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Joyelle McSweeney’s Beautiful Statement

April 5, 2014

Here is that beautiful statement I read today about the future of poetry. Enjoy:


By Joyelle McSweeney

Another panel on the future of poetry? Another gathering of anointed poet-critics? It’s sinister.

I’ve sat on such a panel before—four years ago, and if anyone asks me this question again, I’ll make the case again that the future of poetry is no future, that what’s interesting and unkillable about poetry is its blackbox present tense that keeps shedding spectacular and occult effects like a basement blacklight and like a distant star, collapsing after its set.


That’s why I’m not avant-garde since I have no interest in marching forward with my banner though I do have a banner and it’s made of rags and rats and estrogen-shedding plastics, a toxic and lousy affair.   We flounce, half-Havisham, half-arthropod.  Our standard is flaccid and bends. The cassette runs backwards. The whole get-up plus the cassette is degrading  and rotting like the rotting python for which the Pythian oracle is named and sending up fumes and those fumes help me know the FUTURE OF POETRY which is the present shacked up with the past in a clunky San Francisco flop house in Vertigo, synthetic sky a shady blue = day-for-night.  Snake oil. A switcheroo.

What goes on in that casket-slash-room  when the plot is somewhere else, when the director is not thinking about it, when  the corset is glaring at the sewing box and the hairdye split off from the plotline and goes out to off gas in that serenely toxic sky.

=POETRY NO FUTURE. Poetry’s furtive and glamourous effects.

pythian oracle

Every poet should want to be knocked off course by some incredible new-to-them poem, whether it’s contemporary, ancient, or from any of the several hundred misery-infused centuries humankind has inflicted on the earth. Nobody should need to know whether a poem is important or permanent before allowing him or herself to get renovated by it.

Yet panel after panel shows our poet-critics back at it, trying to prognosticate what-comes-next, which is really (paradoxically) a diagnostic tool for determining ”what will be permanent.”

The Future of Poetry, it would seem, is an eternal question.

The Future of Poetry will be an eternal chain of panels discussing the Future of Poetry.

The Future of Poetry begins to look like the panelists. I’m talking to myself again.

The Future of Poetry will be a decision made by textbook editors and syllabus-designers and prize-hander-outers and best-of-list-makers (Will there be poetry textbooks in the Future of Poetry? Will there be anything else? Is the Future-of-Poetry anything but a pedagogic mode?).

But Poetry will keep on swarming incompatibly in the valley of its own making, a way of happening, a mouth. That valley is a cave, that cave is full of guinea pigs: here in the gorge, here in the stack, here in the heart of the guinea pig darkness.

It looks like Mommy is having another litter.

And Hell has many mouths.

A Thought Experiment

March 19, 2014

I just received an e-mail with this picture of a Cornell alum at a ceremony yesterday at the University of South Carolina granting Billy Collins the Cooper Award. He wished I could have joined them, and so do I. Since we talked a little about Billy Collins today and we’ve read one poem from him (and will certainly read some more), I thought I’d share it:


Generally, I will stay off of the blog–this is a student forum for you to discuss whatever you want. But we’ve started to get some interesting threads on here, so I thought I’d keep it going. And the picture in general made me think of one of our discussions today. We started discussing the question of accessibility, and Em made an excellent point when she said that Billy Collins prefers the idea of a “hospitable” poem rather than accessible. I think it’s an excellent distinction. On the other hand, it potentially just kicks the can down the road a little ways. So here is a thought experiment for you (as someone said to one of my points today, “well, that’s extreme and wouldn’t happen.” True, but sometimes we need to go to the extreme to consider if there are lines we might productively draw and then perhaps more effectively discuss where those lines might be). So, take the word accessible or hospitable and try to imagine a poem that would truly qualify as either term for everyone. Remember how many people don’t like to read or don’t want to read at all–let alone poetry; would far rather watch mixed martial arts than have anything to do with a poetry event of any kind (I don’t say this as a judgement, simply an observation). Remember how many people want nothing to do with the arts of any kind nor have any background that would invite them into an appreciation of poetry. The question, then, is to imagine a poem that would be accessible or hospitable to everyone and imagine what that poem would look like. As someone who is inclined to read a poem, do you think there’s any chance it would be a poem that would move you? Again, it’s a question not an argument. But if you can’t really imagine such a poem, then we have to think not of a poem as accessible or not, but ask accessible to whom. Or another way to think about it: should a poet necessarily try to be hospitable to an audience that will probably never be interested in poetry? Should a poet try to win converts or simply write the poems that she needs to write as best as she can?