Saturday, April 13, 2013

a not so modest proposal

it seems we have problem in contemporary poetry.  there are too many mfa programs that have the whiff of a promise -- however discreet -- of professional publications and the pursuit of academic employment.  in this new normal the economy of academia matches the economy of the corporate state.  the key words are of the new normal are restructure and downsize.  there are simply not enough teaching jobs available for even a few of the graduates of mfa programs.  universities and colleges are faced with steep budget deficits.  departments instead hire not tenure-track professors but part-time lecturers often without benefits.  these part-timers often cobble together a few classes among various schools and struggle to make ends meet. 

add to the fact that the price tag for a post-graduate degree can cost somewhere around tens of thousands of dollars to a hundred grand.  that's a lot of scratch for a sheepskin that confers the authority and prestige of writer in an economic landscape that values managers of billion dollar hedge funds over the maker of unprofitable texts. 

often the subject of right employment rises among writers.  writing, particularly poetry, is not only a money-losing endeavour but writers often have to pay for their own and colleagues publication thru the founding of small presses.  and what writer, particularly poets, haven't got that look from family members or non-writer peers when asked what is your major and what will you do with a writing degree.  writers often ask the question, what should writers do for a living.

writing is not an occupation.  it is not a career.  it is not a job.  it is an obsession.  since writing is a non-paying obsession and because one cannot live on the gift-economy of small-press publications the writer in an mfa program must ask herself how she is going to pay the rent, buy food, pay the internet provider and buy books, and pay back the loans she took to be in an mfa program. 

i have a solution.  in the new normal we have to create new solutions.  the mfa program must be combined with vocational education and/or training.  when you study literature and workshop your texts you are also learning to become an r.n. or an auto mechanic or tech writer.  whatever occupation that suits the talents and needs of the writer enrolled in the program.  the successful graduate will not only have been immersed in the world of art but also the practical needs of the trades.  the successful graduate will have a sheepskin she can take into the boardroom as well as the grease pit.  small-press publishing would get an infusion of monies from the steady paychecks of its publishers, writers and readers [who are often the same people, particularly poets].  the subjects for writing will explode into areas often unthought of by writers for the world of the office is unlike the office of the professor. 

there are precedents for writers with occupations.  think of chekov who worked as a physician; dr. williams writing his poems on prescription pads; stevens composing texts during his walks to and from his job in an insurance firm; wendell berry on his farm; kit robinson working in the tech industry.  the lists of working writers is long.  the health of writing -- particularly poetry -- would increase too for the subjects and objects of writing will live in an expanding universe of trial and error, failure and fatigue.  the mfa program/vocational training program would ensure writers if not adequate employment but a greater chance of making a living then trying to cobble a few teaching gigs here and there.  the mixed program shall offer courses and examples of discipline too.  working and writing shall be taught that they are not antithetical.  working and writing are not enemies.  the world of writing is infinite.  jobs in the new normal economy are not.  every writer need not be a teacher.  but each writer shall gain a force of knowledge by making a living balanced with an obsession of writing.  even after a long shift changing car batteries the writer will have learned the discipline to sit down at night, or morning, or even on the job, to write a few lines or pages.  the only enemy will be her sleep-gummed eyes.


At 6:36 AM, Blogger Jim McCrary said...

i think perhaps your thoughts will become reaity...maybe. i suspect that the flag over the university of kansas will be replaced by a devry flag...if not in my lifetime soon after. all for the best. what we dont need is more 'educated' poets...i am proof of that.

At 10:19 PM, Blogger richard lopez said...

education is good. wanting to only teach and be a poet is bad. any job that keeps a writer in food, books and home is good.

teaching is a good thing. it is not the only thing.

the mfa may not make a writer. obsession, desire, desire and a certain sort of humility might make one a writer.

the writers i grew up on, hart crane, faulkner, for example, were either high school drop outs or finished only high school.


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