(This post has been elevated from the comment section of the Writing Forum Survey. In his post Can There Be Poem Criticism Without PoBiz Criticism?, Matt Koeske responds to Monday Love.)
Many who love poetry look at ‘foetry politics’ and say, ‘but what’s this got to do with poetry? If editors and poets use creative marketing and fund-raising methods which are not pure as the driven snow, if coteries exist in which friends support each other, so what? This has always been done and always will be done, and there are enough honest platforms out there for poetry, so what’s the big deal? If I really love poetry, why should I care about this nonsense? It’s trivial to me.’
Poets.net probably needs to answer this question.
Corruption is more wide-spread than anyone realizes.
Po-biz is very, very small and almost all the coteries are connected, and if you don’t happen to belong to one of these coteries, you really will lose out on a slice of the pie.
'Group-think’ permeates po-biz, due to the existence of coteries. This is a subtle point, because it is true that coteries and ‘group-think’ which arises due to coterie behavior is normal and there is nothing wrong with it, per se.
However, since poetry does suffer from a severe lack of open markets (because poetry doesn’t sell on its own and requires university subsidy and fees collected from contests which are run and won and judged by a relatively small group, consisting largely of these defined coteries) this ‘group-think’ does stifle free discourse, not from any conspiracy, but simply from the nature of coterie group-think, which, again, is quite normal.
“Group-think’ is really a misnomer, because ‘thinking’ isn’t really what occurs; it’s really a non-thinking gesture which prevails, an irritation with lively and original investigation; any ‘thinking outside the box’ is viewed with suspicion, since the insularity of 'group-think' is unconsciously rewarded and defended for the survival of what is essentially an entity which exists accidentally, not out of any necessity.
Coteries exist for themselves, not for the sorting and processing and development of new knowledge, and too much activity in the ‘knowledge’ area sends out warning signals to the coterie or club. Coteries always appear ‘innocent,’ precisely because they are ‘accidental’ (they contain persons X, Y, and Z for various social reasons, and most, if not all, are perfectly healthy reasons).
Coteries are ‘innocent,’ because they exist, not abstractly, but socially; they have no agenda beyond, ‘these are my friends and we together doing what we love.’
These ‘innocent persons’ are the first to protest when ‘necessity’ is introduced: “You are nothing but a coterie, you are not helping poetry, per se, poetry requires a more systematic investigation of…” These sorts of comments are those which immediately send up the flags, and this, in a nutshell, characterizes the current struggle between “Foets and anti-Foets” in poetry, today.
The coteries react with ‘innocent’ indignation (‘you hate us merely because we exist’) and the outsiders reply, ‘yes we hate you because you exist (for yourselves) merely.’
What gives the debate outlined above even more momentum is the following: The coteries become more and more enamored of the 'friendly' nature of the coterie-process and gradually become less enamored with intellectual debate and process, while the outsiders continue to become more enamored with intellectual debate and process, resenting more and more the friendly nature of the coterie process.
The rift widens, and the two sides become more and more irritated with the signals given off by either side. The coteries can smell the type who is ‘desperate for argument,’ while the outsiders feel they are quickly labeled a ‘troublemaker’ for daring to argue about anything substantial. The ‘anti-argument’ and the ‘argument’ sides solidify into their respective identities, and the end result is that the coteries grow more and more anti-intellectual while the outsiders grow more and more ferociously intellectual and argumentative; but even worse, the status quo of the coteries, in order to secure intellectual respect, will strive to be intellectual in highly bizarre and technical ways, while the outsiders, striving to appear friendly, to make up for a lack in that regard, turn timid and acquiescent--thus both the outsider’s passion AND the inquisitive intellectuality of the insider’s coterie-status quo become diminished to such an extent, that poetry loses even the minor edge it once possessed.
A great dishonesty finally prevails, with coteries pretending to be intellectual in more and more Byzantine ways, scaring more and more laypersons away, while poetry outsiders fall into toothless and ‘out-of-touch’ impotency.
Since poetry is ‘market impotent’ in general, coteries come and go fairly quickly, even occasionally receiving new blood from the quarrelsome, anti-social outsider.
So the rift exists in the first place, then becomes diminished, and sometimes disappears, but in a process, as described above, which damages poetry as a social entity and as an art.
Discussion within poetry loses effectiveness, for no one is talking to each other about poetry with an independent spirit; fashionable theories and ideas are repeated and shallowly discussed, everyone looks to each other, attempting to get clues as to what to say next, radical anti-intellectual statements are allowed to pass, since no one is prepared, to defend, in any substantive manner, any intellectual idea or principle, the whole of this idea having been eroded by groups staking out positions in the manner described above.
So here we are back to where we started: “for no one is talking to each other about poetry” and this was the initial complaint upon which I launched this commentary. It may be pointed out that I am guilty of the same thing, since here, at some length, I am demonstrating the problem of which I complain: verbosity which has nothing to with poetry; but the careful reader will see that I am clearing ground so that discussion of poetry might exist in a more fruitful manner; and also I would remind the reader that poetry can not be boiled down to ‘itself;’ the structure of po-biz will always matter, just as who writes the canon and the textbooks and the reviews and who writes the poetry, will always matter, beyond ‘the poetry’ itself.