rule #66
     As with saw with the other Smith (Marc), even great performance--which this isn't--will not salvage ponderous writing.

     Judging from his work and bio, I'd say that Mr. Smith goes to Washington² where he encounters the typical interpretation-based Content Regency.  That he took this interest in presentation is remarkable.

     At the risk of ending on an immodest note, though, let me suggest that he might benefit from familiarity with The Rules of Poetry, especially as they pertain to performance.

Addendum:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #69
     As an aside, Rich Smith offered this:

    "(For the record, poetry is UNdead...  Do a page search of this article for 'green face powder' or 'Captain Eliot' and you’ll know what I’m talking about.)"

    No, we won't.  The mere fact that one would have to do any page searching, let alone to an article about T.S. Eliot's love life, is all the proof we need that poetry is, indeed, quite dead.  Were it alive, the evidence would be all around us, in every newspaper and magazine.




Footnotes:

¹ - My apologies to those who do!

² - Surely you saw this coming.



    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.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel