In his or her comment in A Second Open Letter to Tree Swenson, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, "Anonymous" posed this question:
How is poetry being affected by Jorie Graham? I did indeed see the interview on the main page of poets.org and I don't agree with it being there; but that seems to just be Jorie tooting her own horn so to speak.
Is this more than politics? Is [Graham's] self-idolatry changing poetry?
My questions: If so, HOW is such self-adulation changing poetry for the better or worse?
Overall, how has the "cult" of high self-esteem (whether earned or not) affected the literary arts?
Athena answers "How is poetry being affected by Jorie Graham?":
How poetry, in the widest possible sense, is ultimately viewed and judged—or not, by critics, poets, English departments, the poetry establishment, and society at large, is monumentally crucial, and affects not only whether poetry publications get reviewed by the New York Times, but the lonely creative act itself, even the obscure poem written by the poet in obscurity.
No poet can escape Jorie Graham’s influence, and her influence is not confined to herself, but vibrates within the critical medium which mutually strikes the creative medium, causing all poetic thought and all poetic social interaction to vibrate as well. What the greater orchestra plays really does determine what notes YOU play. This may not be apparent to the individual poet, since the scale and complexity of the influence is vast, but if it cannot be easily traced to the satisfaction of the isolated consciousness, it certainly does not follow that the phenomenon does not exist.
We long to write what is loved, with no detour into criticism; almost every poet fears criticism. This fear, however, should never blind us to the arc which every public poetic act completes: a poem is conceived, written, published, read, and, here is all that most people think needs to happen; but, here’s the crucial point: the poetic universe cannot exist without criticism, without feedback, without review—without reviewing, poetry would not exist in society, for the critical medium which exists as a result of this feedback, influences, in turn, the creative medium and the poetry universe as a whole.
How poems and poets are received, rated, ranked, judged, applauded, censored, discussed, sold, hyped, denigrated, and to what extent, and in what manner, is as crucial an element as any in the whole process, but it becomes even more crucial when this final necessary step in the cycle of poetic birth, reception, and influence, is short-circuited by crass business interests, selfish, non-poetical reasons, or just neglect. If the circular flow of poetry-in-society is interrupted, or even partially clogged, the wounded cycle of the poetic process will hinder the way poetry thrives in society at-large.
Criticism and biographies of poets long dead may continue to expand, but if living poets are not reviewed critically, and their reputations exist only in bookseller-blurb-islands of boosterism, the contemporary poetic process, as a socially valid process, will falter. Helen Vendler can write all the books on William Butler Yeats she wants. William Butler Yeats cannot help contemporary poetry—at least not in the manner we are discussing here. Without living critics writing honestly on living poets, contemporary poetry will gradually cease to exist.
From ACommoner, paraphrasing TomWest on poets.org:
[Jorie Graham] ...the very queen of our contemporary poets walks into the room looking relaxed and happy and begins reading from her new book of poetry. "I cannot even begin to tell you how stunning and alarming it is," writes a young poster in [the same] thread. “Within this collection, Graham explores the devastating problems facing the environment and our humanity with profound urgency and grace.”
Has the "Cult of Celebrity" infiltrated the polite community of poetry?
In other words, in 2008, do personality/charisma, social skills, and physical beauty trump art, in this case, the words on the page?
Or must the text somehow rise to the "stunning" physical presence of the person wrote it?
In 2108, when scholars and students will be looking back on 2008, will any of this even matter?
Related to this topic, Matt K. adds,
Nowhere today is the myth of the Great Poet more disbelieved (and even ridiculed) than in the heart of the PoBiz. The Great-Poets-For-A-Day that the PoBiz indoctrinates and raises up are never afforded the status of the greats of old. They represent a dream that is being sold to other poets like self-help cure-alls and other snake oil. It's just advertising. It encourages more poets to keep paying for their shot at fame...a fame that is manufactured by the PoBiz machine. But it's like a kid going to Chuck-E-Cheese for a birthday party (I just went to one of these for one of my son's friends): they hang a medal around your neck, sing you a song, turn on the animatronic puppets for 5 minutes...and there's your celebration. And this routine is what people pay for. It's the imitation or fantasy of temporary status and prestige. It's a pageant, a costuming where the consumer pays his or her money for a brief lie of their greatness. And then the animatronic puppets grind to a halt, the song ends, and the next customer's birthday arrives. It's all product. Greatness, even talent, is never a factor.