Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guest Writer: Matt Koeske Responds to Dawn

Dear Dawn,

My memory is a little foggy at this time, but as you mention you posted on Foetry occasionally, let me be forthcoming and say that I was the Foetry.com admin for its last year of existence after Alan Cordle retired. That was where I first met Christopher.

As to your comment about my "blanket dismissal" of "poetz" . . . first, I believe I actually referred to them as "PoBizzers", i.e., poets who seek indoctrination, allegiance, and status through the official PoBiz channels, primarily academe and the contest system . . . publication in poetry journals is more complex. I am not quite sanctimonious enough to declare all poets who seek the fruits of the PoBiz "fakes", which is what I, at least, feel a neologism like "poetz" would imply. A semantic quibble, but an important one to me, as the mistake you made in evaluating my rhetoric, though tiny on the outside, carries major subtextual and rhetorical implications. For instance, if I was actually dismissing all poets who have gone to school, won contests, or obtained college and university teaching positions, my argument would easily be dismissible as that of a total crank.

I accept that this misunderstanding was purely accidental, but I would like you (and others) to know that we who are, for lack of a better term, "PoBiz dissidents", are commonly having our arguments "unintentionally" misread so that the readers don't have to more deeply consider their validity. The reason I joined Foetry.com and became an active member and eventually an admin there was not that I thought attacking individual poets who were involved in contest and publication impropriety was the right thing to do. I did not then and do not now agree with this tactic. I joined Foetry because I saw that there was, despite some vitriol and obvious (justified) outrage, a very valid argument to the main gripes of Foetry.com. Namely, the corruption in the contest system (and perhaps the contest system itself) was, logically, destructive to the quality of the poetry publish through it. I saw many critics of Foetry.com come on the site to chastise and issue "blanket dismissals" at the Foetry.com members simply because these members were pissed off and wanted change. Such chastisement was the easiest way to both ignore and seemingly discredit the Foetry members' arguments. As Foetry's admin, I was constantly encouraging the members to pull back from personal attacks on poets and focus on logical arguments and evidence . . . in the hope that PoBiz devotees (and more importantly, those riding the fence) would be less capable of ignoring the validity of the arguments that were being made.

In general, I decided to do what I could do to bring stronger argumentation and intellectual credibility to the arguments that were already being made on Foetry.com.

Secondly, as to a blanket dismissal of poets who seek support, fellowship, audience, and status through the PoBiz, I issue no such thing. That would be a dangerously simplistic argument. What I am saying is that the PoBiz as an institution (and, notably, an institution that not all of its members even recognize as a whole interconnected system) promotes beliefs, laws, and indoctrination rituals that are the main cause behind the decay of contemporary American poetry. We who seek or have sought to enter into this system of indoctrination and conformity have been asked in various ways to make choices between an inner creative vision or drive (which requires an ethical commitment, not just "selfishness") and being accepted and credential by the PoBiz system.

The PoBiz makes it exceedingly difficult to survive as an individual or innovator. The chamber of conditioning is the university, of course. But the real conforming gallows (in my opinion) of the PoBiz is the poetry contest. The contest is the gatekeeper of PoBiz credentialing. If it is dysfunctional, the poetry and poets that are credentialed will also tend to be dysfunctional. The more these dysfunctional poets, poems, and poetics are credentialed by this gatekeeper system, the greater the power of the system to conform and limit poetry to not merely dysfunction, but also a sanctified dogma of dysfunction. That is, I think, a logical conclusion. What Foetry illuminated was that the contest system was indeed dysfunctional.

In my opinion, the subtleties are very complex. There are no literal "puppet masters" conducting the PoBiz. Indoctrination and dogma are the real masters, and individual ambition and contemporary university administration practices provide the instinctual drive and resources. I think this all trickles down from ideological dogmas that became popularized in the universities in the 20th century (and were put into official practice with the rise of the university writing programs, which had a strong upsurge in the 70s, especially). At bare minimum, we have developed an ideological system with the writing programs that we have not adequately studied the impact and implications of (much as the "externalities" of modern industry went unchecked for ideological reasons until very recently . . . and even today, the battle for regulation and sustainability in industry is entirely uphill) . . . and we continue to live in an academic age in which university writing programs (as they now exist) are not very criticizable. Why? Because they are usually very profitable. Many people who would not attend college or would drop out (and take their tuition with them) will stay around for a creative writing education. There are even many MFA programs that take paying graduate students to help fund the program (in addition to undergraduate tuition fees). Essentially, the administration of the universities (which has grown increasingly business-like and less "educationally-oriented") doesn't really care if academic integrity is high in writing programs, just as long as they continue to be profitable.

I recommend the book The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 by David Gershom Myers, which gives a pretty even-handed account of the origins of writing programs (although it doesn't follow them into their more contemporary mode).

So, the core of what I'm saying is that we have to look more closely in the mirror and try to figure out if we have turned an art form into a commodity or market, and if so, what can we do to correct this?

Although I do think that going through the PoBiz indoctrination system is likely to limit the originality and perhaps also the depth of the poets who accomplish this, I by no means think that PoBiz-credentialed poets are untalented. But a close examination of the system of indoctrination suggests (in my opinion) that poets with very high degrees of potential talent are not likely to have that talent facilitated, developed, cultivated . . . and possibly even recognized in the PoBiz. The PoBiz system is not one that orients itself to the recognition and development of poetic talent. Rather, it is "designed" (really it's a byproduct of unconscious, tribalistic sociality, so we could more accurately say it "evolved") to capitalize on poetic ambition (which is like a potent natural resource) and turn this into an affordable status attainment market. It greatly resembles the New Age and Self Help markets in this way.

More importantly, I think we (even we who are strongly critical of the PoBiz) need to recognize and admit that we are part of the system. Detaching ourselves from it is like unplugging oneself from the Matrix. We don't want to do it, and if we manage (usually by some kind of accident), we find ourselves terribly weak and nearly useless. The "enemies" are within, not without. We all carry various degrees of this PoBiz indoctrination. And the truth is that, we are so symbiotically connected to these beliefs and conditionings that we don't know how to functionally conceive of poetry and poeting without them. What we have in front of us is first the "unplugging" or reconditioning or epiphany of PoBiz destructiveness (to both the art and to those who are driven to practice it), and then the long, hard scrabble to reinvent ourselves and our poetry and poetics (and perhaps, eventually, our publication system).

No one should be shamed for stumbling about in the dark in quest for this Holy Grail. That is the nature of all self-discovery . . . and of all art. Frightening? Hell, yes . . . and the PoBiz promises in its PR to limit this terror as much as possible. But without the full reality of this terror, this loneliness, there can be no genuine self to discover, and no bravery in the act of creation. Innovation must be met heroically, defiantly. We cannot both belong to the tribe unconditionally and create art for that tribe, art that tries to comprehend it.

For what it's worth, I would prescribe empathy for all of us who struggle with PoBiz indoctrination. Some have already "lost their souls", we might say, and are probably beyond redemption . . . but most of us are simply being human. A significant part of being human is being both ambitious and afraid, being unconscious, not knowing but wanting. This doesn't make us evil; it's merely what we are.

Poets and critics who work on the fringes of the PoBiz can remain relatively untainted by indoctrination . . . but at the same time, they might also remain forever ignorant of the way the system works. And so, many of these "fringe PoBizzers" are quite likely to assume that nothing is rotten in Denmark . . . and that those people who complain about the stench are cranks and embittered losers (as many of them clearly are . . . but they are not ONLY these things, that's the important distinction). Regrettably, the PoBiz as an organization feeds off of this collaborative ignorance and uses it to help prevent dissent from penetrating its walls. It all boils down to the old adage "Question Authority". So long as this is done, so long as we (as they say in left-wing politics) "follow the money" and see how the organs of the system interconnect, I think we will start to see many of the problems I and others have been noting for some time now.

