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Author Topic: I have my opinion  (Read 59606 times)
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Crimson
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« Reply #45 on: May 12, 2005, 02:07:13 PM »

Quote from: "ScottCairns"

Publication is pretty much beside the point, eh? We write poems because, when we are working away at the mystery of language, we find a glimpse of the greater mystery of being. Some people find their way into that mystery via physics, or mathematics, or theology, or whatever. And a few of us (too many, perhaps, to make a career out of it) find that the closest we come to understanding ANYthing, is when we work it over in densely suggestive terms--terms that, if we're lucky--continue to resist terminaton, conclusion.

Nope, not too many poets. Too few.

Yers for the duration,
Scott


I have to totally disagree with you.  "The greater mystery of being" can be experienced without books in print or cushy jobs with solid pensions.  How believable is an actor who says "I want to act because it gets me closer to the mystery of being".  Well, great, act in your living room.  Alone.  Act for your parents and significant other you met on the internet.   Or alone, for the mirror, or facing a wall.  Not satisfying enough?  Difficult to tap into that greater mystery?  Of course.  Because it's insincere to say that the motivation is that.  The truth is an actor is dead without an audience, and so is a poet.  
We write, act, sing, because we want to be admired, and we have cleverly found a tool in our bag of tricks by which we may draw attention to ourselves.  If you had discovered a little birdie in your throat at the age of 9 that made you sound like Pavarotti, you would not be writing poetry.  You would want to belt out arias day and night, because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and creatures opt to pursue that which will attract admiration rather than anything else.  
In terms of biology and social behavior, we write poetry because we think we are good at it, better at it that the norm in the population, and appraise our chances to be fair or good that the rest of humanity will agree with us.  In this sense, the very first decision to write poetry is based on competition.  On a comparison between oneself and others.  This is how Pavarotti decided to be a singer: he realized he sounded better than others.  He was right. Lucky him.  
People who claim to despise the idea of a poetry competition are also insincere.  Once we have eliminated the general population, the next thought is to take on the other poets.  Pavarotti does not want to sing in the chorus, dressed as a street urchin; he wants to be center stage, as Radames, in shiny armor and eye makeup.  You have ten books of poetry competing for your attention and dollar.  Which one will you pick? Let's say you leaf through all of them, read at random and what do you do?  You pick the one you like best.  Competition at work.  The winner's prize is his royalty share of your $12.99 and your admiration for his name and skill.  
But that's just one method of selecting the winner in your purchasing decision.  Another popular one is to try to recall something about the name of the poet, or, gasp!, read those insincere, confounding blurbs.  Let's see, he won some trophies, obligated some heavy names into spreading good stories about him, hm, he is either good at poetry or good at networking, or maybe both.  At least you spent more time evaluating his book.  If you selected his book this way, then that is also competition at work.  Titles and approval from heavy names are important to you, and he has succeeded in impressing you in the way you need to be impressed in order to open your wallet.  
Back to these organized competitions.  A bunch of unknowns, all thinking they are pretty good at this, trying to break away from the audience, from the chorus, and grab that spotlight for a minute.  Maybe they are trying to cover all the bases.  Maybe they don't believe anyone uses the leafing method anymore.  Maybe they are being pragmatic and thinking, if trophies are what they want, trophies I will give them, bastards, as long as they read me and admire me.  Means to an end.  You win, you get to sing a little ditty for four minutes; maybe someone is watching and you get lucky.  Luck is the most important thing in life. It's how you got your poetic talent to begin with.
Enter the dark cloaked foets.  They file in from the back in the middle of all this cacophony, like horror nuns, seeming to float.  They form a circular cabal around the engraved, cheap trophy, which starts to ooze thick blood.  Eyes twist back in their sockets, a fat woman goes into convulsions, others see visions: a goat, screaming in agony, houses on fire. Then silence.  The smoke clears.  The trophy is gone.  The stage is once again, empty.  The audience begins to clap, awkwardly.  Everyone files out, confused.
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Matt
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« Reply #46 on: May 12, 2005, 03:05:37 PM »

I agree with Vermeer.

