[Emily invites people to submit letters to her and she will be happy to answer them.]
6 September 2017
Dear Emily Post-Avant:
I’ve been invited to give a racist appropriation reading/performance/spectacle at my local community college, but I haven’t got a thing to wear– can you recommend a stylist who can outfit me in the latest in couture poetry performance wear? I’m a 42 long and people tell me I look best in bold patterns and various shades of ethical compromise. I breathlessly await your guidance.
–Dressing for Success
Dear Dressing for Success,
Though you are, evidently, and like 99.99% of U.S. Caucasians, something of a racist (closeted or out), an interesting, even poignant, twist lies cloaked by your wardrobe emergency. You see, dear, the history of all Western poetry is very much the history of cultural appropriation, at once ethnic and aesthetic. Not just Western mind you: Dominant world cultures have long practiced it; oppressed cultures have long practiced it. Sometimes it’s benign and exalting (as with the use of African and Asian perspectives by modernist writers and artists, on the one hand); sometimes it’s noxious and demeaning (as with the use of racist stereotypes by modernist writers and artists, on the other hand). But poets, in both good and bad ways, have been appropriating cultures not their own since they were writing on clay tablets with styluses, if that is the plural of stylus, maybe it’s not. Today, though, as I’m sure you know, the fashion in American poetry is to say that all cultural appropriation is bad. Not just bad, but downright evil. Even cultural appropriation that is clearly anti-racist or anti-war, now, will be lumped in with the worst excrescences of the ancient practice of culture crossing. It’s part of the habitus now, and it’s happened very quick—almost as quick as you can say “Show Trials.” This is because most American poets, mainstream or avant, are academics, and they will line up, in their opportunism, behind the latest fashion in a mouse-click, because their bourgeois careers depend on it. Never trust a Poet-Academic, as I tease my husband, a fiction writer who appropriates other cultures all the time and with no problem… Anyway. That’s why I don’t think you need any special suit or dress for your reading, whatever its nature, good or bad. The late Kendrick Goldilocks, for instance, would have made an ass of himself regardless of his embarrassing couture.
Dear Emily Post-Avant:
Should poets give money to poetry organizations? Is it unprofessional? Is it true Ruth Lilly, who gave Poetry magazine $100 million dollars, never had a poem accepted for publication by them? Why did she give them so much, or was it meant as a sort of curse? What should I do with 1) my money, 2) my poetry?
Dear $ensitive $oul,
From this time forward, please do limit your questions to two, at the most; I have a day job, even in retirement, and I do this gig here at no pay (unlike the two editors, who get paid by Russia Today at $100 an hour) so answering six questions from a single poet is a bit too much). And because it is a bit too much, I am going to answer your questions with questions, in turn, which is for some reason easier for me at the moment than it is to provide standard answers, like I normally do, to the usual simpletons who write me from Bowling Green State University, or wherever. So, in order of their asking, I ask: What do you mean by organizations? Do you mean organizations like those who make up the so-called Poetry Coalition? Or do you mean organizations like Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, which is blacklisted by the Poetry Coalition to such an extent that joining the Poetry Coalition requires signing a legal form that commits joining members from ever publicly mentioning Dispatches from the Poetry Wars? That’s what someone on the inside told us, anyway. And what do you mean by unprofessional? If you give money to an organization like Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, then it is unprofessional, in most eyes, yes, but in the most honorable of ways, otherwise, don’t you think? I mean, in the eyes of maybe seven honorable people, say? On the other hand, what could be more professional than giving money to organizations like those that make up the uber-professional Poetry Coalition? Do you want to be a professional poet? No, you say? OK, good, glad to hear it; you should send unprofessional organizations like Dispatches from the Poetry Wars your money. And yes, it is true, apparently, about innocent Ruth Lilly, but don’t you think she is a kind of Saint of Poetry, in that innocence, actually, despite the fact that the CIA and NSA and Wall Street took over her millions in the name of Poetry and now use it to create a Big Happy Tent to eviscerate the very idea of any oppositional poetry, like what we last had in ca. 1950s and 60s? Isn’t it a curse, yes, that now thousands of poets happily receive crumbs from the Poetry Foundation and sell themselves in the most whore-like ways, taking their pay in the mouth and in the ass while licking the rectum of Sanctioned Officialdom? I suppose that would be hard to do, positionally speaking, but this is poetry, so you know what I mean… Shouldn’t you give your money to Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, $ensitive $oul, if you haven’t already, so you can become a purer Saint of Poetry than Ruth Lilly herself? And if you don’t wish to be a Saint, then shouldn’t you just keep writing true, pure poetry, which is the quickest way to get to the Underworld, and by passages that are nothing if not anciently laid out in rhizomatic ways for those ready and crazy enough to spelunk to the depths? Do that with your poetry? Or try? Don’t give it to the Poetry Coalition. They have the money and it’s covered in filth. That’s also a question.
Dear Emily Post-Avant,
I guess this sound like a stupid questions, but WHAT IS POETRY?
–Paper Due for 5th Grade English Class
Dear Paper Due for 5th Grade English Class,
Did your English teacher force that assignment on you? To define what poetry is? Tell her or him to write me, so I can then tell her or him to get a life. But don’t tell her or him I am going to tell her or him off. Just tell her or him I want to talk to her or him. Then after I do, I guarantee you that you won’t have to ever answer such a dumb question.