Why then do so many remain ignorant and disparage people like Christopher Woodman and the members of Foetry.com? Simply because the cost of knowledge or consciousness is dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that is likely to cut the umbilical cord to the larger body that sustains almost every poet in some manner or other. Consciousness is always this dangerous.

Best,
Matt

(Dawn, I would be happy to move your response to Matt here as well; if you wish this, simply give your permission, using the same Blogger ID, by responding in this comment section. You are also welcome to expand on your original comment. --Admin)

5 comments:

  1. Christopher WoodmanApril 29, 2008 at 8:42 AM

    Matt,
    I've read this essay over 4 or 5 times now and I'm not surprised at all it has elicited no comment.

    "The long, hard scrabble to reinvent ourselves and our poetry and poetics" you write about, and indeed, and even those poets who are proud of never having been in a writing workshop or critiqued by professionals may doubt that they're equipped to write. It's part of our cultural assumption that knowledge is hierarchical, and that if we don't have that photo of ourselves in a cap and gown we've no education. It's why we Americans go so into debt to educate our children, or put braces on their perfectly good teeth to prove we're worthy parents.

    Which is business as well as bondage, of course, the flip side of our freedom!

    Indeed, never has a culture been so enslaved to education as ours is, and never has a culture gotten such poor value for its dollars in its schools!

    "The cost of knowledge or consciousness is dissatisfaction,' you write, and who's going to pay for that? What we Americans are looking for is Frats, Sororities, and Clubs, even we poets, so we remain forever children. "A dissatisfaction that is likely to cut the umbilical cord" would frighten away any parent brought up with good American Family Values, wouldn't it, so we get our gold-plated MFAs and Forums and other "larger bodies," and poetry that is either too fussy or too difficult to read.

    "Consciousness is always this dangerous," you say-- and who's going to comment much on that?

    Thanks, dear friend, Christopher


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  2. Dear Christopher,

    Thank you.

    You wrote: "I've read this essay over 4 or 5 times now and I'm not surprised at all it has elicited no comment." :) I do seem to have this effect on people a little more often than I'd like.

    I glanced at one of the poets.org threads where a moderator who had perhaps skimmed (?) my previous letter to you listed all of the supposed put-downs (sans any arguments or context) that HE (and his friends!) were accosted with by me. That's a pretty drastic misreading of my point . . . but regrettably not uncommon, especially among poets (who seem to rarely have any idea what I'm talking about . . . for whatever reason). Even when I was a student I discovered that this was never the case outside of the poetry realm. Only the poets were so befuddled by my philosophies and values.

    I guess that is one of the underlying reasons I decided to stop writing poetry. In the Jungian realm, I call this effect "stranger mana": the inability of (usually a tribe of) people to recognize equal humanness in an individual or Other. This Other is subjected to projections, even scapegoatings in the most extreme cases. But behind this unconscious and extreme reaction is a taboo against any individuality that does not accord with the tribe's dogma. When I was writing poetry, I felt restricted by the attitudes of the poets I was surrounded by. I decided to cultivate the voice of this archetypal stranger (or shadow in Jungian terms) and speak through it as if it were a ceremonial mask. That didn't help me reach an audience, of course . . . but it allowed me to say what I needed to say as poet. And in the end, that was enough. That was what I needed most of all. To have a voice that could acknowledge and value Otherness, stranger mana. Even and especially that Otherness so often thought of as unattractive.

    All of those people (like us Foetry refugees) who resist the PoBiz dogmas and indoctrinations have to bear the projection of stranger mana. We are alien, inherently suspicious, and assumed to be up to no good. It was due to that projection, I think, that Foetry was actually imbued with the small amount of power it once had. It is because of this projection that Alan and you and others are attacked by those with establishment mentalities as if you are truly dangerous, rabid animals. And what the attackers will never understand (because they don't see us as fully human) is that to be on the end of these projections of stranger mana is incredibly painful. Alan can testify to that more than anyone, I think. The experience of being the victim of stranger mana is superbly captured in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which is not only about the African American experience, but the experience of the true (unaffiliated or tribeless) individual.