Also, in my brief and limited experience in an MFA program, I was kind of surprised to see that so many of the students were entirely unfunded (or drastically under-funded).  They were paying some sizable coin to bask in the MFA aura.  Some of them had talent, some not so much.  They all wanted to be Poets (not join the Peace Corps), and that's why they were there.

Some of these folks (a few were very decent folks, as well) did not possess the talent or ambition to meet with any success (even in the PoBiz), nor did they have the “stylistic compatibility with the program” of the funded MFA poets . . . and I questioned to myself why they were there at all.  They often were (and felt) bullied by the "academic track" MFAers, who could wield theories, spout famous names, and even push a few boundaries now and again in their writing.  Still, many of these students persisted in spite of the difficulties and their apparent "lack of qualifications".  Why?  Because they believed in the romantic dream of being a Poet, that to be such a thing was glorious.

And then it dawned on me why these people (who were there trying to earn their MFAs and receive the stamp of poetic approval) were admitted to the program: they were willing to pay.  When I began to recognize this, I was revolted.  These students were lambs to the slaughter, meat on which the “real MFAs” were fed and fattened.  They “maintained” the writing program.  Ah, their sacrifices will not be soon forgotten!

Until the next crop of admits comes in, that is.

These same “lambs” make up a large number of the contest entrants, also.  I think these people are being taken for a ride by the PoBiz institutions (straight to the slaughter house).  It is because of them that we can “afford” to have so many poets, so many contests, so many writing programs, so many presses and magazines.

I am not saying that all MFA programs practice this with cold calculation, but I bet mine wasn’t the only one that does this.  And I’m sure if put on the spot, the leaders of these programs would rationalize their behavior.

I don’t recall the exact ratio, but I believe my program gave two stipended scholarships to incoming MFA poets: one for a fellow and one for a teaching assistant.  The other 10? 15? Students received insufficient or no funding.  This practice is not only misleading many of these aspiring poets, but it makes such MFA programs into excellent businesses that generate sizable profits.  These profits, in turn, fund much of the PoBiz . . . the elites.  I’m not saying they are rolling in dough, but there is an excess of money, enough money to corrupt.  (It doesn’t take much money to corrupt poets, who are notoriously poor).

If greed is a poet’s personal vice, so be it.  Everyone has a long list of his or her own.  But when the industry, the business of poetry gets to dictate the direction of the art on its own terms, terms which are economic rather than artistic, terms which are purposefully non-critical and often cronyistic, then the truly artistic is not being served.  The art itself does not profit from becoming a “biz”.  A “biz” cares about money and how to get more of it.

But an artist (in his or her role as an artist) cares about the art.  The art is more important than anything else.  That this is so frequently not the case today means, very clearly, one thing: poetry is not being guided by artists, but by business people and opportunists.
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #47 on: May 12, 2005, 03:18:18 PM »

From what you're all saying, I see that I must be mistaken about why folks are drawn to the writing life, and to the writing programs that, ideally, would equip you for those lives. My bad.

I wish you all well, and I hope you each find what you're after.

Adios,
SC
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Vermeer
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« Reply #48 on: May 12, 2005, 03:28:45 PM »

allow me to do a survey of the MFA and PhD students in your program to find out why they are there? I suspect they are there to get a degree and find a job in the field they degreed in. If not then someone at your program is misleading them. Everything in life does not make you feel good, or better or make you a better person. The competition in some writing programs makes people worse. I think it's a serious mistake to make the suggestion that you are making. Whle you have a degree -and may have been enlightened by the writing life in the process- you also have a job in a writing program, the field you degreed in.
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leander
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« Reply #49 on: May 12, 2005, 04:09:40 PM »

Scott,
You make a plausible defense of studying toward an mfa for the sheer delight in learning.  I bet some students do.  But as Vermeer notes, I bet many if not most graduates end up doing other things by necessity not choice.

The problem that this site is centered upon, however, is corruption in the foetry world, and that predominantly arises from the career-track of the mfa business.  Favors, whether of contest wins or simply publications, leading to jobs and more are given on the basis of connections, not the quality of the poetry (a very subjective thing, I know, but that's another topic).

