Thursday, December 08, 2005

CP2: The Poetics of Oligarchy

Life is political, and so poetry too has probably been political since Homer first work-shopped The Iliad. So it’s not just the politics of workshops, readings, conferences, so-called schools, publishing, and teaching appointments that form the predicament for poetry these days. It’s the vacuum in which all of this activity takes place. Take real politics in comparison. The networking and endorsements and appointments are pretty much the same as poetry. That’s life. But there is one significant difference beyond the gross sums of money involved in American politics (and the lack of same in poetry). Despite it all, politicians are ultimately answerable to the general electorate (even the best marketing sells a bad product for only so long) or, if an actual prosecutable crime is committed, the law (say hello to Scooter et al). Because of their insular nature these days, poets are answerable only to other poets. Of their own schools. In a supportive battle against other schools. Loose lips sink ships. And page space. Imagine a political system where the caucus rules all. Since there is no general public for poetry, there is little necessity for poets to participate in any community larger than their relatively small target audience. A vicious cycle commences and less relevant poets develop. Craft may be sharpened. But consequence is dulled. And there is no law against that particular crime. Only publication.

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