    In my opinion, the essence of the poet, the "what it is" of archetypal poethood, is this kind of strangeness. Like tribal shamans that had to live outside of the village (because their mana was disruptive to tribal order), poets have or should have access to this strange individuality. And their voices flow with this disturbing mana because they tap into that underground stream of Otherness and innovation. But of course, the poets of today in the PoBiz have built a system that protects them from this danger, from their own burden of stranger mana. And this is perhaps why the PoBiz is so radically opposed to any poet (or librarian, as the case may be) that sacrifices the comforts of tribal dogma and protective affiliation in order to sip that poisonous truth water. That water goes down like tar, and it changes the drinker irrevocably. It is terrible. It's frightening. It is maybe even destructive or damning. It promises the loss of something precious. It promises a wound. And it doesn't promise any glory, any reward, any kind of fair trade. When those things are found, it is almost random. It's a fluke . . . not recompense.

    But the poets and the consciousness raisers are the ones who drink this tarred water anyway. They are willing to accept the consequences . . . or to try to accept them, at least. But there is a lot of pain in the gut that comes from this decision, and we spend our remaining days trying to prevent this pain from devouring us completely. And sometimes, for brief moments, we succeed.

    I portray poeting this way because this begins to "explain" why the PoBiz exists and why it is so afraid of dissent and innovative voices and anyone that asks the terrifying questions of the unquestioned and unquestionable (the tabooed) that ethics and consciousness demand. Poets in the PoBiz today do not adequately recognize why poeting is so terrifying. They seem to think it can be done without having to face these darker realms and disconnections and poisons of self-reflection and -reckoning, without the wilderness and the 40 days and 40 nights. That, I feel, is the problem with our poetry . . . the problem that no American poet today (that I have read) is adequately acknowledging, let alone facing. But the suppression of this pain bubbles up everywhere in the poeting world in the form of dissatisfaction, confusion, untamed ambition, corruption, tribalism, outrage, shame, mental illness. As terrible as some of these things are, they are merely glimmers from that underground stream of stranger grief.

    Ellison famously wrote through his Invisible Man: "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" This is the perennial statement of the poet . . . rather, the Poet. This is what the great poets always say to their tribes, this is their power, their mana, their value. It is worth noting, I feel, even meditating on the fact that Ellison's sentiment is not considered by the people who attack you or Alan or (perhaps) ignore me. They do not seem to grasp that we are not speaking against them like some kind of enemy ideological camp. We are speaking FOR them, for parts of them that are adrift and unconscious in the "lower frequencies". I worry that poets going into the PoBiz today are leaving their more difficult humanity at the door and letting themselves be reduced (or pruned!) in order to fit in, to "make it" in the PoBiz social system.

    The reason that others who criticize this behavior (or the products of this sacrifice for the PoBiz) are so despised and maligned (and never, ever considered for what they are really trying to say) is that there is a disowned part of the indoctrinated poets that resonates with the criticism. When we open our mouths to speak out, we awaken the pain of fissure or dissociation in these poets and disciples that have passed through the gates of the PoBiz Kingdom. The repressed inner hatred and shame and feelings of inadequacy or fear of secret alienness or unacceptability to the tribe that are the essential products of self-division and soul-sequestering are redirected at those who would suggest that these indoctrinated poets should be expected to behave and think and feel like whole human beings. What the PoBiz asks of its members constitutes a violence against the individual's sense of self. When the indoctrinated sense of self that remains is rattled, the vibration runs down into the well of this violence and usually sparks a hyperbolic outburst, recoil, or retaliation

