Monday, March 8th, 2010

The Greatest Essay Ever Written: How To Be America's Next Top Poet

DOES GIVE ADVICEThere are about 2000 extremely quotable things in this Jim Behrle essay on how to become America's Most Famous Ever Poet. It is fantastic. May I just quote three???

1. "We might believe that what the media term 'buzz' gets created organically-that everyone just starts tweeting about Jersey Shore episodes on their own, without any prompting. But it actually takes a concerted effort across a spectrum of sources to create the phenomena we have come to know and love. I learned this in the publicity office of a big-time Manhattan publisher, where most of my time was spent on my knees." And!

2. "What was the name of the poet who, one year ago, read a poem at President Obama's inauguration? [A few people name Elizabeth Alexander.] No one knows. But Maya Angelou wrote Clinton's first inauguration poem and segued that into a dream we all dream. If she comes to speak at a university or college, a car must pick her up at the airport-a car with no poets aboard. That's literally written into the contract. Whoever is driving, he or she does so without speaking to Maya Angelou. The contract is very specific. She travels to the venue and away without having to read anyone's poems or comment on any manuscripts. She is driven back to the airport by maybe the same deaf-mute non-poet. And then she is gone, check in hand. That is the dream-a poet so important and renowned that she literally is not contractually obligated to deal with poets or poetry whatsoever.

It is a sweet, sweet dream."

3. "Relentlessness does not come easily to poets. They are generally a stoned and timid bunch, playing with their beards or sitting mousily with hands and ankles crossed. Poets do very little 24/7, except perhaps worry that they're not as widely popular as they should be. Worry does come naturally to the poet-it must be suppressed with booze or sex (or in my case, in which neither of those is a possibility, baseball). And how does one imagine a career being built out of all of these weirds used weirdly? There are many paths through the art. Having enough money to sit in a log cabin all day watching foxes make out, with berries on one's breath. Having an entire university beneath one's command. Ability to drag friends in for a little merlot and sloppy sex with students."


4. "Jay Leno, not Conan O'Brien, is the future. Why? Because Leno is more devious, sinister, and craven. These are things to aspire to be. Jay Leno would reach through your skin and deep into your stomach to fetch an undigested Skittle if he were hungry for one. That's the spirit of Ruthless 24/7 Careerism in a strawberry shell. Make a deal with Russia to not invade Russia and then, when Russia least expects it, invade Russia."

21 Comments / Post A Comment

the jewel story is pretty epic too

Multiphasic (#411)

Right? I would give up sex for a year to have been the one to approach Robert Pinsky with that proposition. And I'd even make that offer if I did anticipate having sex within the next year.

"Self-promotion is the only kind of promotion left."

Abe Sauer (#148)

"Make a deal with Russia to not invade Russia and then, when Russia least expects it, invade Russia."

Yeah, how'd that end. So what he's saying is tat there's hope(?)

Also: "It's probably better if your poems are middle-of-the-road or below average: that's what will attract other middle-of-the-road and below-average poets to fall in line behind you." MEAN and BITTER

Also: This is kind of like writers who say "I write because I HAVE to" but ultimately won't admit to themselves that a good part of why they write is for affirmation and approval and the fact that somebody else is getting it and they aren't makes them horribly jealous. If you really love poetry (or anything really) what does it matter how many else are out there or who's getting the attention and $. Unless of course….

Also: the best thing is that the poetry foundation site carrying that essay is all undermining to some of its major points by BOLDING and links all the famous names

brianvan (#149)

Abe, it's always amusing to see how much you have no idea what goes on in New York or LA.

Which, BTW, is OK.

But all the wheel-spinning about something that is not a rant but that is satire… You'd get it if you were here.

BTW "How'd that end?" For some people it ends well. They are almost certainly to be in the opposite position someday, of course.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Well, I fully understand the satire part. But it seems to toggle back and forth in satire, and reveals the fundamental great bitterness within the field; the poets (or poet wannabes) who listen to this and bob their heads in smiling agreement, themselves are revealing something about the whole undertaking that goes beyond just liking poetry and writing poetry.

Well, it didn't end well for the Jay Lenos maing t deal with Russia, did it?

Abe Sauer (#148)

OH AND, a quibble, I know it wasn't really meant as a slight (because you deemed it "OK") but, um, I did actually spend quite a stretch in NY so, yeah, I do "know what goes on in NY," including such important media things like fighting about whether or not Gothamist "reports" anything. Sorry to take away some of your "amusement."

andj (#1,074)

Living in Canada, I often think "Maybe the situation is better in places like NYC, where the market is bigger." But I guess not!

What I liked about this piece was that it was a pretty accurate description of the horrible, pathetic self-promoting and undercutting that I see all the time in the poetry community. Of course the author is implicated in this, it's not lost on him. A lot of people delude themselves into thinking that poetry ever had a wide audience.

I mean, it was well written and funny, but it mostly just made me sad for reasons that I don't think were intended (my damned New Niceness and etc.). I did really like the line "So, tonight, get your bass electrified," though.

This is all amazingly true, though. As someone who has worked in both the poetry slam community (specifically, the National Poetry Slam) and the business world, I can tell you this: People act all hippie and New Niceness in the poetry world, but are actually ridiculously selfish and cutthroat. Much moreso than the business world. I think this is because there's so much less (money, fame, etc.) to go around in poetry.

deepomega (#1,720)

See also: Intradepartmental politics in universities.

"Intradepartmental politics in universities" a.k.a. Where Poets Go To Die

Peteykins (#1,916)

Poetry? Are people still doing that?

Scum (#1,847)


dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> still doing that?

Valid question, from a 'how would anybody know' perspective. Hudson News, for example, no longer carries literary magazines in their main GCT floor shop. But yeah, apparently poetry is still happening — even here, where Mark Bibbins does a not-terrible job at showcasing a narrow range of NY-based poets. (Monica Youn and Terese Svoboda are two pretty good poets whose recent books acknowledge their appearances here.)

The sad fact is that poetry is basically unkillable. In a few cases, it's actually proven lucrative. My worry for the poets is that they're betting the university is a safe place, that tenure will survive.

I'm glad the poets keep trying, even when as in Behrle's essay trying means telling every other poet in the world to drop dead. It's an error to call that satire, by the way — it's the culture talking. Coal mine, meet canary.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Jesus, the New Yorker poetry entries really ARE invisible, huh?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

The New Yorker does an okay job — and some pretty good younger poets are breaking through, finally. (I liked the Michael Robbins and Ada Limon pieces; I've heard a lot of enthusiasm for Dorothea Lasky's poem too.)

flossy (#1,402)

As someone working in the field of Fine Art (ugh), I take enormous comfort in contemporary poetry. Not in the actual poems (I hate reading poetry) but in the knowledge that there is a creative field out there about which the general public gives even less of a shit than my own.

Br. Seamus (#217)

a smallish advice
if considering haiku
find new career quick

Scum (#1,847)

I have a way to become famous as a poet. Volunteer to be the poet that I hurl into Maya Angelous' face.

KarenUhOh (#19)

The Road To Success
Is paved with poop
Jerk off some jerks
Jump through some hoops
Burma Shave

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