Scott, I have greatly enjoyed your poetry over the years and I am impressed that you are willing to reason together with us here.  I wish more of your peers would.
      Leander
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #50 on: May 12, 2005, 04:33:48 PM »

Thank you, leander, for your kind words and for helping me to better gauge the perspective of the conversation here. I'm sorry to learn that so many have been misled into thinking the MFA is more than it actually is. It is a studio degree, designed, like most studio degrees (sculpting, painting, music, etc), to teach technical skill for the performance of a craft.

Vermeer, we don't offer an MFA program here at Missouri; so, as any survey would reveal, our PhD students are here to become equipped for university scholarship and teaching, and, so far, pretty much all of them find a gig within a year of graduation. Also, we do not accept any students who are not fully funded--hence, though we have a relatively small, but vital program, we have no sacrificial lambs paying the freight for a blessed few.

To the heart of the matter: even when I served as director of an MFA program, I made clear to any students interested in teaching at the university level that a PhD program would be their next stop, and that they should prepare for that more scholarly undertaking even as they completed their MFAs.

My own MFA degree from Bowling Green was essential to my finding time to write, and essential to my finding what we would call, these days, a voice and a vision for my work. My subsequent PhD work at Utah was essential to my understanding the theoretical, historical context from which I could then "profess."

I'll butt out of the conversation here for awhile. I have another little journey to prepare for.

Christos anesti!
Scott
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Crimson
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« Reply #51 on: May 12, 2005, 05:08:33 PM »

Thank you thank you thank you Scott.  So busy and so generous.  So mighty among us ants.  If I was to be crushed by your boot I would consider it an honor.  I will only disagree gently, with my head bowed demurely in your presence.
And to think Daniil Kharms died of starvation...

Cristos a inviat!
Adevarat a inviat!

My granpa was a greek orthodox priest.  He slept with all the women in the village. Once, when his daugther walked in on him and one of them, he threw a pickaxe and got her good in the calf.  Ah, Stendhal! The Red and the Black!
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Lynn
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« Reply #52 on: May 12, 2005, 09:20:20 PM »

It seems to me that what is happening in this forum is what might possibly put people off Foetry, or cause them to think the forum is a wee bit caustic. Scott Cairns tries to give some facts and some nice, positive words about Poetry and MFA programs, and posters, many of whom are anonymous, blast him. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think he is responsible for what's wrong with institutionalized creative writing. In fact, he might represent what's right about it. After all, he's participating. But what do people do? You are so mean.
Granted, poetry isn't pretty. But I have a hard time believing the hundreds of people who enroll in MFA programs think they will get their degrees and sail into jobs. Did someone tell them this? Are they "victims" or "lambs" ? Do they not have free will? Do they not look around them and observe? I don't think there is anything wrong with offering an MFA program. The program I studied in did allow unfunded students, but they were the minority. And many of them were working professionals who wanted an MFA for reasons other than because they wanted to be career poets. I think they just wanted to write and wanted some help with their writing.
Very few of the people I met in the MFA program were these "lambs" you describe. Most of them are very intelligent. Not all of them were brillant writers, but all of them wanted to be better writers. Did they "fail" because they went on to jobs in industry or education? Or are they improving the world by being poets AND something else too?
I, myself, am very cynical about publishing and academia, etc. But I don't think you should kill the messenger.
And as far as there being too many MFAs, how about MBAs? I think the world could do with more poets and fewer CEOs. We'd probably all be better off.
And, lest any one cry "conspiracy": I was a student at University of Utah, as was Scott Cairns, but I've never met him. I just graduated, and as far as I know, he finished here in the late 80s or early 90s.
But I would like to meet him, especially now. He has my respect, which is more than I can say for those who insult him.
There is such a thing as intelligent disagreement that is respectful, but it does not involve sarcasm or personal attacks.
I think Foetry is and can do important work. But the focus has to be on the contests and those who actually are responsible. Sarcasm and cruelty do not help the cause of this site, which has been discredited in certain circles because of the personal attacks that take place here (like the attack on Scott?)
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Monday Love
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« Reply #53 on: May 12, 2005, 10:58:38 PM »