    Although many of these poets and pundits can be frustrating and even malicious (I've run into at least a couple genuine psychopaths while on Foetry), for the most part, I feel pity for them. I have no respect for their world of choice, their belief system, their worship of the PoBiz . . . but as human beings, they strike me mostly as "broken" and confused. Parts of the psyche that should be connected are severed and isolated. Ethics, for instance, doesn't flow into the consideration of behavior. Empathy is not balanced with ambition. Imagination and creative intelligence are not coupled with an ability to understand rhetoric or argument . . . and are therefore loosed from functional thinking or philosophy. Today's poet is a kind of compartmentalized Frankenstein's Monster . . . and that surgery is performed by the PoBiz, by the indoctrination system. Suicide bombers are similarly indoctrinated as compartmentalized beings. Separate pain from its real source, detach ethics or valuation of Others from credo and drive. Isolate ambition and vengeance and condition it for another purpose.

    I don't mean to say (as I'm sure many PoBiz-bred critics would leap to conclude) that poets in the PoBiz are like suicide bombers. I mean merely to say that compartmentalization of psychic functions, feelings, and especially ethics and empathy are part of what enables people to do things that are inhuman and abusive. And compartmentalization is a conventional part of all indoctrination systems. To belong to a club, one must be like the members and specifically not like those who are not members. The parts of ourselves that are not compatible with the club or cult or tribe or "school of thought" must be lopped off and imprisoned out of sight.

    I feel that the Poet should be a person who seeks to integrate the divisions in her or his psyche that socializations and indoctrinations create. But the poets who are following the PoBiz scriptures are dismantling and segregating their minds, their souls into smaller and more dissociated pieces. It makes for smallmindedness, academicization, detachment from reality, insularity, clubbishness . . . and vapid, worthless poetry. It is a mentality that is dissociated and conditioned in this way that is capable of the disrespect and abuse that has been directed at you and Alan and others. It isn't my personal concern who is more or less guilty of accepting such a mentality and an indoctrination. I mean merely to illuminate that this mentality is not necessary, is not human, is artificial . . . and is not something to be proud of. Perhaps most significantly for poets, it is not a mentality that is capable of producing great poetry. Well-written poetry at times, perhaps . . . but never great. Because it doesn't accurately speak to or of the human condition. It doesn't help us see how we are and could be interconnected (psychically as well as socially). It only reinforces fracture. Smallness begets smallness. It take a movement in that dark and dangerous underground direction to start reassembling the pieces of one's humanity.

    Yours,
    Matt

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  3. Christopher WoodmanApril 30, 2008 at 12:35 AM

    Dear Matt,
    I didn't mean that you had that effect on people, that you overwhelm them personally with your rhetoric, not at all. You are expressing something that's just too deep and difficult to be easily assimilated, and I would say you're doing it about as simply and economically as anybody could.

    It's just that human beings take a life time to achieve your program for them, and it isn't until they've given up, accepted that they've pretty well made a universal mess of everything, and almost killed themselves to boot that they begin to understand what you're getting at. I'm 68, been there done that, and I don't mean wisely or nobly either--and even so I can only just about hang in there with you.

    'Esoteric' is the word I want to apply to what you say, and it's a word hardly in favor today. I mean, we pay so much for education, even to be a poet, and expect that at the end of it we'll have some solid knowledge along with those credentials. Whereas you're arguing that the best education leaves us dissatisfied and forsaken, and we'll be lucky if we find some small glimmer of meaning in the darkness. That's true, of course it is--but it's a truth that means nothing whatever to anyone who hasn't broken down, gone bankrupt, been divorced, and ended up incontinent, and I mean literally, not just metaphorically!

    'Esoteric' means a truth that is hidden--but in reality, of course, that truth isn't hidden at all. It's right there in front of us, stark naked--but either we don't see it at all or, even worse, we do see it but we get all excited and make love to it as if it were beautiful and desirable. And it's not, it's the pits, it's hideous like ill-health, old age and death. On the other hand, it's all we've got.

    The 'esoteric' truth says it's also all we need. But who's going to pay so much for that?

    Thanks again, dear Matt. You say it in such a way that even I begin to understand it, and about time too!

    Christopher

    P.S. My caution is that New Age spirituality sometimes apes it, and Jungians are among the worst offenders in the farce. (Pace Carl Gustave himself, but he was crazy!)

