Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Discursive Situation of Poetry: An Early Warning

Winter break was not, I'm happy to report, a dead loss, despite the sad fact that I was shanghaied onto a hiring committee and had to wade through several hundred job applicants, then hole up in a hotel room at the M.L.A. between Christmas and New Year's Eve. (If you are in the job-applying position this year, you have my sympathy — there's a lot of talent out there, and not many places for it to go). Besides my service to Our Fine and Collegial College, I finally found the time to sit down, root around in my notebooks, and write an essay I've been thinking about for months. I'm giving it a minimalist, colon-and-subtitle free name, "The Discursive Situation of Poetry." I suppose it's my contribution to the discussion about the relative decline of poetry's audience over the last century and a half (Dana Gioia's "Can Poetry Matter?" and all that). Here's the opening paragraph:

Statistics confirm what many have long suspected: poetry is being read by an ever-smaller slice of the American reading public. Poets and critics who have intuited this have blamed many things, but for the most part they have blamed the rise of M.F.A. programs in creative writing. While they have made various recommendations on how to remedy the situation, these remedies are destined for failure or, at best, for very limited success, because the rise of M.F.A. programs is merely a symptom of much larger and farther-reaching trends. These trends are unlikely to be reversed by the intervention of a few poets, critics, and arts-administrators. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. Or, in any event, I’m not sure it is worse than what a reversal of the decline in readership would entail. Let me explain.

There's still time to do some revisions before it appears in a book Mary Biddinger is editing as part of a new series on poetics she's started at the U. of Akron Press, so consider this an early warning of pedantry to come. If you want to give me some notes on the draft (warning: it runs about 8,000 words), send an email my way at my Lake Forest College address.