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, February 6, 2014

Dutch Warehouses

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #24
    I am told that, in Holland, the government would underwrite artists' efforts, buying unsold paintings and storing them in huge warehouses.  Knowing that no one would ever view their work, people produced slapdash efforts so artless that they can't even be given away for want of takers.

    Heleen Buijs:  "Their main criterion was often whether [or not] the artist needed the money, rather than judging the attributes of the work."

     Bearing in mind the perilous parallels between endeavors, we should not overlook the fact that there is still a market for fine painting, not so much for the finest poetry.  We can't say "let the market decide" when there is no market.  Nevertheless, what little money and organization there is in poetry operates almost exactly like Dutch warehousing.  Safe from the public eye, poets bury mass-produced "poems" in publications that use subscribers as conduits between printer and landfill.  For their part, institutions and publishers are still stuck on the John Barr philosophy¹, promoting only failed aesthetics.  The tiny difference is that [sufficient] funds don't come directly from poetry production;  monies usually derive from teaching positions that require such publication credentials.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #58
    This raises two questions: 

1.  "We understand that government funding might be good for poets but has it been good for poetry?"  Not the arts in general, mind you.  Just poetry.

2.  "What do taxpayers--or just readers--get for financing poetry publications that even poets won't read?"

    Let's start with the typical counterargument:  "Government funding for the arts returns a significant profit in tax revenues."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #69
    For starters, this refers to arts that, unlike poetry, still have some public appeal.  Secondly, it can be applied to any government initiative.  The money we pay people in make-work projects comes back in federal, regional and municipal taxes, including income, estate, sales and property taxes, to name only a few.  The rest gets spent in businesses that, in turn, pay taxes and, more importantly, may continue to do so in large part because of this customer² base.  Why fund Dutch warehouse poetry ("Dwp") when another government agency could use that cash to start up a left-handed widget cottage industry, creating far more jobs and perhaps even [gasp!] a profit? Or, for that matter, why not support poetry that an audience might want--even pay!--to experience?

What would Paul Stevens say?³
    As serious as this issue is, an Australian dustup may threaten state funding for poetry everywhere. The case was brought to our attention in a thread on Eratosphere, "Blacklisting Quadrant Poets".  The facts are simple:  what was a left-wing Australian poetry magazine, "Overland", has stated that, regardless of quality, they will not accept the work of anyone published in a right-wing Australian poetry magazine, "Quadrant".  To their credit, the editors of the latter have stated unequivocally that they will not respond in kind.

    Thus, the Overland transitions from a credible literary magazine to a strictly political periodical (albeit one that uses both modes of communication, poetry and prose, for its diatribes).  Of course, it has every right to do so, just as a church can be the first to publish "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" or the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    No, the only issue here is the fact that Overland receives significant government support for its partisan production.  That is downright scandalous and would be even if its counterpart, Quadrant, weren't receiving a far smaller stipend.  ("WTF?")

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #70
    How does this affect you if you live in Cheeseville, Wisconsin, Clapworth, England or Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, Alberta?  If taxpayer funding of the arts is under pressure where you live--and it is--what do you think its opponents will make of a government funding propaganda?  If it can happen in Australia why not here?  Come to think of it, what will a new government make of it?  Will it switch funding from its opponents' mouthpieces to its own? 

    When--not if but when--opponents of arts funding glom onto these two issues (i.e. Dutch warehouses and the politicalization of poetry outlets), supporters and governments will need to fashion a new criterion and paradigm for funding.

    I'm betting that this policy shift will be towards something that politicians and poets can sell--literally, in the latter case--to the literate population.  What investment will reap the biggest bang for the buck?  My expectation is that at some stage (excuse the pun) this will involve a public performance or competition.

     Stay tuned.


¹ - Lest we forget, the most glaring of many flaws in this approach is that no poetry aesthetic is succeeding today.

² - Everyone understands why consumers are good for an economy.  Why it is so difficult to convince people that consumers are good for poetry, too?

³ - In case you missed the link, this is what the late, legendary Australian critic and editor Paul Stevens had to say on this issue during his interview with "Very Like a Whale":

"I really do not care what the politics of a poet are. Really! If anyone submits a good poem, I will publish it because it is a good poem. That’s what I think poetry is about. It’s a transcendence of our work-a-day petty selves. I would publish Adolf Hitler’s poem if it were good enough. Same with George Bush. Benjamin Netanyahu. Joseph Stalin. Tony Blair. Jeffrey Dahmer. The Boston Strangler. Condoleeza Rice. Madeleine Albright. Hilary Clinton. John Howard. Attila the Hun. Osama Bin Laden. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jabba the Hutt. Dutch Schultz. Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno. Sarah Palin. The Spring-Heeled Terror of Stepney Green. These are all people whose politics or other personal behaviour I strongly disapprove of, and there are plenty more! But if any of them sent me a poem they had written that I judged to be a good poem (which would ipso facto therefore NOT include hate-material), I would publish it! I publish poems: I do not judge personal lives."

     Après nous, le déluge.

  1. Government Funding - Part I: "Dutch Warehouses"
  2. Government Funding - Part II: "The Politics of Altruism"
  3. Government Funding - Part III: "The Results are In"

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