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  4. Christopher WoodmanMay 2, 2008 at 9:38 PM

    Three days this little parenthetical remark has hung there, and I 'm ashamed of it.

    There is no doubt in my mind that when a human being actually passes through those experiences that are described as "esoteric," that is, actually passes through them, not just talks about them or writes a book about them, he or she goes crazy--i.e. can't talk, can't cope, can't put together a powerpoint presentation or get breakfast on the table or pay the bills. Memories, Dreams and Reflections is a particularly great spiritual autobiography because it makes so vivid the author's bouts of madness. Another good one is William Styron's Darkness Visible.

    I think one of the greatest books ever written on Buddhism is Buddhism by the Cambridge scholar, Edward Conze. I long ago lent my copy to someone so I can't quote the part in his introduction where he says that you cannot begin to grasp the Buddha's teaching without having passed through some sort of life-threatening nervous breakdown including bouts of extreme anxiety and disintegration. The fundamental Buddhist concept of Suffering, for example, cannot be understood without first having experienced it, and to understand what the Buddha means when he says EVERYTHING is suffering cannot be understood until one suffers all the time!

    The avuncular quality of Carl Gustave Jung that is so important to his reputation was hard won. He didn't wear tweeds and smoke a pipe like Robert Langdon in The Davinci Code. The only person he ever needed to impress or reassure was himself!

    Initiation is no joke--it's a "beginning" from which there is no return. "Esoteric" keeps the keys.

    Christopher

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  5. Dear Christopher,

    You wrote:

    "'Esoteric' is the word I want to apply to what you say, and it's a word hardly in favor today.

    . . .

    'Esoteric' means a truth that is hidden--but in reality, of course, that truth isn't hidden at all. It's right there in front of us, stark naked--but either we don't see it at all or, even worse, we do see it but we get all excited and make love to it as if it were beautiful and desirable. And it's not, it's the pits, it's hideous like ill-health, old age and death. On the other hand, it's all we've got."


    Absolutely true. It took about a decade of troubling (poeting) years to be able to both see and admit this to myself, and when I finally did, I found that I could better accept the difficulties and conflicts I had faced. I could even "forgive" the PoBiz champions and disciples that (numerous times) did little things to impede my creative journey and work (little things that had large byproducts). Not that they were justified. These things were petty, fearful, narrow-minded, unethical, and perhaps most importantly, intentionally injurious and cruel . . . for the most part. But I realized that they were inevitable because of my innate contrarianism and esotericism.

    With the acceptance of this esotericism, I was able to see the futility in my attempts to sell or push my difference or alienness in the PoBiz. It is a shame (for the PoBiz and American poetry most of all!) that it can't integrate much if any Otherness (i.e. uncommodified, unindoctrinated expression and thought). But the closed and cultish system that the PoBiz has perpetuated or is, has I feel, stated something, some bit of (truly esoteric) wisdom that we who would poet and do so outside the PoBiz rules must, MUST learn if we are to not destroy ourselves. That bit of wisdom is simply this: the PoBiz is not Poetry. The PoBiz does not contain Poetry. It does not define Poetry. Poetry is larger, more valuable, and much more ancient than the PoBiz. The PoBiz is a colonialist seizure of a natural human resource. It's a totalitarian monotheism that has driven or killed off the old gods and instituted a limited and specific dogma and worship in their place. Those old gods live on as shadows only, as dangerous emotions ("affect" in Jungianism), complexes, diseases, shame, desire . . . but they have lost their abundant complexity and diversity (these are the shadowy things I tried to tap into with my poems). Just as the old pagan gods were all reduced and lumped into "the Devil" when Christianity was instituted in Rome. Think of all the complexity that was lost, the richness! That Christian Devil holds all the wealth of the old gods pooled together. That's how much was lost from the understanding and tangibility of the human soul (and why the Christian spiritual experience must always be psychotic to be real . . . unlike Buddhism or Taoism, for instance, in which the "psychosis" or the demons are brought into consciousness as an ethical and spiritual struggle, given form and flesh and idea). And much the same has happened with the PoBiz monotheistic regime.

