HOW DO YOU TEACH CREATIVE WRITING? YOU DON’T.

They are defending creative writing at the Huffpost.  But look:

1. The real work of writing is two-fold: reading and writing in solitude.

2. Good literature classes teach literature.

3. Students do creative writing beginning in grade school.

This is all you need. Note what’s missing from the above. The creative writing class. The point is not that the creative writing class for older students might not help, but the real issue is: what does the creative writing program as a ubiquitous, nation-wide phenomenon provide?

Why aren’t literature classes and the writing all students do in school starting in the early grades, and the reading and writing they do in solitude enough?

Lousy schools? Lazy writers?

So is a ‘creative writing class’ going to help a student who hasn’t read enough literature, either because he’s too lazy, or the schools have failed him or her? No way. Even creative writing teachers admit they are no substitute for reading literature.

So what exactly is going on in those ‘creative writing classes?’ No wonder the huffpost writers gave no specifics, beyond, well it’s good to put would-be writers in a room together and have a writer ‘teach’ them.

Can you imagine Shelley and Byron and Keats sitting in a classroom together as writing students? It’s laughable.

The writer has to find himself in solitude, not trying to please another writer sitting next to him in a classroom. This is just common sense.

Finally, and no one talks about this except Scarriet, the whole Creative Writing Industry was started by a handful of men—the movement has a history, and it happens that the men who started the Creative Writing Industry had a certain bias for ‘new’ poetry, and this, of course, is the trump card of the creative writing industry: You don’t write very well, but we’re going to teach you how to write like a contemporary, approved by your peers. The default ‘sameness’ of the creative writing industry is that you are not allowed to write like Shelley or Keats or Byron. Write any way you like! But if we sniff the faintest smell of ‘old’ on you, you’re gone.

But the so-called ‘old’ is where really great writing resides, and the contemporary ought to be simply who you are—you shouldn’t have to go through a brainwasing session in a creative writing class so that you can sound ‘contemporary.’

How we get from the sublimity of Shelley to the inanity of Silliman is not something the ahistorical dweebs of the MFA will ever figure out.

For this is where it all leads.  Recently on his blog Ron Silliman pretended serious analysis of the following.

I saw the corpse of the plum tree
of the camel his splattered guts
the soiled tears of the child
the sniffle of orphan light

I abandoned the pursuit of art
to sleep for eternity
under the fevered feet of my children

“It calls to mind Pound’s old dictum that poetry needs to be at least as well written as prose,” Silliman writes.  But Pound wrote bad prose which was passed off as good poetry.  Well, but Silliman can’t help it.  Nutty Pound-worship is just what these guys do.  It’s the track the train must run on.  Silliman sees into the life of this excerpt, but none of the rest of us do.  And this, too, is part of the game.

The “new” MFA thing now is the so-called “The New Sincerity” which features “sincere,” “naive,” or “childlike” poetry by poets such as Matt Hart, Tao Lin, Dorothea Lasky and Nate Pritts.  But this is a mere throw-back to Frank O’Hara.   There is not the least formal interest here.  There is more formal interest in one stanza of Shelley than in all this poetry.

Until modern poetry really comes to terms with the major Romantic poets, nothing is going to improve, or help poetry to become popular again.

Modern poetry and Creative Writing are now synomymous.  The idea is not to grow poets, but to grow paying poetry students—who are beholden to canonizing their instructors, with the possibility of being canonized, in turn.  This is precisely what the modern poets, beginning with Pound and Eliot and their lawyer, John Quinn, and continuing with their academic friends, the New Critics, did, and therefore the very idea of the “modern” in poetry is linked with the business model of Creative Writing.

This is such a self-evident fact, that Creative Writing officials are blind to it.  The difficulty here is that you can’t teach the new.  Nor can one teach the light of which poetry is the mere shadow; the cause of poetry cannot be taught, either.  Life teaches this, not Creative Writing, which is its pale substitute—poets mingling with poets, in a frenzied attempt to be “modern” or “contemporary.”   But the “contemporary” is a shadow of a shadow, and chasing it, we find poetry to be in the sorry state it is today.

The Creative Writing industry may be a successful, and nearly flawless institutional model.  But no great poet has ever written for an institution, or to flatter and be flattered by their peers.  The Creative Writing industry cannot teach itself out of this dilemma; its default setting is fashionable appearance which appeals to the contemporary spirit.

Socrates long ago identified those who charge a fee for a vague kind of ‘learning.’

Sophists.

HEY, FOETS: ANIS SHIVANI AND ALAN CORDLE ARE COMING AFTER YOU

Will this dubious po-biz hustle one day be a thing of the past?

Get used to this name: Anis Shivani.

