Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Response to Poverty

In response to Aaron: Sure, sure – “We don't have to rock the boat when we can sink it directly.” But that ignores a whole set of problems I think it’s easy to ignore. The fact is that Billy Collins and that sort of poetry (and it is a very definable sort) occupies poetry’s place in America. There isn’t a lot of ground to occupy, so we’re left with a very small corner of the map. That’s not to say that I think that the poetry I advocate and write should take a central place in literary America or the popular consciousness, because ALL poetry is marginal. It belongs in the margin, even Billy. It’s not a question of mainstream vs. alternative poetries – it’s a question of legitimation. What I am so much against is that the Collins’s of the world participate in institutions that legitimize their work: the writing workshop, the academy, a whole host of prizes and contests, and publications that give poetry a stamp of approval. What I would argue against is not that Collins necessarily writes like that – although I do take issue with his simulacra of bourgeois experience (as Eric Gelsinger points out in his Amazon review) – it’s that Collins is the most popular example of an institution of poetry that refuses to acknowledge that alternative poetries have any value whatsoever. Russ mentions a great point when he talks about how Collins is the poster child for poetry in the media – even NPR. What that means is that instead of Morning Editions doing a story on what’s new at the Poetry Project this week, or what’s happening in the Chicago world of poetry, that we get a 10 minute interview with Billy Collins. And we do b/c this is America’s poetry.

As for the ownership of language – Aaron’s right on. No one owns the language, but he’s exactly wrong to say “Language is not a privilege, it is universal”. Language is ALL privilege and NOT universal. And this is, at least my point, with attacking Billy Collins – is that he represents and performs a privileged poetry that denies its own privilege. I have to cut this shorter than I’d like to b/c I need to go meet with students – students who I struggle to make understand that poetry CAN be something different from a Billy Collins poem. After all, that’s what they learn in high school and it takes years and a lot of work to correct.


Blogger Al Cohen said...

That's your only response to poverty? C'mon Mikey, have a heart!

11:54 PM  

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