    The great, dirty lie that the PoBiz disseminates is that it has the power to define and regulate Poetry. But the real power behind this claim is abundant propaganda and a prominent indoctrination system. Not truth. To see through this veil of Maya is to take the first step toward enlightenment as a poet. I mean to see entirely through it, to relinquish the desire the PoBiz propaganda promises to tickle (but rarely delivers on or satisfies). With this realization, the poet can gradually peal him or herself away from the promised life-support of the PoBiz system and recognize that s/he still lives, is still . . . and even all the more so, human, alive, real, valuable. Valuable as and specifically because s/he is an individual. Not a tool, not a fuel source for the machine.

    Perhaps appropriately, I began to realize this after I finally got a couple of my poems published in a major journal. It was only then that I let myself see how petty the poetry published today in such journals really is, how insignificant . . . and how ridiculous and oppressive the ambition to be approved by this system really is. It was when I wanted to feel good about my accomplishment but couldn't help seeing how small and debased it was by the stage I presented it on that I awoke. I saw that these journals and those who aspired to be credentialed and approved of by them could not tell me or anyone else what poetry is or what a poet is. In my previous (and proceeding) struggles with the art form, with the act of creation, with the hunger to reach an audience and the desire to build a voice that had something valuable to communicate, I was much more a poet than I was in the printing of these two poems. I had learned and become so much more not only without the help of the PoBiz system, but specifically in spite of it, that I began to see that it couldn't contain me or approve of me or grant me status. And that those who had sought this status, containment, and approval unconsciously and unquestioningly had failed to ask themselves the hardest questions about being a poet . . . and so failed to become poets.

    I don't mean to even imply that publication falsifies one's "being a poet" (if the publication system for poetry weren't so clearly and radically broken, perhaps we wouldn't have to invest so much consciousness and restraint). It is how we define ourselves in relationship to this system of publication. Do these publishers have the credibility and wisdom or experience to approve of and designate certain individuals as "poets"? It seemed to me that since they wielded a sense of poetics and a concept of "the Poet" that was too small, simplistic, and stunted to truly fit the experience of poeting that I and so many others had faced* (and absorbed and learned from), they did not have the power or credentials to say I was or was not a poet. They could not be my gatekeeper. They could not make or indoctrinate or approve of me . . . and so they, equally, could not disapprove or deny or destroy me.


    [* The experience I mean is not only that of facing criticism of one's self-expression, which is ubiquitous and blunts with time and repition until it is useless to the experienced poet 99% of the time (as is praise), but of facing the much more powerful, demanding, and often ruthless gods and demons of the art itself, the act of creation and the problem of the relationship of the creation to the creator. That's something that the PoBiz and its academic indoctrination system conceals as much as possible from its poets . . . but that's the real Sinai, the true confrontation with the esoteric god (deus absconditis) in whose company the negotiations of creation are hammered out.]



    Understanding this freed me . . . but it did not in any way resolve my real struggle as a poet, my real battle to be and become and to reach an audience. Pealing this outer, deluding layer away allowed me to see more clearly that, although I could not be and refused to be defined or injured or approved of by the PoBiz gatekeepers, I had no power over the indoctrination of contemporary poetry readers . . . which are a market truly defined and controlled by the PoBiz. The contemporary poetry reader today is, primarily, the consumer of the product the PoBiz produces. Perhaps these consumers are being bilked and manipulated . . . but generally, a market develops around a desire (even more so than a need, it seems). The PoBiz consumers desire a product like what the PoBiz puts out.