Quote from: "Lynn"
It seems to me that what is happening in this forum is what might possibly put people off Foetry, or cause them to think the forum is a wee bit caustic. Scott Cairns tries to give some facts and some nice, positive words about Poetry and MFA programs, and posters, many of whom are anonymous, blast him. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think he is responsible for what's wrong with institutionalized creative writing. In fact, he might represent what's right about it. After all, he's participating. But what do people do? You are so mean.
Granted, poetry isn't pretty. But I have a hard time believing the hundreds of people who enroll in MFA programs think they will get their degrees and sail into jobs. Did someone tell them this? Are they "victims" or "lambs" ? Do they not have free will? Do they not look around them and observe? I don't think there is anything wrong with offering an MFA program. The program I studied in did allow unfunded students, but they were the minority. And many of them were working professionals who wanted an MFA for reasons other than because they wanted to be career poets. I think they just wanted to write and wanted some help with their writing.
Very few of the people I met in the MFA program were these "lambs" you describe. Most of them are very intelligent. Not all of them were brillant writers, but all of them wanted to be better writers. Did they "fail" because they went on to jobs in industry or education? Or are they improving the world by being poets AND something else too?
I, myself, am very cynical about publishing and academia, etc. But I don't think you should kill the messenger.
And as far as there being too many MFAs, how about MBAs? I think the world could do with more poets and fewer CEOs. We'd probably all be better off.
And, lest any one cry "conspiracy": I was a student at University of Utah, as was Scott Cairns, but I've never met him. I just graduated, and as far as I know, he finished here in the late 80s or early 90s.
But I would like to meet him, especially now. He has my respect, which is more than I can say for those who insult him.
There is such a thing as intelligent disagreement that is respectful, but it does not involve sarcasm or personal attacks.
I think Foetry is and can do important work. But the focus has to be on the contests and those who actually are responsible. Sarcasm and cruelty do not help the cause of this site, which has been discredited in certain circles because of the personal attacks that take place here (like the attack on Scott?)


Lynn,

I think you are being unfair when you claim Scott is being personally attacked.  That's just not the case.  People are disagreeing with his ideas, that's all.  No one is blaming Scott personally for the ills of the world, or the ills of writing programs.  

Scott is giving pat, corporate, "professional" answers--he sounds like a p.r. agent for MFA programs--to complex questions and he's getting what sound to me like rich, informed, and complex responses.  

"Mean?"   I beg to differ.   To say, as Scott and you say, that, "Well, MFA degrees are just nice things to get, so what's the problem?" is all well and good, but in the context of the Foetry discussion such a remark is really beside the point.   It seems to me that people are generally pleased that he's here.  I hear disagreement.   Not mean.

Monday
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adamhardin
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« Reply #54 on: May 12, 2005, 11:59:24 PM »

When I look at picture of Hemingway, I see everything that a writer was, and it is almost like looking at a picture of a mythic figure because that kind of writer seems to be extinct.  It makes me sad. But it makes me more than anything want to be a writer.

A different subject:

    What I see on the internet is a cultural change in the Literary World via the medium of the internet and bloggers. I see debate and disagreement and arguments. I see journalists exposing bullshit. Writers being taken down.  This is not reversable.

     No longer can you go back to the good old days when people just whispered what we are saying out loud. When a glass of wine at a cocktail party in New York was the only place you would hear the literati being held accountable for their crap. Now everything that goes on, is held up on a grand Marquee in flashing lights via the Internet.      

       ULA, Foetry, Moby Lives....

   The tone from many critics on this board is hush hush. Lets talk quietly.
But the Internet has changed the literary world. There is no going back.  

I would hope that this leads to a renaissance in American Literature.
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« Reply #55 on: May 13, 2005, 12:54:52 AM »

Lynn,

We are all lambs.  Poets, thankfully, are only a danger to their own kind.

I hear what you are saying, but think of it this way: this is not a PoBiz forum or a workshop group.  This is the lion's den.  You can't expect the pussy cats to purr and curl up on your lap here.  There is no passive aggressive in this place . . . and thank God for that!

