Thinking about the Rethinking Going on Around Rethinking Poetics Conference

June seems to have crumbled around me without a break.

Out in the world--in the virtual and material worlds--on Facebook and in NY and in the blogosphere, there has been much discussion about the recent Rethinking Poetics conference held in New York and co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia.  I did not attend. Did not even know about it until after the fact, largely because of Facebook and blogs.

Much discussion about the white male hegemony, the impossibility of rethinking anything from the centers of institutional powers (Nada Gordon and others). There appear to be so many poetry conferences of late. Is it my imagination or do they breed like rabbits? Do musicians and dancers and painters convene to discuss their work, to rethink it in community as much? Is it because poetry's material is language, is that why there is so much discussion of it? Is it because its theorists and critics are so often also its practitioners? Is it because largely those who read it are also its makers? Does that explain it? Conferences and convenings--they have their pleasures. Though one does hate to be in rooms with those who raise their voices to talk over others and to perform their own dazzling intelligence merely to perform it, for others. But of pleasures--my first National Poetry Foundation conference in Orono was daunting, exhausting and also thrilling. A little like poetry camp for adults.  So many attendees at the Rethinking (I keep typing Rethinging!) conference as Stephanie Young points out, are degreed--either with PhDs or MFAs. What do these degrees get one? As someone with an MA (in English and Creative Writing) and a Phd in literature, I'm not sure I have an answer. Debt as Juliana Spahr says--yes. Indeed. A dramatic swerve off a previous career or work path--yes. A lack of health insurance. Yes. A situation of imbalance in one's relationship. Some ones of us want to free that partner from the circumstances of primary regular earner of a livable wage in the midst of one's own adjunct and part-time temporary gigs. It is important to note that in many places the salary for Assistant Professors is less than that of a city garbage collector, or nurse, or social worker, or librarian or construction worker, or paralegal, certainly lower than that of an entry level attorney. Many of us from working class families who succumbed to the pleasures and ideologies of education, find ourselves still in extremis. Perhaps even more so than our parents who did not go to college. We are as Linda Russo has said elsewhere, itinerant.

I am feeling like a heretic in the church. I suffer from lack of belief in the structure and existence of PoetryLand even while participating in it and the poetry itself, delighting in the ritual moving of words around--"critically" or "creatively," (that problematic rivalry/binary) the manual intellectual labor of it and the doing and undoing that it enables. The extremity that it convenes, exposes, perhaps attempts to mend and fails. And yet it is worth doing. And undoing. Doing. We're undone.


David (Michael) Wolach said...

Nice. Horribly true. And how many of "us" treat academic awards or attentions as sustainable? How often have I organized academics who are not adjuncts or grad students (the lowest of the low) and heard, in some less direct way or another: "union? But I'm not a worker." In fact, how often have I heard this from adjuncts and other "contingent" academic laborers too? Ah, the sublimation of alienation...

Robin Tremblay-McGaw said...


Well what a "worker" is has changed over time, yes? I mean, workers are to be found in factories--those that call themselves such and other kinds of factories--academia being one such factory. We "workers" are those people Senator Simpson in the committee rethinking social security calls the "lesser people" in this society......! Maybe what is going on for people who do not see themselvs as workers is denial in the service of fantasizing one's aspirations, sublimation of alienation as you say, David!

pam said...

I think the degrees primarily get one membership. In the church. Which holds such conferences.

dbuuck said...

Thanks for this R, and DW -
ironic too is when I hear some poets talk about those who teach as having some sort of privileged class position, distinct from those 'outside', i.e., not 'workers'. When I was involved in the fight (and it was a fight) to establish a grad student union (specifically for grads who teach/TA for the Uni, in extremely exploitative conditions) at UC-Santa Cruz in 99-01ish, who took us in but the UAW - i.e. it was the teamsters who recognized affinity between workers in the university-machine and those 'blue collar' gigs in transportation industries. Worker-solidarity across lines would seem like an important goal for poets, though the after-noise from the RPC seems to in places have turned into an 'academics' v 'non-academics' split. workers of the word unite! we have nothing to lose but our signifying-chains!
David Buuck