    What kind of consumer is this? Poets, aspiring poets, and poetry students. This is more or less what these consumers want to read . . . or want to purchase and have purchasable. It is a more subtle version of a vanity market. It's a Lotto, a gamble. The PoBiz consumer is the person who will buy a ticket on the chance that, if they are lucky, they will win something. It's OK if somebody else wins the jackpot fueled by the ticket this consumer purchased. Those are acceptable odds, and that is an acceptable market for this demographic of consumer. Struggling with the art and with the difficulty of forming a unique and valuable voice is really not essential to the way this market functions.

    In other words, I saw that I had nothing to give to this kind of consumer. I (or my poetry) was, by their standards and tastes, esoteric. My contributions were only disruptive to the standard operating procedure of the market. If I and my kind of poetry were successful, the market would grind down and stall. What I wanted to offer was indigestible. It was too hard to commodify. It asked too much of readers and of the system. It wasn't sexy enough in the PoBiz kind of way to encourage more poets to buy PoBiz products and pay for their lottery tickets, too. My poems asked people (especially poets) to question themselves and their beliefs and assumptions and treat the voices in the poems with a kind of respect they did not probably grant these kinds of voices normally. As a writer, I strove to make these voices worth listening to, to imbue them with value, the value of human experience . . . not ideology, not "lifestyle" or some kind of attractive, but common, persona.

    When I eventually realized that I had succeeded in doing this (and my standards tend to be very high, and it took a lot of inner-argument before I relented and accepted there was some value to what I was writing) . . . I soon realized that in the PoBiz, no one would care or understand. I hadn't created a PoBiz product. I had struggled under the false belief or hope that the PoBiz and its readers cared about these esotericisms. But of course these kinds of things have no place in the PoBiz.

    More importantly, when I recognized both the nature of my poems and the nature of the PoBiz, I lost all my desire to see them "honored", commodified, and disposed of by the PoBiz machine. I don't know if there are readers for my poems. But I do know that these readers cannot be devoted members of the PoBiz marketplace. The scope of this prototypical reader (a model or generalization, of course, to which each of us corresponds to different degrees) could never get anything out of my poems . . . and I had no desire to turn my poems into disposable waste to appease such readers. What I did come to recognize was that the poems had already given so much of value to me over the 7 years I had worked on them (and the years after . . . they continue to give me orientation and meaning). This gift was far greater than any plastic token (or 30 pieces of silver) the PoBiz could ever throw my way.

    I have a long prose poem that deals directly with this called "What Has Happened in Heaven? (Another American Messiah Tells His Tale)". I think you would appreciate it. Not only does this poem give a deeper, more emotional version of what I have recently been writing on Poets.Net (to you and others), but, as an example of the great gifts my poetry has given me . . . I wrote this poem years before I had any developed philosophies and analyses of the PoBiz (years before Foetry.com, years before I knew or even suspected there was a "PoBiz" and not a legitimate art form called American Poetry). And yet, the whole experience is there in the poem trying to communicate itself to me. Even as the poem's author, it took me another five or six years to hear it.

    But, having heard it, how can I be so selfish and greedy to ask for more? These poems have given me the who and the what that I am. That is my credential, and any other approval pales in comparison. If I lose my ability to value that, then I have lost my soul.

    Best,
    Matt


    P.S. You wrote: "My caution is that New Age spirituality sometimes apes it, and Jungians are among the worst offenders in the farce. (Pace Carl Gustave himself, but he was crazy!)". I completely agree . . . and this is one of the primary reformist battles I fight in my other persona as administrator of a progressive Jungian forum (Uselessscience.com). As to initiations, the shamans and medicine women and men of cultures that still have some connection to tribalism had archetypal dismemberments (and Buddhists as you note!). Those who found a way (against all odds and often without any support from others) to reconstruct themselves earned the right to heal . . . and the right to speak of and for and to treat the soul (and not only their own soul but the soul of the tribe).

    There can be no real poetry without that rite of passage . . . and the lack of anything truly resembling this in the PoBiz indoctrination process means, simply, that the writers it produces are not able to speak of and for the soul (unless they find a way to go through this on their own and apart from the tribe). And that, I think, is the essence of the problem from which all the flaws and failings of the PoBiz derive.

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