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, January 5, 2015

True Bullshit

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #144
     Think of the difference between lies and bullshit.  The former implies an intent to deceive;  the latter may be "nonsense¹, lies or exaggeration"--roughly, anything with which we don't agree.  Every propagandist understands that the truth can serve bullshit and, if deftly employed, outright falsehoods.

     Blogger Rosemarie Dombrowski, PhD, confesses:  "I want to rattle readers."  She succeeds in "Academia vs. Poetry: How the Gatekeepers of Contemporary Literature might be Killing It" largely by castigating academia for what it does right, encouraging what it does wrong, and misapprehending what it does in toto.  Much of her post constitutes true bullshit, beginning with her references to academia in the third person.  Yes, technically, only those currently in university are academics but, considering the years in college required to earn her degree, the real world's response will be:  "Aside from herself, who does Dr. Dombrowski think she's kidding?"  As for the title, how are the "Gatekeepers of Contemporary Literature" killing something that has been dead for more than half a century?

Adrienne Rich
    She begins by agreeing with Adrienne Rich in saying:  "...poetry has been hoarded by universities, and those universities have kept out poetries that could speak to and resonate with more people."

     I'm not sure how something in almost infinite oversupply could be "hoarded".  I suspect she means that she is completely unaware of other conduits, including two-and-a-half of poetry's three worlds:  pixel², stage and non-academic print outlets such as, ironically enough, "Rattle" magazine.  (You may recall we first encountered this amaurosis poetica in "Numbers", where Mark Halliday mistook a paltry 10,000-30,000 English and MFA graduates for the entire poet population.)  We can smile at the irony of her subsequent statement about academics:  "Maybe the problem has something to do with the number of years they’ve been talking to, interacting with, and reading to each other--and only each other."

Rosemarie Dombrowski, PhD
     Universities have, indeed, "kept out poetries that could speak to and resonate with more people."  That's their job.  Sort of.  To wit, if those poetries are timely rather than timeless, excluding them in favor of more lasting literature is academia's raison d'être.  It is a concept and task so simple it is circular:  scholars preserve that which survives.  Using Howard Miller's example (see Addendum A below), we study "Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Herbert...Milton" as well as "Housman...Tennyson and Browning, Hardy" rather than Thomas Tusser and Norman Rowland Gale because the former group speaks to subsequent generations, including ours, while the latter two writers don't.  Would we want the late 20th century to be remembered for Shel Silverstein and Charles Bukowski?  As for sales and popularity, these are not impediments;  they are irrelevancies.  Shakespeare drew sufficient crowds to become a wealthy theater owner.  Byron outsold all contemporaries, including novelists.

     Later, Rosemarie Dombrowski wanders/wonders:  "...academic poets must intuitively know that no one in the general population can fathom why anyone would have to use the word loam instead of dirt or soil.  What could that distinction possibly add to a line of poetry?"

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #68

     If Ms. Dombrowski thinks that the word "loam" is interchangeable with "dirt" or "soil" it isn't the general population's understanding of the term we need to worry about.  Nevertheless, this contempt for the public, so pronounced among "Gatekeepers of Contemporary Literature" like Dr. Dombrowski, coupled with death denial, could help explain why academics can be actively hostile toward efforts at reincarnating poetry.

     She may seem to make a little more sense here:  "Most of us abhor these ticks and gimmicks, preferring, instead, a beautifully crafted imagistic or narrative piece, oftentimes authored by 'a local poet' as opposed to an academic one."


     It isn't the presence of "ticks and gimmicks" that annoys audiences;  it is the absence of anything "beautifully crafted".  The curginic accentual verse in "The Red Wheelbarrow" may have fooled people but it doesn't seem to have bothered them much.  We can only guess at how many of our current forms and approaches were originally dismissed as gimmickry because people like Dr. Dombrowski associated them exclusively with ineptitude.

      Too many form-phobic editors today will publish all manner of dreck as long as the structure is every bit as unimaginative as the content.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12
     In one of her more confusing paragraphs, Ms. Dombrowski speaks of contemporary "gatekeepers of so many prestigious journals" being "gatekeepers of the canon."  Given that this segmented source hasn't produced a single iconic verse in 50 years, along with accessibility problems, literal and figurative, why assume that  any print poetry today will be part of a canon?  Have none of these people heard of the Internet?  YouTube?  E-zines?  Web searches?

     She ends with a call for language so simple it can be understood by those who think "loam" and "dirt" are perfectly synonymous.  That's fine for those in the pits but what about those in Shakespeare's balconies?  The ability to please all demographics, using words that only appear simple, was a "secret" shared by all successful poets, dating back to a time when "successful poets" wasn't an oxymoron.


¹ - As as example, think of when the posse leader says "You got me dizzy with all that bullshit!" in Lenny Bruce's classic "Thank You, Masked Man" routine.

² - This, despite appearing more than once on InklessMagazine.com.

Addendum A:

Want to make popularity based on sales as the criterion of poetic worth? Think about the following:

Bestselling poet in England between 1560 and 1640 (the era of Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Herbert, and the early Milton, to name just a few) -- Thomas Tusser (he outsold most of those poets even when you take all their works sold during that period combined).

Bestselling English poet between 1890 and 1914 (era of Housman, late Tennyson and Browning, Hardy, and numerous others of note) -- Norman Rowland Gale.

     - Howard Miller (Gazebo, 2007-03-19)

1 comment:

  1. Having been acquainted with Dr. Dombrowski ever since she was an undergrad at ASU, in a simple term, she is a dingbat. Distrustful of people, insecure of herself and an inner(?)need to triturate students and those she views as not her equal. As an undergrad, her apparent magnitude was 9.0, compared to her contemporaries. Dr. Dombrowski is a product of academia. Nothing more. Never having to earn her way through life, she took the easy way out. "Those that can, do...those that can't, teach."


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