Dear Emily Post-Avant,
It is my mom who is force me to write the paper. I’m home schooled.
–Paper Still Due for 5th Grade English Class
Dear Paper Still Due for 5th Grade English Class,
Then tell your dumb mother to write me. Don’t worry, I’ll handle it.
Dear Emily Post-Avant,
All during high school I wrote free-verse poetry, letting my thoughts and feelings flow like the wind, without having to worry about meter and rhyme and other old-fashioned stuff. Already, back in tenth grade, I considered myself a Language poet. Now I am finding out (after committing to an MFA program here in Oklahoma) that free-verse is on the outs and that “experimental formalism” is in. People are now writing in rhyme or half-rhyme, whatever, and it seems that you have to show, in some measure (no pun intended) that you can write in feet, at least for one or two complete lines, in any given poem. Is this new experimental formalism a passing fancy or fad, do you think, or is it here for the long run? I’ve heard of the “Sons of Fred”: Are they some kind of new rhyming school that is influencing things behind the scenes? It seems really unfair that poets got to write in free verse, with no restrictions, for something like sixty years, and now all of a sudden you are some sort of pariah in workshop if your poems don’t demonstrate some kind of formalist swag, as my roommate (what a bitch) says. If the answer to my question isn’t a good one, then can you recommend any books that provide advice on how to write in new neo-formalist ways?
–Free Verse Spirit Under Siege
Dear Free Verse Spirit Under Siege,
This may sound cruel, and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, or make you feel worse than you already do, really, I don’t. But you need to suck it up big time, sweetheart. Start by reading Jack Clarke.
Dear Emily Post-Avant,
When Ezra Pound, in the Pisan Cantos, writes this:
Pull down thy vanity/ Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,/ A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,/ Half black half white/ Nor knowst’ou wing from tail/ Pull down thy vanity/ How mean thy hates/ Fostered in falsity,/ Pull down thy vanity,/ Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,/ Pull down thy vanity,/ I say pull down.
Is he being sincerely regretful of his infamous hates and faults, or is he just playing us?
–Former Scholarship Winner, Hugh Kenner Young Critics Foundation of Rapallo
Dear Former Scholarship Winner, Hugh Kenner Young Critics Foundation of Rapallo,
I once met Hugh Kenner, in Orono, Maine. This was in 1992. I met Allen Ginsberg there, too. Interesting and complicated guys. Congratulations on your scholarship. I hope you will go far in the poetry world. Pound was a fascist and his politics and later poetics branch from Italian Futurism; Stein was a fascist sympathizer; Eliot much of a kind, too. All were racists. All were great poets. They were hardly the only reactionaries among American poets of the times and later. And I’m afraid that, no, unfortunately Pound is not apologizing for anything there, despite that lots of critics have desired to make it seem so. Really, the rant is aimed at the U.S. Army surrounding his open-air cage. What you have is an ant screaming in a bottle, as it were, at the “half black half white” troops who have shown up to occupy his beloved paradise. Pound was a deeply ill, hateful man, and it is generally not a good idea to believe that such types change their tune on a dime. Even when they take on a prolonged “penitent silence,” in a mental ward. Still, it’s true that the Cantos contain more than a few passages that erupt luminously out of some deep nowhere and remain as among the most poetically breathtaking and, at times, ethically penetrating lines in all English-language poetry, going back to Chaucer. Go figure… As the candid bumper-sticker here at Dispatches puts it: Fascist Modernists: You wouldn’t have the post-avant without them.
Dear Emily Post-Avant,
In the United States of America, please, for what reason are there seen many statues to revolutionaries, politicians, military heroes, navigators, and engineers, but none to the great poets? Here in the Baltics, there are sculptures to the great poets everywhere. Even to American ones.
–Curious in Ljubljana
Dear Curious in Ljubljana,
No, I’m afraid you are mistaken. There are, in fact, sixteen poet statues standing in the United States of America today (not counting the ones in cemeteries). True (and I am not making this up), more than half of these are statues of Robert Burns, the Scottish bard who enthusiastically held a high position in a slave-trading company for most of his employed life. Because of this, all of the monuments to him are likely to be soon torn down, so in a couple of years, with the seven statues of Fireside poets in Massachusetts (three of them to James Russell Lowell), we will have a more just representation for the poets of the United States of America. In addition, there are some big changes on the horizon: I don’t know if news of it has reached the picturesque Baltics, but a hundred-story high bronze colossus has been proposed for Gloucester Harbor by the American sculptor-poet Tom Clark. This colossus is to be in the image of a naked Charles Olson, straddling two great breakwaters, his arms spread out, bearing two torches, which will send out electronic pulses of light across the waters. Presently, it is not clear if the City Council will approve the proposal (this fall), but it promises to be a close vote. As well, a conceptual artist in San Francisco has proposed that a twelve-inch statue of the poet Helen Adam be placed on top of the Transamerica building (the one that looks like a pyramid), though it will be so high up there, no one will ever see it. Which seems to be partly the point. Strangely, she was, like Robert Burns, Scottish. Maybe you should start an organization devoted to the building of poet monuments in the United States of America. The fact that you are Slovenian may actually be a benefit.