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

Monday, February 24, 2014

What Passes as Criticism

Adrian West
     Recently, I was exposed to two examples of what passes (read:  "fails") as poetry criticism.  The first is Adrian West's "The Awfulness of Pablo Neruda", where we learn that Pablo Neruda was "awful" because:

1.  Mr. West doesn't admire the intellectual capacity of some Neruda's fans.

2.  Like Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson and, yes, Shakespeare, Neruda wrote some bad poetry.

3.  Some disapprove of Neruda's character.  If only he were a saint like Villon, Shakespeare, Swinburne and Pound!

4.  Some of Neruda's juvenilia¹ was [gasp!] extremely derivative.

    This constitutes criticism?  Of a best-selling, Nobel Prize winning poet who performed in front of live audiences numbering in six digits?

    If getting his B.A. in Humanities from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga involved Mr. West taking a literature course I'd say he is entitled to a 100% tuition refund, deducted from his professors' severance pay.

    At the end of "Dead Poets Society Is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities" we are informed that "Kevin J.H. Dettmar is the W.M. Keck Professor of English, and the chair of the English Department, at Pomona College."  His thesis exhibits none of the silliness we see in Mr. West's.  I get the sense that academia would be rather comfortable with his essay.  Indeed, I apologize to Professor Dettmar ("KJHD") for singling him out;  I could have used almost any article being published by academics today.  What is more, I agree with his title--and for many of the reasons he cites.  "Dead Poets Society" indulges in the same lazy, adolescent, "feel good" clichés spouted by Ido Effected/Affected wannabes everywhere.

    That said,  KJHD begins to go awry early:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #53
   "I think I hate Dead Poets Society for the same reason that Robyn, a physician assistant, hates House: because its portrayal of my profession is both misleading and deeply seductive."

    Excuse me, but wasn't the whole point of the film that John Keating (as played by Robin Williams) was, indeed, unlike others in his profession? 

   "It takes Emily Dickinson’s playful remark to her mentor Thomas Higginson, 'If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,' and turns it into a critical principle. It’s not."

    Does KJHD really want to compare the success of his aesthetic to that of Emily Dickinson?  What next?  A game of one-on-one against LeBron James?  Oh, and what is wrong with mind-blowing poetry as a goal?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #98
    "When we simply 'feel' a poem, carried away by the sound of words, rather than actually reading it, we're rather likely to get it wrong."

    Why not do both, and in that order?

    What follows is a fundamentalist argument that KJHD's interpretations are closest to authorial intent and are, therefore, gospel.  There is no room for plumbers, homemakers or hockey players to take from a poem what plumbers, homemakers and hockey players are wont to infer.  Leaving aside the notion that authorial intent is to poetry what creationism is to science, he describes other views as "anti-intellectual".  Without a hint of irony, mind you.  This is coming from someone who insists that we cannot quote verses in any context beyond the poem itself.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #42
    The nadir comes when his substance-over-form obsession causes him to fret that "the students are freed to enjoy an unmediated encounter with poetry in the raw."  Heaven forfend!

    At no point in his diatribe does KJHD allow for the fact that these are students encountering poems for the first time.  He does not accomodate the theory that they should do so as an audience, not as readers and certainly not as critics (all of which can come later). 

    After wasting our time pointing out that John Keating said something similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson (yeah, so?) while intimating that standing 2.5 feet higher doesn't change one's perspective (really?), he dovetails into a logic spiral, arguing that students who listen to Mr. Keating aren't thinking for themselves because they are listening to Mr. Keating telling them to think for themselves. 

     Might we call this "a loop of faith"?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #95
     The professor lays his cards on the table in the penultimate paragraph, concluding that "it finally comes down to a preference for fans over critics, amateurs over professionals."

     Obviously, KJHD sees poetry fans (he does?) and critics as mutually exclusive or, at the very least, working at cross-purposes.  If we don't have fans, to whom are critics, professors and poets speaking?  As for "professionals", this is a contrast between two of them, both "reality challenged" in one way or another.  (I'd be curious to hear what KJHD would say about the simultaneous rise of his profession and the demise of the underlying art form.  Coincidence, no doubt.)

