When it comes to post-grammar school writing, you can’t choose your education; it chooses you.
When you walk into that classroom on that first day you have absolutely no idea how good that writing teacher or that English teacher is going to be, or how interesting, or supportive, your fellow students are going to be, anymore than how it might go when you strike up a conversation with a stranger in a cafe’.
Nor can any institution guarantee the quality of its teachers or its students.
Outside the institution, there are no guarantees either. When you discover, as a reader, a poet you find interesting, you might enjoy the first dozen poems, but that doesn’t mean the next 100 by that poet won’t be highly disappointing, and there’s no telling how, or even if, that poet is finally going to add significantly to what you hope to do as a poet or be as a person.
Writing is a dice roll. You may spend five years immersed in a book that leads nowhere. You may spend ten years with a certain style of poetry that leads nowhere. That secretive poet you’ve loved for years may finally have nothing to say.
It’s the equivalent in the 18th century of going to sea. Good luck.
You can train yourself in a job that has a certain salary, but you can’t train yourself to be a poet and expect any salary from ‘writing poetry,’ and therefore the only thing poetry education leads to is more poetry education. Let’s think about this for a second. The only result from “learning how to make x” is learning how to teach someone else “how to make x,” and x does not exist as a commodity, or really exist at all.
In institutions of higher learning, those teaching poetry cannot even say what it is.
If you said that a poem has a content or a form unique to itself, this would not be true, and the “professionals” who teach the poem are the first ones who will tell you this.
There is no content or form which is unique to a poem; no one can say, with any certainty at all, what makes a poem unique.
Identifying a poem in the old sense of having a certain distinguishable form would be greeted with gales of laughter by the professionals who currently own its teaching and dissemination as a critical product.
The “professionals” would be the first to say that a poem cannot be defined, this non-entity which is “taught” so that someone else might “teach” it again, with “teaching it” not even definable, since “it,” as all professionals agree, is not definable.
Nor does learning poetry have any ancillary benefits that can be defined; if one plays soccer, for instance, or jogs, and it never leads to any income or any definable result, we can say for certain that the exercise involved is a benefit; not so, however, with learning poetry, for it more often than not, leads to ill health: lack of exercise, lack of sunshine, too much coffee or alcohol, an exaggerated sense of importance, low self-esteem from material want, and book-wormish mania.
Writing, in very rare instances, can be a great career, but half-attempts will inevitably fail and full-attempts which are unsuccessful will inevitably fail miserably, and especially so, in poetry, which none can define.
No amount of institutional professionalism can prevent, by one iota, the issues addressed here, and professionalizing what, at bottom, is a psychosis, will probably lead to even more unhappiness.
Here, my friend. Have a croissant.