Some folks here are mildly disgruntled or "concerned" insiders or semi-insiders or ex-insiders (and we are happy to have them) . . . and some of the folks here are immensely pissed, utterly disenfranchised, and stoked with rage.  You and Scott are middle of the roaders, and you are right to state (although on your own behalf, it should be noted) that your presence here is important and should be respected.  But in some sense, you are like conservative, upper-middle class people who walked into a ghetto crack house and are shocked and appalled by the manners of the destitute and destroyed.  Why can't these people behave more like you?

It would be noble and decent of you to be able to endure a bit of our growling and spitting.  In life (and poetry is not immune) the majority of the people don't get to drink from the golden chalice.  You might see some of us as deranged and hostile, but from my perspective, I am astonished and overjoyed that our small community has communicated as effectively and intelligently as it has.

I would never be so foolish or pompous as to try to speak for Renata, but I would like to go on record to say that I think she is an utterly essential voice in this forum.  I thought I was radical, but I bow to her ferocity.  She is generously giving us all a radically dissident and alternative voice.  I think we should be thankful to have the chance to hear that voice.  Where else could we hear it?  Not in the writing workshop.  Not in a poetry editor's meeting.  And yet, it is legitimate.  We are many alternative voices here.

Can she spit venom?  Hell yes.  But she's also smart as hell, and she tends to spit straight.  It can be hard to hear clearly when the mortars are blowing up all around you, but I for one think that it's worth listening to and thinking about what Renata is really saying.  In any leper colony, evangelists are not going to find shiny happy well-behaved kittens directing them (bowingly) to the “comfy chair”.  Welcome to the jungle.

And as for me, I am pissed off, too.  I was once a good boy on the PoBiz fast track.  I had my tiny accolades, my undergraduate writing awards, my summa cum laude, my fellowship to a "top ten" (ha!) MFA program.  No one ever told me I didn't have what it takes or that I was a mediocre talent.  I could have "done the deed".  If I would have played ball, I would be teaching in a university writing program right now.

But I didn't play ball.  I burned a lot of bridges.  I made enemies of my so-called "connections", my "network".  Not because I was a major prick spoiling for a fight (I've become much more aggressive of late), but because I asked the forbidden questions.  I questioned the workshop tenets.  I questioned the validation system.  I questioned the strange and enormous bulge in the middle of the python of PoBiz.  I didn't kiss ass.  I have always respected people for the words they used and the things they did (rather than for their reputations).  But I see; I don't go blind out of convenience.

Yes, I am pissed off, I’m boiling with rage.  But I destroyed my own "career".  The PoBiz didn't destroy me.  I found such self-destruction preferable to the alternative.  So now I’m mad and hairy living off my locusts and honey, wearing skins, roaring at the kingdom’s tallest towers.

So I ask you to not ask us to be nice.  There is value in us being exactly as we are.  If we are barbarians, so we are barbarians . . . but that is a caste distinction, it has nothing to do with human value . . . or intellectual value for that matter.

This is how the other half live.  Poetry consumes, and when there is consumption, there is waste.  Some of us have stared and stared into this waste and at first it puzzled us, and then it frightened us, and then is sickened us.  And we realized that there was too much waste, and we grew angry at the consumption, at the wasteful ones.  We want to do something about it.  We are starting to do something about it.  Here.  Now.

This is a rebel army in its infancy.  We are fragile, unformed.  But we have some shout in us.  Right now we are just forming the first syllables in a new song of dissent.  We have a healthy anarchy, though, and some real smart folks (and our “fearless leader”, Alan doing the legwork and loaning us a bus to ride in).  We're getting louder every day.  What you hear is the first chorus of a voice that has never spoken before, a voice that was never listened to.

Scott is brave for being here and I hope he sticks around, but as Monday said, he is towing the party line.  It makes sense to him, but we who live beyond the kingdom have heard this rhetoric before many times from many others.  For us, it just doesn't ring true.  It's like Bush addressing a congregation of environmentalists or farmers or gay rights advocates, trying to explain how his new tax plan or deregulation scheme will cure all their woes.  Well, we know damn well that the big bulk of that tax cut goes directly to the rich and that deregulation means our jobs and rights are in danger.

