Ange Mlinko vs. Arielle Greenberg,
OK, Let's Be REALLY Frank!
The original Village Voice article:
Re "Poetry Nation":
The only way to insure that poetry is taken more seriously in this country is to make it actually relevant to regular Americans. I'd propose that the money go toward innovative educational programming. Poetry could be taught in schools by energetic young poets who reach out to the students on their own turf, rather than requiring them to struggle through poems that don't sing to them. Readings could be sponsored in public places. Poetry spots could take the place of commercials during prime-time television.
As a poet, I am for poets' being valued and, as a result, viably paid and employed. But I know that in a capitalist society, supply and demand rules, so first we need to work on making poetry an experience that Americans demand, the same way they demand sports events, mystery novels, and a good milk shake—they have to be shown that poetry is something they can enjoy.
Re the responses to Joshua Clover's "Poetry Nation":
The idea of paying mediocre poets not to write is a good one—can we also pay Arielle Greenberg to keep her ideas for commodifying poetry to herself?
Poetry's historic resistance to soul-killing economic and political ideologies is what makes it "actually relevant to regular Americans"—and as for it being taken seriously, gee, people all over the world have died in the name of poetry while our versifying entrepreneurs put their thinking caps on only when they want to sell it down the river!
Round III: Greenberg or Mlinko:
Like rear window defoggers laid down in strips of tape
then stripping them leaving the wires like stripes
shook off a flag, many bridges of lit up bulbs
erased the actual bridges.
We walked around the railings
counting lifeboats chalked across the deck
where rope was lustily looped with the elbow
by men who say, "That's not for men!"
Oh yeah? It's like hunting with your aunt! in the park!
Your heroes' horses lurk in absurd modes
balancing through time and grown beyond by trees alone.
From secondhand to costume shop
your footprints stitched into a history walk.
In prison, joking
two champagne glasses in the armoire, no champagne...
All things locked
in a boot of ice like a police boot on a growing branch
For if you don't take
the splinter out it enters the bloodstream and goes to the heart
which bursts at a thought:
Paris! The medical supplies salesman stares...
Guess the Poet: Greenberg or Mlinko
part obscured by my rubberized green gordon's fisherman raincoat
and my cut-off combat boots with slapping green laces
my good Grom, she is being rinse-cycled
shivering off the wet with a girlish shake
of her taut velvety chops,
the leash slack in my hand
because she questions the sense of it, a walk in the rain,
my mascara spangled in runny asterisks around my eyes,
we skid down 45 Avenue
avoiding oily puddles, snuffling the toes of trees
light sensors ticking white beams of open suspicion
as we go
and then --- ahead ---
against the camphor sky
a pillow of white smoke sifts slowly rightward
revealing the Chrysler building and her nieces and nephews
nightlit in a gridded majesty of gold,
crisp in their autumnal afterwork peignoirs
Round V: Let's sum their positions...
Greenberg: Money is good for poetry In fact it would be nice that poets could actually make a living as a poet. Poetry could be intergrated into our society and made relevant. Particularly by giving the money to schools (!).
Mlinko: Poetry is ALREADY relevant and always has been. Money is the antithesis of poetry; it's part of the same thing poetry's been crying about throughout the history of mankind. Poetry is a calling out against oppression.
Round VI: The evaluation.
In practice, are Mlinko's and Greenberg's positions really different? First off, the above two poems really move to a remarkably similar aesthetic. Which may be explained at least in part by
Both, to my understanding, are graduates of Brown University's MFA program. Brown University, an Ivy League school, costs $27,856 per year just for tuition alone. To complete the MFA at Brown today, a person has to be willing to cough up about $60k to attend and complete the program. And they'll end up with a writing style similar to the one above, poems that end with a Parisian peignoir. Translation: an overpriced housecoat. Both poems have the very surface feel of dough in all its purposelessness.
So if we are to accept Mlinko's position, then we are to take it as a form of self-dismissal. After all money, lots of it, is what bought Mlinko the opportunity to study poetry at an Ivy League school. She must be suggesting that her own poetry is anything but rebellious since it is in part financed by 30, 40, 50 or 60 large. About $100 per hour of classroom instruction. $100 an hour, and for shared attention!
In all fairness, both reactions are cartoonish, not just Mlinko's. Mlinko's point about the relationship between society and poetry is certainly true, but only TO AN EXTENT. Poets have also served the monied classes perhaps as much as they've challenged it. Purchasing a poetry degree is not a purchase of rebel credentials, and neither is it a prima facie rejection of that rebellion. Poetry can subvert the status quo, but it also enforce it. The possibility inherent within the creation of poetry is what allows a poet like Mlinko to write beyond the expensive Brown aesthetic and being to witness things outside the realm of luxury linens (note the use of police and prison in her poem, something rich people are not typically familiar with). You just cannot buy poetry.
But can poetry buy poetry? Obviously, not necessarily. Money can buy an aesthetic, it can buy friends, valuable relationships, etc. It cannot buy poetry, but it CAN buy the title of poet. It can and regularly does, at least in some transitive form, get poets published, get them recognition, etc. But being puritanical about money isn't going to get one CLOSER to money.
VII The conclusion
Money is purposeless. It cannot buy poetry. First two rounds? Mlinko by 1. Money is purposeless, and affords one a life of purposelessness, and it might be little wonder that neither poem really serves any purpose except perhaps to underscore their own use of language, which is quite similar. The poems written by Mlinko & Greenberg don't really reflect any difference in aesthetics or any relationship to money. The lack of aesthetic difference might be due to the tens of thousands of dollars each writer utilized/leveraged/paid in order to develop said aesthetic. Rounds 3 & 4 are a draw. Round 5 is a draw as well; neither argument seems more compelling than the next. Round 6: Mlinko obfuscates her own relationship with money & poetry to a certain extent, while Greenberg somewhat celebrates it. Greenberg's position is a bit more honest and realistic even though it is a bit capital-indulgent and alien to this here dummy poet. Neither poet, however, notes the fiscal difference between being a poet and writing poetry. Round 6 is Greenberg by 1.
This bout has ended in a draw. Neither poet has won the Village Voice debate.
Perhaps a rematch?
I've glossed over so much and hit some really touchy issues along the lines of poets, poetry, publishing, and capital. Maybe Ange & Arielle would be willing to engage in a more developed debate? Maybe even use their own writing to illustrate? Both have written some terrific poems...don't be misled by my relative dismissal of both arguments. I imagine given my analysis they both hate me by now. I hope not but. But. C'est la merde. Poetry can't get you friends, though being a poet can. But I ain't no poet. I'm a dummy.