Friday, February 23, 2007

Are poets always so touchy?

You may recall a few years ago when a huge individual gift suddenly turned a small sleepy Chicago non-profit into the Gates Foundation of poetry. The current issue of The New Yorker has a feature story on The Poetry Foundation (written by the magazine's own current star published poet), which has struck some folks in that particular literary world as more or less a frontal attack. Among them is the organization's president (see the second item of that column that was printed in Chicago's leading alternative newspaper yesterday).

Kudos to the organization's staff for posting the article and various source links on their own website; that has inspired some reader comments mostly echoing the negative comments which were quoted in the magazine article.

[Here is a counterattack on The New Yorker with regard to poetry; it's not particularly a defense of the Poetry Foundation, which despite its name is not a grantmaking foundation but an operating non-profit.]

Having read all of the above I'm left scratching my head a bit. The New Yorker article did not strike me as wildly negative or unbalanced, the executive director seems to be taking it more personally than it deserves. It's not warm or friendly but hardly reads like the kind of hack job he's labeling it. Meanwhile the actual criticisms of the organization's strategies seem plausible but also largely unpersuasive. Were I a board member over there I'd be suggesting that the chief calm down, accept that reasonable people can disagree, and keep moving forward with what sounds like a smart plan that is well-grounded in the organizational mission.

(But of course I'm no poet, as both of dot-org's loyal readers were about to point out, so perhaps there's more here than is apparent to the untutored eye.)


Harold said...

Hey Paul, everyone's touchy when it's a matter of taste. And everyone's touchy when there's a lot of money involved. Now we're at the intersection of these two areas and everyone is REALLY touchy. The New Yorker quotes the editor of the Yale Review accusing the foundation of "appealing to people who thing of the 'Prairie Home Companion' as high art," and the editor of Poetry slags Wallace Stevens as something today's poets should "purge." The only reason we're noticing this now is that the combatants have real-world $$$ to fight over.

As someone who enjoys both PHC and Wallace Stevens, I have no dog in this fight, and no money either.

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