So if we are angry and you can't see past that, then I think you are seeing too narrowly.  I think we have some wonderful, strong, sane voices here (more than I've seen in a forum before).  I hope you don't convince yourself that it’s not worth your time.  If so, that, to my mind, is the most arrogant decision you could make.
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Matt
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« Reply #56 on: May 13, 2005, 01:04:02 AM »

Quote from: "adamhardin"
The tone from many critics on this board is hush hush. Lets talk quietly. But the Internet has changed the literary world. There is no going back.  

I would hope that this leads to a renaissance in American Literature.


Hear hear!

And what, to those who disagree, do you propose?  That we engage in an artistic sameness indefinitely.  Or are you selling evolution over revolution?  So what's evolving?  Even evolution is dependent on mutations.

Say hello to the mutations!

What goes on here, even when we are wrong or brutal or stupid, is good for the art.

I see anyone who turns up their nose or rejects us or thinks we are doing something indecent as part of the problem.  You are dead wood.

The fire is coming.
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« Reply #57 on: May 13, 2005, 02:37:34 AM »

No one is attacking him. Indeed, everyone seems to agree that we respect him. But it's the silly answers. At one time he was director of an MFA program At VCU. Based on googling you can't tell the dates of some of the things you turn up and I thought he was now there instead of Missouri.

The fact is that anyone who is in charge -or used to be in charge- and graduated from one CW program (Bowling Green) and then went to another (Utah) and makes the kind of statements he makes is simply irresponsible. As director and/or nominally in charge you should have a world view that you can share with students based on reality.

There may be those individuals who have the luxury of taking their lives off and not going to school for a degree that will lead them to a career. Kudos to you. But American higher education is designed to steer individuals towards careers so they can support themselves and their familes.

I was in a program that was high profile and the students were there to get degrees and have careers and earn a living. It was a large program -some eighty students in and around. A number of women who had families went back to school and did their degree part time. The others there full time expected to have careers when they finished.

It is almost offensive to have someone post up that all this business is about spiritual enlightenment when you have foets cheating like the devil to adavance people (themselves or others). Less lawyers and poets? We already have more poets and they are out there cheating like management at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom, cooking the books to cheat. More poets leads to more competition and the realization that there are a finite number of jobs that can't handle the numbers of poets who want jobs.

It is irresponsible to suggest that because we are involved in the arts there is a higher need for enlightenment (and who says we have a higher need than the guy or girl on the street) and that it takes a backseat to a real degree with a real job future. Administrators solicit and recruit students to fill their programs and they should not be deceptive in recruiting them in and then as they graduate tell them they have no future but they should appreciate the fact that the experience made them enlightened. Better to be Ted Kooser and sell insurance on the side and make a living while waiting to be named Poet Laureate one day.
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« Reply #58 on: May 13, 2005, 08:33:18 AM »

I relate to Scott's views about poetry and mystery.  For him, for me too, poetry is a spiritual calling.  

But that is indeed irrelevant to careerist MFA programs where digging into the substratum of the soul is less important than earning the credential, insinuating yourself with the power elite, and seeking to get published under fraudulent circumstances.  

Clearly Scott, who had never even heard of a Jorie Graham rule, is a rare bird in po biz.
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« Reply #59 on: May 13, 2005, 09:19:16 AM »

We are all lambs.  But some of the lambs are well groomed and wear golden collars while other lambs go unwashed and suffer from hoof rot and hang around with goats.

The pristine lambs, in the end, get led away by their golden collars to that place from which lambs don’t return (the PoBiz, of course!).  They look forward to their heavenly rewards.

But the rotted, goat-loving lambs see what’s happening.  They know what lambs are intended for and that their own undesirability is allowing them to exist, although in a rather deplorable state.  Still, some envy the clean, gilded lambs and their contentment, even if they find the dreams of such lambs misguided.

I find it interesting that talk of lambs is so rattling to some.  Does it bring up guilt issues, perhaps . . . Clarice?

Better watch out or I’ll make all of my posts based on lamb analogies!  (Cue maniacal laughter).
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Funk not only moves, it can RE-move, dig?"
      --Sir Lollipop Man (Alias, the Long-Haired Sucker)
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