      When KJHD misuses the term "analysis" he means "interpretation", words as dissimilar as "autopsy" and "eulogy".  I am reminded of a documentary involving islanders speaking in a thick patois, their words being typed onscreen for clarity.  English, with English subtitles.  It's funny until we realize that this is KJHD's life's work:  translating English into English.  No doubt he eschews Dylan Thomas for William C. Williams because the former doesn't require his services as explicator.  He treats English verse as a foreign language and wonders why enrollment is down!   Does he ask how, for millennia, the hoi polloi were able to comprehend the Iliad without his guidance?  Does he understand how street urchins kept the doors of Shakespeare's theaters open without such "analysis"?  Does the professor ask how colegiales kept the works and memory of Neruda and Lorca alive without his help?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #97

     The article is a complete but all-too-common misreading of the roles and natures of poetry and education.  So, what can we learn from this cautionary tale? 

     To avoid becoming the next in a long line of KJHDs, stop engaging in poetry palmistry, with its close readings of etymological entrails, and start discussing the science of poetry.  Prosody.  For everyone else, imagine if we did need English professors perched over our shoulders in order to enjoy poetry.  Imagine how few of us could afford the expense and time.  Imagine how obscure and elitist the writing would become in order to justify such mediation.  Imagine how soon cryptology would replace the study of verse.

      Oh, wait...



Footnotes:

¹ - Neruda was 18 when he wrote "Farewell", the poem Mr. West cites.



    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





Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Ido Effect

    From "Poetry's Three Eras":

    "As Chris Richardson said:  'It's the American Ido effect:  Being bad includes not knowing you're bad.'

    "In judo we don't have to guess whether or not we have succeeded.  The fact that we're on our ass is proof enough that we haven't.  Without an audience, there is no similar way to show that we've failed at poetry."



    Obviously, if we can't convince students to recite Scavella's Mantra we can't sell education.  Not surprisingly, few English or even Creative Writing courses bother teaching techniques that might improve one's composition.  Instead, they teach its interpretation as if it were a foreign language.

    The problem is exacerbated by the fact that poetry is dead.  The great poets of our time are hardly household names--not even among poets.  What is our measure of success or failure?  How can we demonstrate that Margaret Griffiths is a better poet than the average novice when both are unknown, along with the tools Maz mastered?  By taking the word of "know-it-all critics"?  By showing them non-existent videos of superb contemporary poetry being brilliantly performed?  By insisting that if the reading public gave contemporary verse a chance they'd love it?

    In an era of blurbing and esteem-based "learning" how can we combat the Ido effect?



Next:  What Passes/Fails as Criticism



Friday, February 21, 2014

The Future Passed

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #95
     As mentioned in "The Future", poetry's currency is not money but audience.  For the most part, that means video which, in turn, means a repository (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) where the file itself is posted and, often, a pointer drawing our attention to it:  social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) or a blog.  For the sake of simplicity, we'll concentrate on YouTube videos being referenced by Facebook.  We'll also presume that you don't want to spent hundreds of dollars to have your videos featured on YouTube. 

     To reach a sizeable audience you will need people to not just "Like" but "Share" your link.  You will need more than 10%--probably more than 20%--of you friends to "Share" with theirs who, in turn, will "Share" it along.  Towards this end, you'll want a wide array of Friends with varying interests.  No, you do not need them to be poets.  Indeed, it might be preferably that they aren't.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72
     Take a moment to think about what Facebook entries people enjoy enough to "Share".  Start with yourself.  Typically, poets will "Like" almost any poem written by a friend but will tend not to "Share" it.  Why not?  Because they don't think their non-poet Friends will appreciate it.  (Think about what that suggests about the viability of poetry presented as poetry.  Obvious conclusion:  Do not post poems.  Post stories, jokes and other compositions that just happen to be verse.)

     As for what others will "Share", your list is as good as mine but, in case it helps, here are the ten most common Shares that I encounter, listed in descending order of popularity:

1.  Humor - One can rarely go wrong with dry wit or, better yet, something piss-your-pants-wet funny.  Come up with a joke or anecdote--steal one if you must--set it to tight rhymes and pounding rhythm and you may have the next viral video.

2.  Animals/Kids - There's nothing cuter than puppies, kittens or kiddies.  Add some equally charming words and you might have something people will see, say "Aww...!" and forward.  Alternatively, you might speak of a tragedy, past or impending (e.g. an endangered species).

