Careerism in Poetry or Anything for that Matter

John Gallaher wrote about careerism in response to an interview with Ed Sanders. I tried to make a post in response, but for some reason Blogger won't let you do long posts, so I've put my whole post below.

Success in anything is working hard. Ed was someone who put himself out there for the sake of an idea. He has followed his heart and it has lead to success. That drive is what makes an artist. If you follow ideas through, then people take notice and want to hear what you have to say. They will even offer money and grants, so such an artist can continue working.

Some people make a choice to do an art over living a particular life of stability. That would take moving to a rural community where the standard of living is low, getting lots of grants, and publishing and doing small talks for money here and there when possible. I wouldn't call that loaded. I would actually call that recognition of wealth in terms other than money.

As far as careerism in poetry, I would say attaining a professor position or going to grad school would be one of many paths to getting recognition and advancing one's career. It actually is a smart path forward, considering that the majority of poetry funding and readership comes from the academic community. Since the academic community holds the keys to money, it is natural for poets to seek positions in such communities to continue refining their craft and obtaining opportunities for publication.

At the same time, it isn't really necessary. Poets could be anything they want and write without the academic community or publication. That is why I think the interest in recognition is what is actually behind a "careerist" mentality. "Look at me! Notice me!! I write poetry!!!"

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed for your work. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to work in an academic community either. If you are using that as a method to pay your bills, then why not. It could be denoted as "careerist," but who really cares? The choices you make in life are yours and if it's right for you, then why not.

Personally, I think it's possible to do any job and be a poet. I do see how certain circles will offer approval to an individual and allow them to be considered of a certain stature. In earlier days, the way to insure such a "a passing of the torch" would be to send your first book to all the writers whom you respected. Then they would know about you and a dialogue of exchange could begin. Now, with the Internet, we don't need to send first books, but that might be one way to go. It is old fashioned, but rather chivalrous, I think.

As far as breaking into the poetry world, I would say you would be much better off living in a major American city, where readings were happening on a regular basis. Then you would need to go to those readings and shovel out your work for some years. Then you would build a community, and that circle would help you get out in the world. It's the same thing in Hollywood. You hang out. You start acting in various venues. You do that for five years. You form your crew. They get you an agent. Then you do a couple Dominos commercials. Then you work some shit writing gig. Then you keep auditioning and waiting for a more profitable opportunity. Some never make it past the commercial level. Some will get past pilot season and have a show. And some will just get bored with it and move onto other avenues. I don't see poetry or other art forms as any different.

You do the hard work of writing. You polish. You read in the right circles. You do your shit. Then eventually you'll get put onto some press. You'll do that for a couple years. You might do some ghostwriting. You might take a couple gigs as a resident writer somewhere to help pay the heating bill. You rock that for a while, until you decide to do some bigger books. Who knows? Maybe a book on Charles Manson or a nonfiction book that's unrelated to poetry. You get more notoriety. You get a few more grants. You get old. You die.

The getting noticed and all that is not too much in a person's control for authentic popularity. You do your thing. The rest will mend itself. However, I do think that reading and meeting other writers who are established is more a part of the initial game of writing today. You are really only as big as your community. You can build one by yourself, and wait for other communities to join you, but at some point, you'll have to be living in a location that allows you the freedom to do a lot of reading and mingling. If you're living outside a major city, I would say it's possible, but you're going to have to arrange some crazy reading series, start some Internet mag, or do something - a blog is a great way to go - so you can start a dialogue with other writers on the Internet.

I just don't know if you're going to have super stardom as a poet. It's not really the point of poetry. Believe it or not, it's not really the point of acting or other art forms either. That is, if you are genuinely interested in pursuing your art form as a craft. Of course, no one said you can't just rock something to be famous. That's like the big thing with people these days. I heard people want that more than money. That's fascinating to me. Anyway, yes, I would say careerism is alive and well in any art form. In some cases, it's a good idea, depending on your aspirations - but you're not really going to be able to control the outcome.

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