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.
Posted by Robin Tremblay-McGaw at 5:24 PM