Archive | August, 2008

Two Quick Takes on Canadian Politics

28 Aug

Well, not Canadian politics exactly, but the politics and views of Canadians.  From time to time, I like to click through the Canadian political blogosphere.  It’s an interesting contrast to the terms of debate in America–both the literal terms (the Conservative party is more moderate than the Republican right; the Liberal party is further left of center ) and which issues are a priority north of the border.  And then sometimes there’s a bit of dissonance:

If I am being branded a social neo-liberal, then I suggest the right do their homework a little more. I am a small “c” conservative, and I utterly reject social progressivism, except perhaps in the case of hereditary rights. I do not believe in progressive taxation, nor social security for employment, nor government control of free markets. I do not agree with surrendering 33% of my income toward social progressivism. As a classical liberal I believe in the free market, with restrictions only on collusive interests and foreign manipulation of domestic controls.

That’s right, free markets for everyone except in the case of”foreign manipulation,” because markets stop at the imaginary line we call borders.  And domestic controls, which might be things like safety standards or, well, I’m not sure what–sounds like nasty market regulation stuff to me.  And “bah” to foreigners and this “multiculturalism” drivel.  I mean, is labor really subject to market forces? Free markets for me but not for thee.

This isn’t really classical liberalism; this is favor for some open markets at the expense of others (as a corrective, see: all the work of Will Wilkinson).

Then there’s Jason Cherniak asking “What’s Obama scared of?“:

My concern is that the supposedly charismatic man of change seems, ultimately, scared of competition. When he ran against Hillary Clinton, he successfully destroyed her campaign by arguing that she would somehow be cheating if she were to follow the rules and try to win the votes of what we call “ex-officio delegates”. Now, when it came time to pick the number 2, he went with bland and boring. It is as if Mr. Obama wants absolutely nobody to ever forget that he is the star and whomever else might be around him is all but meaningless.

Bland and boring?  Evan Bayh is closer to Mr. Vanilla.  Kathleen Sebelius, despite her impressive perch as a Democratic executive in Republican leaning state, isn’t exactly a rousing figure.  Joe Biden, on the other hand, has that uniquely Washington problem of occasionally stating exactly what he’s thinking.  Biden is a pretty strong and well-established figure in the Democratic party–and yet Obama chose him to be his running mate (a man who also, as the McCain campaign has reminded us, said that Sen. Obama wasn’t ready to lead).  Hardly the behavior of a primadonna.

Give It Up, Ahab

28 Aug

I’ll second these observations from Dylan Matthews and Jamelle.  Strangely, this whole thing reminds me of a scene from Star Trek: First Contact:

But in the end, of course, the sacrifice is worth it and the Pequod sails safely back to harbor…

Yinz Will Miss Her

25 Aug

Unfortunately, the Democrats’ oldest delegate, former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff, will be unable to attened the convention this week.  This is disappointing because national audiences will miss their chance to see what would have been a series of entertaing interviews with a piece of Pittsburgh’s poltical machine (Democrats have been mayor since the early 1930s) and a woman who sounds like your Jewish grandmother (if your grandmother was a Romanian Jew and only spoke Yiddish until attending grade school).

Perhaps she could attend the Obama/Steelers “double-feature” on Thursday back in the ‘Burgh.  Nothing says “turnout” like football and party platforms.

Some Thoughts on MFA Programs and Artistic Communities

6 Aug

In a review over at the Phoebe Journal blog, Joe Hall ruminates about local literary communities and the pressures put upon them by university employment:

One of the downsides of MFA programs and the University system in general is their habit of further uprooting poets from their local literary communities in favor of the benefits an evanescent enclave can provide. Poets emerge from their apprenticeship and move to employment centers not community-less, but as part of a diffuse community, one that exists despite the real physical distances between one’s peers. Digital meeting grounds partially bridge that distance—but only in a limited way. The result is that many folks find themselves living a hybrid existence, seeking to both establish and nurture connections to a local literary community while working to establish oneself ‘nationally’ or in communities that transcend geography. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what is troubling is that ‘advancement’—a tenure track position, even a one or two year residency—often means further physical displacement, a remove to another university or college—and that all this mobility, this hyper-mobility, erodes one’s allegiances to places and often prevents poets from seriously engaging with literary communities whose values and output are different from their own. Without roots, it’s very easy for people like David Wojahn to, from the rarified air surrounding the lectern at the Folger Shakespeare Library, crap on those he sees as far, far below him, ignorant of the conditions from which they write, conditions which might make necessary exactly the kind of poetry he finds so distasteful.

