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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No More Stars

Rose Kelleher
     In response to the "Nobody Reads Poetry" post Rose Kelleher wrote:

     "Yup. All good points. But. I think the current state of things is in some ways a necessary reaction to the old state of things. Sometimes you have to tear down before you can rebuild. The old system was deeply flawed, and worse, it was believed to be purely merit-based, which was an insult to all who couldn't succeed in it. Race, class and gender were much bigger factors than most people realize(d). The arbiters who decided whose work was worth reading/teaching/preserving for posterity were nearly always rich, white, and male. They made stars of a handful of people, based on their own highly subjective criteria, and everyone else was screwed. Now there are no stars. This bothers some people.  It doesn't bother the ones who know for a certainty that they would never have been selected for stardom under the old system."

     There is no question that white males have dominated the ranks of both the choosers and chosen (i.e. publishers and poets).  The first part of the 20th century did see Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) but the focus was on Robert Service and, later, T.S. Eliot.

     In the middle of the century Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), Anne Sexton (1928-1974), and Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) received less attention than Robert Frost and, later, Allen Ginsberg.

     The latter part of the 20th century brought with it a final indignity, as the works of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), Maya Angelou (1928-2014), Margaret Atwood (1939-) were obscured by the successes of Dr. Seuss and the cringeworthy Charles Bukowski.

A.E. Stallings
     Only in the Internet era--roughly, this century--has the hegemony of wealth been circumvented.  We witness a parallel decline in poets reflecting their editors' gender, background, race and nationality¹.  The causal links are obvious:  printing and mailing costs require backers with deep pockets, especially when Nobody Reads Poetry.  Their interest is often cultural, not aesthetic (and certainly not financial).  E-zines require no such outlay. 

     Magazines are compartmentalized by subscribership;  e-zines can be read by anyone.  Largely due to [taxpayer?] funding, magazines tend to be regional/national in scope;  webzines are often international.  We can't create a Facebook link to a poem in a print periodical.  Convenience is not the Internet's only advantage.  There is greater economy, availability and expertise.  Most geeks are onliners:  Usenetters, PFFAers, Gazebans or Eratosphereans.  Why pay for the poetry or opinions of those who don't know whether "Prufrock" and "The Red Wheelbarrow" are metrical or free verse when more informed writing is free?

     Thus, the Internet has reversed the flight from quality we've seen since music supplanted poetry in the 1920s.  The print world continues to focus on personalities while e-poets create something we haven't seen in half a century:  iconic verse.  All Newsgroupers--which is to say all poets online before the 1990s--know the rest of this poem:

Missing you again,
I embrace shallow graves.

     What web poet doesn't recognize the following lines?

you pass from here to there, with your marigold
eyes, the garden darker for lack of one golden flower,
would bees mourn, would crickets keen, drawing long
blue chords on their thighs like cellists?

Margaret Ann Griffiths
     This march to excellence doesn't have time for the sexism², racism or economic elitism of the past.  Progress continues and accelerates not because people care but because they don't.  Now that expensive distribution models are obsoleted the question becomes:  "Why would any happy reader be concerned that 52% of the best work will be authored by women?"

     True, most of these advances have been all too recent.  Parenthetically, I wouldn't tie these gains to the death of poetry's audience, which happened 3 to 7 decades earlier.  Still, it is a fascinating hypothesis that the loss of readership served as some sort of cocoon, under the cover of which a structural metamorphosis occurred, bringing new dimensions in color, equality, access and harmony.

 Now there are no stars.
Derek Walcott

     There isn't even a sky.

     Nevertheless, stars may be the perfect analogy.  It takes many years for their light to reach us.  We could hope that the four great poets of today, none of whom are white males, might be noticed at some point in the future.  Otherwise, canonical historians will have a 50-year gap in their poetry timelines.

     Color me skeptical, though.

  This bothers some people.

     Democracy usually does.


¹ - To wit, the majority of ezine editors may still be white and male but they're rarely wealthy.  I perceived no reluctance whatsoever in John Amen of the Pedestal, Michael Burch of TheHyperTexts.com or the late Paul Stevens of SCR to publish works regardless of any extraneous factors (including politics, in the case of Stevens, at least).

Hedy Lamarr

² - Did you know that WWII U.S. Army artillery trajectory charts--far superior to any other nation's--were designed by a group of female mathematicians?  That the Principle of Restricted Choice was discovered by a female mathematician in India half a century before computers could confirm it?  That a female cryptographer cracked the Imperial Japanese JN-25 Naval code, leading directly to the first major U.S. victory at Midway Island?  That Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, with the help of composer George Antheil, invented frequency-hopping for unjammable WWII radio-controlled torpedoes--technology that is found today in your cell phone, GPS and WIFI?  That the U.S. Navy rejected this discovery until it was "re-invented" by [male] scientists in the 1960s? 

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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