3.  Songs -  "Anything too stupid to be said is sung."  (Voltaire?)  Obviously, song lyrics don't set the bar very high.  If you don't have any musical talent form a partnership with a musician.  There's one on every street corner, no?

4.  Recipes - Okay, this one's a tad outlandish but if you can write a recipe in verse it might help people remember the ingredients and prep instructions.

5.  Rants/Insults - Who doesn't like a good rant?

6.  Deaths (i.e. recent celebrity deaths, elegies) - When was the last time you read a decent elegy about a well-known contemporary figure?

7.  Occasions/Events (i.e. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Superbowl, inaugurations, etc.) - If you can rise above triteness, this should be like shooting fish in a barrel.

8.  Online Games - Perhaps not a great subject for verse but a sardonic look at time-wasting Facebook games might find an audience.

9.  Stories - A fascinating narrative can be told as easily in verse (albeit with far more subtle rhythms/rhymes than humorous doggerel) as prose.

10. Appeals - Entreating people to adopt a certain attitude or cause without resorting to ranting may be the most challenging task any poet can assume.

    Your path to fame may require a number of successes.  George Takei's status as a social media maven wasn't built in a day.



Footnotes:

¹ - Do not cajole or guilt people into "Sharing" your posts.  It's a turnoff.




    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, February 13, 2014

The Future

"There's no one left to torture."

 - "The Future" by Leonard Cohen (apparently not referring to poetry's "market")



Earl the Squirrel's Rule #45
     With what objective quantification can you measure an art with no market?  How can you evaluate a product with no consumers?  That is, how do you measure the success of failure?

    The Internet in general and the social media in particular have given us an answer that predates currency itself:  audience.  Our challenge isn't to sell poetry but to give it away.  Sounds easy, but it isn't.  Post your favorite poem on Facebook and see how few people "Like"--let alone "Share"--it.  See how few poems have gone viral, as Jonathan Reed's reverser has:




Earl the Squirrel's Rule #30
    Don't laugh.  With 16,663,051 viewers and 10,786 comments at the time of this writing, "Lost Generation" is easily the best known poem of this century...and, despite its triteness, one of the cleverest.  As for technique, it demonstrates the only characteristics that matter in poetry:  it is memorable and cannot be paraphrased.  It is verbatim.  To put its success in perspective, during the last six years (i.e. since it was posted online) "Lost Generation" has been seen by more people than all print poems combined. 

    Think about that for a moment.

    Poetry began with raconteurs telling stories in front of their tribespeople, whose eyes followed the performers or some indicated object or cave painting.  Emerging from a dark age when verse relied on text and the dreaded poetry reading, we come full circle with video.  Just as .MP3 files on IPods revolutionized the music industry, obsoleting albums, CDs and DVDs, .MP4 (along with .avi .rm, .flv and other [multimedia container] formats) files allow poetry to operate on a global scale with the same audiovisual appeal that it had at its height.  As an example¹, consider Shakespearean actors or imagine a non-slam version of Steve Currie's "Worst Date" with more natural language and pace:



    As daylight died on the primordials, visual contact was lost whenever the speaker stepped away from the fire.  Voices became disembodied, emerging from the darkness.  This would have been the precursor of the sound file.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #69
    Millennia later, many societies gained literacy, which was useful for archiving verse and disseminating it to those performing or studying it after having seen or heard it performed.  Think of Shakespeare's folios or lyrics that came with music albums as examples. 

    Obviously, audiovisual is poetry's primary medium in both heirarchy and chronology.  By watching his plays being performed, seeing the actors point to their heads while saying "coxcomb", a student of Shakespeare will find it much easier to understand the language.  Studying the text can come later. 

    The audio or visual are secondary media.  The former might involve MP3 sound files;  the latter, sign language (minus alphabetics).  A deaf person might be impressed by a soundless video of someone's expressions as they sign a brilliant poem;  might the text be worth examining?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #84
    Print is the tertiary medium.  Because it lacks facial expression, gesture, body position and movement, tone, pace, modulation, emphasis, and inflection, text was never meant to compete with or replace performance.

