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James Ensor “Aux Masques” Posted by Hello

Great post at Michael Hoerman’s Pornfeld (Tuesday, January 18). I’ll sabotage a small portion since I had the same note written down on my notebook that caused Michael intrigue. It was the following comment by Ron Silliman that raised both our eyebrows:

…anti-group behavior has never served any younger poet well…The tendency of so many younger poets has been to be militantly anti-group formation, yet in a field of literally hundreds upon hundreds of younger poets (say, under 40), it seems very clear that this strategy serves almost none of them well at all.”

Michael’s twist on this —his neuroeconomics discussion— deserves a careful read. You will find there that “male monkeys will pay in juice to see a picture of a high-ranking monkey, but must be given extra juice to be coaxed into looking at a picture of a monkey on the lowest rung of the social scale.” Translate that into the politics of poetry and see what you come up with. As a metaphor it works quite well and you need not be T.S. Eliot to bring this one home.

I happen to agree with Michael about his take on autodidact poets vs. academic poets, loners vs. groupies. None of the descriptions being derogatory, of course. But all of it also runs into previous discussions I’ve had with Bino Realuyo, Roger Pao, and A.T., among others, about the need (or not) for group formation in order to succeed in a poetry “career”. By group formation I also mean “cliques” or “clikes” (so A.T. can bang me right away). I’m not much into groups and their politics; e.g., recall the anthology “Asian American Poetry. The Next Generation”, edited by Victoria Chang and what that did to raise—aside from interest—a great deal of controversy and discontent. We heard about all kinds of things about that anthology—as we did from Houlihan on BAP 2004 —but little if anything on the poetry itself. Not something to write home about.

But reality also brings these issues into focus. Consider Charles’ recent posts about multiple submissions and rejections. Consider the reality of having your poetry given the minimum consideration when you are a nobody: a groupless poet without the necessary connections. Granted, we must consider in all of it the “quality” of what is being accepted or rejected (and the subjectivity of the taste with which you are judged), but it isn’t the same for C. Dale to get a 48-hour return on his submission as opposed to a two-month return for Charles. C. Dale is an established poet and editor, Charles isn’t. (Thus, multiple submissions are bad for some, good for others.) Likewise, consider what cutting down and careful definition can do for those yet to be published. Consider a narrower—by definition—anthology of Asian American Poetry vs. a mammoth BAP. Within the concentric circles of group definition narrowing the group is extremely effective. Belonging to a group is extremely effective.

So you’re right, Michael: “Naturally, it is disturbing to think of my diminished chances in a system where members of a group advance each other. But if everything I do, I do on merit alone, fuck it any other way.”