Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Do Poets Belong in Academia?

The AWP has made me revisit some things that have been lingering in my mind for awhile. As an emerging poet, I feel like I want to define my life and how I fit into this world of poetry.

I am still of the mind that, in general, poets do not belong in academia. However, poets have to eat, right? And it is good that academia has somehow created a space for them where they can make a decent salary and discuss the thing they love. To pursue this is a perfectly decent activity. However, I am getting at something different. Academia should not be a trap for poets. Poets -- and I hope most don't -- shouldn't write books or publish in order to gain tenure. It should be the opposite. They should use the freedom that the University offers to write more poems. They shouldn't write more poems to advance their career. For poets, the poetry always comes first. We are blessed to have the schools to create magazines and teach our work, but that only goes so far.

The university can be a trap. The university validates poets, particularly ones who do abstract work. Poets are humans and they need validation. Some might feel that if they are not in the university system, no one will pay attention to them. They are probably right. American society doesn't give a fuck about poetry. European, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, and South American cultures do care about their poets -- enough to make them heros or execute them or put their children in jail. The USA just isn't like that. We are the land of Britney Spears and American Idol. Somehow, jazz, rap, and the Abstract Expressionists managed to slip into the culture, but who knows how.

But, I feel like poets have to try. If we just give up on the average public we're committing a crime into order to make ourselves safe. The academics might love poetry, but, in the long run, what does that mean? Poetry isn't about safety. Life isn't about safety. If one is in the po-biz to get kudos, money, or fame, they're making a mistake.

Time to match the boy's socks.

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