    So, the future of poetry is in performances, right?  Slam, minus the histrionics?
Not so fast!  Remember us mentioning "some indicated object or cave painting" above?

    Most successful poems will be hybrids, blending secondary (i.e. spoken) and tertiary (i.e. text) modes with graphics and, perhaps, music.  These include the montage/dramatization (with voiceover and/or text), slide show/collage (with voiceover and/or text) and photomeme.

Montage with voiceover and music:



Slide Show video with voiceover and text:


Un Drapeau Pour Trudeau (in English) posted by Earl Gray on Vimeo.


Slide Show video with text:


The Evolution of Buffalo Wings posted by Earl Gray on Vimeo.


Slide Show photos with text (aka a "Facebook poem"):

Click here to see "Lovers Will".

Photomeme:




    Okay, so we know the modes and media in which successful poems will come.  What will those verses be about, though?

Next:  The Future Passed



Footnotes:

¹ - Notice that all of the examples in this post require your imagination;  they need more interesting writing or material, modernization of language and/or better acting or production before they could work for a contemporary audience.  Hey, if we had better examples to show you this post would be entitled "The Present", not "The Future".



    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


Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Results are In

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50
   From Government Funding - Part I:  "Dutch Warehouses":  "We understand that government funding might be good for poets but has it been good for poetry?"


    Suppose, decades ago, you wanted to support what was, at that time, one of the two top sports in the world:  football.  There were two viable conferences, one of which was dedicated to promoting the game, the other composed of burned out veterans hoping for jobs as coaches.  For reasons known only to you, you threw your money behind the latter.

     (Seriously, why?  Why not the other?  Why not both?)

    Today you return to find:

1.  The unsupported teams beat their counterparts in every category;

2.  The supported teams care even less about success than they did earlier;

3.  There is no one watching the games other than the backup players;

4.  No one can remember a single play from any game in the last half century;

5.  Few, including coaches and referees, can remember the rules of the game;

6.  Football disappears from newspapers and magazines;

7.  Football's popularity sinks below that of Celebrity Croquet;

8.  Football becomes so obscure that people argue about what it is;

9.  Only by their dress can "critical analysts" be distinguished from cheerleaders; 

10. The expression "football fan" becomes an oxymoron.


    Looking back now, would you think yours was a wise investment?

    More to the point, would you think it helped or hurt the endeavor itself?




Links:

  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"




    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below (you may need to hit "No comments") 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


Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Politics of Altruism


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #52
    In our first article on government funding, "Dutch Warehouses", the question arose:   "We understand that government funding might be good for poets but has it been good for poetry?"

    One of the many problems with taxpayer support is that the scope of politicians rarely exceeds their jurisdiction.  If nothing else, this is one reason why foreign aid is often the second budgetary cut (after the arts).  There is something pernicious and petty at play here.

    Suppose you have an idea¹ that might revolutionize the poetry world, restoring its place in our culture.  You go to your city council and they rebuff you, saying that your initiative will benefit everyone in the world, not just the residents of your home town.

    "Why should this burg's taxpayers have to pay for such a thing?"

     You try arguing that it could "put the town on the map" but, as we'll see, the cat is out of the bag.  They bump you upstairs to the regional capital.  Same story:  "We're here to represent the interests of our constituents only.  Try the feds."  Because it is a global effort, you face rejection there, too.

    This isn't a matter of no one being willing to "take one for the team."  Nota Bene:  No one is being asked to make a sacrifice that does not pay dividends for their citizenry.  It isn't even a "red tape runaround" or "passing the buck" between levels of government.  No.

     It is the politics of altruism.  "Thou shalt not give aid to outlanders!"  For an initiative to pass it isn't enough that it profit the electorate.  It must not benefit anyone else.  I get the sense that, if an inventor in Podunk Hollow, Connecticut, were appealing for monies to cure world hunger or to prevent world domination by invading aliens, our leaders would stop listening at the term "world".

    The immediate effect of this rabid, cut-nose-to-spite-face parochialism is obvious.  Contests, publications and criticism have made geography paramount.  People who know most of their local poets can't name three from a neighboring jurisdiction.  Poetry's already miniscule audience is splintered into myriad fiefdoms.  As for the Internet, even after the last of the technophobes dies out, careerists will have little reason to look at the work of those beyond their borders.  How many poetry bloggers will know or care about the greatest poet of our time if she happened to come from another country?  Or county?  If 2014 is like every other year since Shakespeare's death it will produce, at most, three poems that will stand the test of time.  As a discerning reader or a teacher hoping to find exemplars, why limit your search to your town, university, region or nation?

