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, 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.


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



Valerie Macon


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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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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