I don’t really see mobility as the problem. I’ll agree that the perpitetic life of an academic poet makes forming connections with a local community that much harder, but to what extent are lasting connections (or the choice to join a particular community) self-selected?  How many people are going to choose to join a community “whose values and output are different from their own,” especially when it’s the common features (of values or aesthetic affinities) which help bond communities.  That’s not to say that literary communities can’t form around broad affinities (e.g. the shared project of writing poetry) but it isn’t being uprooted that makes it less likely from engaging with different perspectives and poetries–in fact, I think it’s more likely that this movement encourages some diversity (though not necessarily, as Joe warns, allegiance).

As long as a department or program isn’t committed to a particular (literary) school or aesthetic, then the pool of available candidates is wide and open.  You can evaluate faculty for your MFA program or a writer for a fellowship based upon criteria like previous publication credits, promise in their work, teaching experience, etc. Writers get mixed in together based not on who they choose to associate with or whose work they like, but on where the jobs are and whether or not a hiring committee likes them.  In this case, there’s less of a chance to self-select based on partisan aesthetic concerns, rather than a group of local writers forming their own workshop or reading group discussing the kind of work they admire (e.g. neo-formalist, experimental, surrealist, narrative, post-avant, what have you).

Take this as an example: How many people have submitted (or seen someone submit) a more experimental piece to a workshop only to have their peers shrug their shoulders and turn in comments that say things like “Make this more narrative” or “I don’t understand what you’re trying to do”?  Although I think it’s well understood now that you have to take the kind of work into consideration when giving feedback (especially in MFA programs), if you were to receive these responses over and over again, you’d either change what you submitted or look for a more sympathetic community.  This is–in part–how I think many poetry schools have been formed; poets didn’t find what they were looking for in poetries of their day or found themselves shut out of publications and formed their own communities, creating journals and kicking-up the cultural landscape in the process.

I’m not sure that allegience to a local community (or even a broader aethetic community) can necessarily be predicated on things too far removed from aesthetic concerns because so much of the work is about making certain artisitc choices rather than other ones and valuing some kinds of expression (or content) over others–values that may be fundamentally incompatible.  You like narrative in your work because it resonates with you or write something that’s considered experimental because you’re tired of reading nothing but the same narrative poem.  Which is not to say that you can’t fiercely admire work that looks nothing like your own, but I tend to read a lot of poets’ aestheic concerns (like David Wojahn’s, who Joe takes issue with) as being the result of poetics instead of circumstance.  It’s not that Wojahn is ignorant, it’s that he doesn’t agree with those poetic choices.

Things You Should Be Reading

6 Aug

Why does no one tell me about these things?  Okay, so Mike Scalise already told everyone, but I can only read so many blogs at once.  In between your blog reading, check out Casey Wiley’s short story “Sometime You Have to Cram Your Face Between the Bed and the Wall” at Pindeldyboz.

You also need to pick up a copy of the Spring 2008* of Third Coast and read Robb St. Lawerence’s “Because I Don’t Mean This to Be Allegory.”  And while you’re reading that fine publication, give a look to Christopher Bakken’s “Kouros.”  I hereby pledge to do a better job of keeping up with publications of people I know, or at least linking to Mike more.

*I know it’s summer. Like I said, no one tells me these things.

That Was Fast

6 Aug

From a comment by Obama that Republicans “Take pride in being ignorant”, to a post on TNR’s The Plank, to a website, courtesy of one of TNR’s regular commenters.  That’s pretty quick, even by internet standards.