    If you do not look beyond the mountain you will never see another sunrise.



Links:

  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"



Footnotes:

¹ - One of my favorite humans has just such a plan.  With his permission, I hope to expound on it in a future post.



    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below (you may need to hit "No comments") 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, February 7, 2014

The Thirst Games

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #28
     Thirst Games ("TGs") derive their name from where they appear:  a popular local watering hole.  Like the Malsitna, TGs are variations on a slam model intended to broaden the demographics, aesthetics and styles seen in performed poetry.  The format is simple:  a month beforehand, competing performers pick from a list of volunteer advisors.  The latter might come from anywhere:  older slammers (if that isn't an oxymoron), actors, poetry teachers, et cetera.  The contestant with the highest score after two poems is the champion;  his or her mentor wins the coveted Svengali Sash--sorry, "Coach's Cup".

     Some TGs will have a compulsory:  a piece every participant must perform that is short enough (i.e. sonnet length at most, 75 seconds or less) and has sufficient performance value to avoid boring an audience hearing it so many times in succession.  These allow for an apples-to-apples comparison of presentation skills. 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #79
     Other TGs will be less a serious, fair competition than a party to raise monies for a slam team's travel expenses.  These may include a 50-50 draw (where legal), precluding the need for judges;  attendees buy raffle tickets that identify the performer they most enjoyed.  The participant who gets the most such "votes" (i.e. whose tickets sell best) wins the event.

     Ideally, TGs will bring out people who would never go to performance events, thus creating a far more balanced, eclectic presentation than the typical unmodulated slam or poetry reading.  Given the crowd and location, one is likely to encounter almost anything at Thirst Games.

     Except thirst.



    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below (you may need to hit "No comments") 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


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.



Footnotes:

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.



Links:
  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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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Crit the Crit - Part I

     Want to improve as a poet and are not a member of a serious workshop? Join one: Eratosphere, Gazebo or Poetry Free-For-All. Lurk for a year or so, improve your technical and critical skills, start posting there and stop reading. Nothing that follows will pertain to you.

     If you've been an active member of such a workshop please take a moment to write down the names of your favorite critiquers from years gone by. Sadly, some of these, including Margaret Griffiths and Paul Stevens, have passed on. By offering far more critiques than the guidelines require, these unselfish creatures are what keeps such fora going.

     What happened to so many of the rest? On a related topic, why has traffic on the upper forum of your favorite tiered workshop slowed to a trickle? Why has the quality of criticism and verse gone down so sharply (even after accounting for the loss of Maz and Mr. Stevens)?

     The answer to all of these questions involves an insidious trend seeping into some forums. Every few weeks someone begins a thread in the discussion forum touching on the level or tone critique. In exhausting detail, posters rail against those mean critics who dare to tell them the frank truth about their writing. One wonders how high standards would soar if these people put anywhere near the same energy into critiquing poems as critics. In the past, moderators would arrest this ungrateful whining, admonishing the guilty members about "looking a gift horse in the mouth" and pointing out that friendlier forums are available for the thin of skin. Recently, I've seen staffs encourage and even join in on this crit-bashing, often under the guise of "raising the bar".

     Occasionally, we'll see a poet arguing with a critic--something expressly forbidden in the guidelines. When the critic responds, a moderator arrives and says: "Cut it out, you two!" When serious critics see this treatment they leave. They don't scream or kvetch. They leave. And, generally speaking, they don't return. If a site loses every one of its poets the organizers can put the word out and have a new crop of versers before the week is out. If its 5 or 6 knowledgeable critics depart that same venue is toast.

     Whether it comes in discussion or poem threads, nothing is more toxic in a workshop than critiquing critiques. If you feel that the caliber of criticism or poetry has declined in your favorite workshop lately, look no further for a cause.




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    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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Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Saturday, February 1, 2014

This Won't Make Sense

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This Won't Make Sense posted by Earl Gray onto Vimeo.