Anis Shivani stirs the poetry pot like no one else these days, and bad news for foets: he’s coming after you.  In a comment beneath his recent Huffington Post article on how poetry contests ought to be done away with, Shivani writes:

After publishing this article, I was happy to be contacted by Al Cordle, who ran the Foetry.com website in the mid-2000s (see info. about Foetry’s exposure of rigged contests here:  http://en.­wikipedia.­org/wiki/F­oetry.com).  Al suggests pursuing legal action against demonstrab­ly corrupt contests where a relationsh­ip between a judge and a contest winner can be shown.  I think this is an excellent idea, and maybe the only way to bring down the contest model, delegitimi­ze it, and replace it with a better alternativ­e.  Aggrieved poets who know of clear conflicts of interest or improper means of selection should consider pursuing for damages through legal means.  I’m all for it.

Meanwhile, still waiting for a direct response from Brian Turner and Lory Bedikian as to whether there was a prior relationsh­ip/friends­hip/connec­tion of some sort which helped Lory become the winner of the contest, despite the fact that both judge and winner attended the same MFA program at Oregon, when entries must have been received from all over the country.

—Anis Shivani, Huffington Post

Why is Foetry.com still making itself felt in po-biz after Alan Cordle’s site closed four years ago?  The front page story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Stephen Burt hit piece in the Boston Globe, the Joan Houlihan attack in Poets & Writers have apparently made Foetry famous forever.

Foetry is an attractive theory because in a poetry world of crackpot theory—a legacy of Modernism’s clique-y, reactionary, manifesto-ist, post-war takeover of the university (think: Ezra Pound, a core of associates, and their associates)—Foetry effectively reifies a number of tropes at once, bringing persons back into the poetry mix in an accessible post-Romantic manner.  “Naming names” was Cordle’s cry on the old Foetry.com, and this is what makes Foetry so volatile (and exciting): it may have begun as Cordle asking poetry contest moderators to play fair, and, in many ways, Foetry.com was simply a consumer protection site causing cheaters to howl; but a serendipitous expansion has occured in which Foetry is coming to stand for an explanation of all aspects of poetry, if not for life itself.

What is foetry?  Foetry is not just a noun, but a verb: it refers to a whole range of things which persons, on behalf of poetry, doFoets are poets who are foes of poetry in various ways, insidious foes of poetry because they appear to be friends of poetry, chiefly acting in the paradoxical manner of either making poetry more expensive, and because of this, cheapening it, or cheapening it, and thus making it rare.

There are two basic kinds of Foets: the social kind, who secretly pick their friends in public poetry contests, and the theoretical kind: the windbag theorist who makes poetry more “difficult” and ends up making poetry an elaborate game for simpletons.

Foetry is more concerned with persons than poets or poetry, but then every theory on poetry is a sly attempt by the theorist to stack the deck in his or her favor: please read poetry the way I write it.  But since Foetry is concerned with sly behavior in a reified manner to begin with, it ends up self-reflexively hitting the jackpot of a method that historically, socially, and psychologically is able to see through the rubbish of post-modernist, theoretical over-kill, to arrive at inclusive, grounded, practical answers to what poets as human beings are doing.

Read Scarriet, the sudden, inspired brain-child of Alan Cordle.  Watch and learn.  Monday Love of Foetry.com is now Thomas Brady. 

Censorship, bullying and banning by Blog Harriet produced Scarriet.

Former Scarriet editor Christopher Woodman’s pocket was being picked by Tupelo Press when he read about the scam in Foetry.com.

Woodman ditched Scarriet a year ago because he could not stomach attacks by his Scarriet co-editor on Red Wheel Barrow modernism.  Woodman has a weak stomach. He ate too much fallen High Modernist fruit.  He got high on High Modernism and lost his way.  But the point isn’t whether you like the Red Wheel Barrow or not—it’s whether you can handle criticism.

Poetry is not a lame feel-good exercise. You may find things you like in poetry, but poetry itself is not a feel-good exercise. The coterie-mind thinks: “you are a poet, so you must be my friend.!”  The coterie-mind sucks Criticism out of poetry.  The most boring (and most tyrannical) people are those who won’t accept Criticism. Development requires Criticism.  The world needs Criticism—not censorship.

If Foetry can be summed up as a philosophy it might be this way: Art is not an object, poetry is not a text; art and poetry are what people do to each other in the widest sense.

Brian Turner and Lory Bedikian, what do you think?

TRAVIS NICHOLS WARNS: LOUSY POETS WANT TO EXPERIMENT ON OUR BRAINS!

Beside running Blog-Harriet into the ground, Travis “The Enforcer” Nichols has another gig writing scientific articles for The Huffington Post. 

The mission: Attempt to make really bad contemporary poetry mainstream.

Step One.   Find a fairly eclectic topic covered by the mainstream press.

