Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A poets' union would not strike for fair wages: that's nonsensical on its face. A poets' union would be primarily oriented toward the fair apportionment of cultural capital—toward the redistribution of attention, the primary currency of the art. But the ultimate goal is not attention, whether in the form of publications or criticism: it's the de-alienation of poetic labor. When Richard Hugo said, "A creative writing workshop may be the last place you can go where your life still matters," he was imagining that the institutional shelter of the university might be enough of a windbreak for poetic labor to flourish, for its products (poems) to retain their use-value (their uselessness-value?). That's no longer true if it ever was: the university is a primary instigator of the desire to turn one's poems into commodities, which in sufficient number can be exchanged for the goods of prestige and jobs (though it's a peculiarity of the system that publishing less can actually vastly increase the exchange-value of your work). Yet many of us cannot resist the temptation the institution offers us to live as poets, to subtract the A from avocation. But the university does not manufacture the cultural capital (whose body is subtle, invisible even, yet real) apportioned to poetry: poets do. And the university did not invent the artwork-as-commodity; it can even, perhaps via its residual fedualism, function as a site of resistance: if not to capital itself, at least to the celebration of capital that cathects exchange-value as the only value into our souls every hour of every day.

The poem's sublime uselessness can be fetishized and sold. Is sold. What to do? Buy a goddamn big car?

A poets' union fights for the prerogatives of the verbal imagination, which belong to everyone.

Everybody rides.


Jasper Bernes said...

Hmm. . . How you doing Josh? Always good to hear you think, and I hope we get a chance to connect in the near future. Anyway, this is an interesting thought. Besides the reapportionment of cultural capital (how would this work? are blogs and websties doing this already?), a poet's union might provide healthcare (!) and general financial assistance, daycare, etc., to poets (I think PEN already does this). Then, there would be less of a need to parley your book into a teaching job, or a spot at the writer's colony or free drinks, whatever. This would be a way for those poets who have more--who have good jobs, etc., or family money--to share with those who don't , who are struggling. In a way, I do think that this kind of thing can happen just through the activity of supporting small presses and showing up to readings and other like events--that's why I think of these things as imperative when I can afford the time or money, not something I do only because I want to (although usually I do), but because I want others to do it for me, and for the other others who I would like to see supported, too. I hope you'll continue to talk about this.

With love,


Ron Henry said...

A poets' union could do worse than strike for living wages and health benefits. I wonder if there's really a difference (in the morass that is free market late capitalism) between striking for what seems to amount to getting the attention of the tv generation, and striking for a living wage to deposit in the checking account every week?

shanna said...

the problem with a strike tho, is that nobody's hired us. we haven't even applied. so there's nobody to picket. or, are we're picketing already?

edinedinburgh said...

*flippant mode on*

One hates to think of the wording of the motions at their conferences - do they use concrete, rhyming, free verse, etc?

*flippant mode off*

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