Today was the 122nd Quarterly meeting of the Georgia Poetry Society, of which I am a Executive Board Member. I always like these meetings because there are two sessions of member poems, usually about 15-20 poets reading in each. Everyone gets to read one poem, and while some are better than others, it makes my heart glad to see so many people writing and reading and loving poetry.
One thing I especially love about these meetings is they never feel cutthroat–and sometimes I feel that academic poets thrive on that. Oh, some academic poets may claim that they are supportive and will help you in their way, but at they same time, you know one is saying, Oh, I can’t believe she got published in Such-and-Such Review. And someone else is saying, Well, you know, she and the editor had a thing at Breadloaf. Academic poets can be so full of bullshit.
Now, I realize I am being somewhat disingenuous here. I am, after all, an academic poet. I have a Ph.D. in poetry with a focus in creative writing. My aesthetic taste is informed by academia, and I generally tend to read poems by academics. Granted, the reason for that might be because it seems that most journals are constipated with poetry by M.F.A. and Ph.D.-types. Plenty of this work is solid, fine poetry, and I like it. But plenty of it is just as drivelly as the moon-june writers–they’re just more accomplished technically and they have an alphabet after their last names.
The writers of GPS do much different kinds of writing. Some of it seriously not great. But then there are writers who use rhyme and meter and form quite effectively, even if they end up with poems that seem, to my academic mind, quite old fashioned. There is a gentleman there, probably in his late 60’s, who almost always either reads a ballad or a narrative in rhymed couplets, and they are invariably charming and hilarious. My academic friends would probably scorn such writing. I find it refreshing in a retro kind of way.
This is not to say there aren’t academics there. I know at least four other people who regularly attend who have Ph.D.s in the humanities. Their poems tend to be more technically proficient, more deliberate in the language and poetic devices they use, than the non-academics’ writing is. But their work isn’t joyless and mechanical as some of the poems I’ve seen in several journals lately are. There is definitely something to be said for not overly associating with academic poets, who are often greedy about padding their C.V.s and getting their next book together so they can parade it in front of the tenure committee.
In some ways, I’m no different. I prize getting acceptances, and would love to have a book of poems to sell at readings. A book would somehow “legitimize” my poetic efforts, would give me a little more credibility with the academic poets I associate with. But therein you see the hypocrisy. Because I do, after all, want to impress my academic friends.
At GPS, I never feel that I must impress them. If I do, when I read my poetry to them, that’s wonderful, and I’m glad they’ve enjoyed it. But I don’t feel less than–because GPS isn’t competitive. And maybe that’s what it boils down to: academic poets are competitive, and that kind of competition leaves me cold.
In other news, tonight I read at the Essential Theater. They had a poetry reading before the play Ice Glen, and I was a featured reader, along with Ginger Murchison, whose chapbook, Out Here is quite excellent. It was not well attended, but that’s ok.
Maybe when I publish my book, I’ll have bigger crowds to see me. I can dream.