Take it away, Travis:

As you read this, Dr. Jacopo Annese is slicing up a brain. Not just any brain, but the brain of Henry Molaison, a man famous for his inability to form new memories after he underwent brain surgery in the early 1950s. Dr. Annese, a San Diego scientist, is digging into Molaison’s gray matter with hopes of figuring out exactly how human memory works. The NYT reports that recordings of Molaison’s brain slices will “produce a searchable Google Earth-like map of the brain with which scientists expect to clarify the mystery of how and where memories are created–and how they are retrieved.”

“The NYT reports…”   Good job, Travis!  That’s good. “The NYT reports…”  I like that.   OK…you’ve found something about the brain.  Good.  Someone is “slicing up a brain.”   That’ll perk their interest. 

Step Two.  While no one is looking, change the topic to poetry.

So Dr. Annese and his compatriots are, in effect, plunging into the greatest poetic mystery of all time.

Yeaaaa  “…greatest poetic mystery of all time.”   Way to go!   

Step three.  After mentioning a few dead poets in a erudite manner, politely name-drop your contemporaries as much as possible.  It might prove helpful one day.

Memory–and the wonder and terror it inspires–has generated great poems from Simonides, famous for eulogizing ancient Greek nobility, to Coleridge, who longed for his faraway friends in “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” to the contemporary poets writing an “experiment in collective autobiography,” The Grand Piano. These poets–Ron Silliman,  Rae Armantrout,  Lyn Hejinian,  and Carla Harryman among them–have spent their careers using poetry to prod the brain in other areas besides just the comfortable spot where (to paraphrase Wordsworth) emotion is recollected in tranquility.

“…have spent their careers…”   Nice touch.  People will think you had no choice but to mention them in your article. 

Step Four.  Discuss the work of your contemporaries as if it’s new and important, even if it isn’t.

Poetry in this tradition–one that is less interested in telling stories and more interested in exploring how story-language works–attempts to make the emotion present in the reading experience. Tranquility can come later. They’re not re-telling memories in a poem (like the memory recounted in William Stafford’s much-anthologized “Traveling Through the Dark”, but rather using word combinations, sound patterns, and different types of sentences to engage a reader’s brain while he or she is reading (Bernadette Mayer‘s writing is a great example of this kind of thing). To varying degrees, these poets have delved into what literary critic Reuven Tsur has called Cognitive Poetics, a field of study that has taken “reader-response” theory to a whole other level.

For example:  “…using word combinations, sound patterns, and different types of sentences to engage a reader’s brain while he or she is reading…”  “…different types of sentences…”  Great!

Step Five.   By now, the only readers still with you are those contemporaries you’ve name-dropped.  So you might as well name-drop some more.

Tsur makes the case that certain sound patterns have inherent properties that fire up the “poetic” parts of the brain, and that by paying attention to those patterns we can read poetry in an entirely new way. A wave of contemporary poets–the Grand Piano folks as well as Clark Coolidge, Bhanu Kapil, Renee Gladman, Eric Baus,  Christian Bok,  and, in his way, Tao Lin–have taken up Tsur’s ideas about reading and used them in their writing. A “Cogntivie Poet” won’t simply say “When I first made out with so-and-so, I did the happy dance!” Rather, she will use word combinations that cause the attentive reader to feel, to create a new experience, a memory, by the act of reading. It will make the reader’s brain do the happy dance.

Step Six. It might make one or two people suspicious if you do all that name-dropping and don’t quote at least one bit of actual writing to demonstrate your thesis, so find a poem by someone hot and throw it out there.

Here’s how Bhanu Kapil handles a childhood memory in her poem “The House of Waters”:

Mud walls whose surfaces belonged to the plantar surfaces of human hands. I could see finger marks, whorls. Once, I was a living being, embellished with skin: fortunate and blighted in turns. I turned. In circles. In the adventure playground, which was concrete. When I fell, the nurse would daub me with yellow smears, that stang.

 “Mud walls.”  That’s good.   Now praise what you’ve just quoted and be sure to mention a dead poet in connection to it.

It’s heady stuff, and it follows in Gertrude Stein’s footsteps much more than Robert Frost’s.

Artsy-fartsy is the new brain science.

Step Seven. Finish up, lest a reader ask themselves what bad poetry has to do with the science of the brain.

It also can be full of messy failures that achieve nothing at all besides piles of linguistic gobbeldy-goo (it’s experimental, after all). For these reasons, only the most adventurous poetry readers have so far taken it up . This kind of poetry isn’t a comfort. Rather, it’s a challenge. It’s an experiment much like that of Dr. Annese, who, when he first sliced into H.M.’s brain uttered the quite expressive phrase, “Ah ha ha!”

“Ah ha ha!”  

Warn them, Travis, warn them!

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