I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

06 June 2007

Respite for the Good, Closure for the Ugly

June, the beginning of summer, even in poetry blogland, and so I wish to take note of two very different poetry communities, one closing doors and the other taking a break.

First, the good. My dear sisters at Poetry Thursday, Liz and Dana are taking a well deserved break from their venture. The entire purpose of Poetry Thursday was simply to celebrate poetry, by sharing weekly posts by participants. Unlike many poetry communities, it wasn't a location where a few self-anointed poo-bahs offer their pompous critiques or where unhappy poets vented against the entire Po-Biz. Rather, Poetry Thursday takes it cue from Montessori kindergartens, where you grab your mat, sit on the floor, and play games with the other kids, taking in all that is delightful.

Poetry Thursday grew to some over 200 participants, from North America, New Zealand, India, France, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, etc., with easily twice that in occasional visitors. It wasn't about workshopping your poems. It wasn't about networking with big name poets (though some did frequent the joint). It wasn't about keeping score. And the poetry shared was wide and varied, whether favorite lines from Keats, Browning, or Frost, whether original poems, from doggerel verse, to sonnets and villanelles, to formal experiments, to haiku, to lyrical open forms, to free-verse rants. It was about honoring the creation of poetry itself, celebrating the very good it does for us to write and read it.

Poetry Thursday represents the best of what an Internet-based community can be--inclusive, free-floating, playful, and celebratory. But keeping it going, bringing in columns, prompts, and reflections, managing the network and keeping the format happy-spirited takes a great deal of energy, and so Dana and Liz deserve this time off--besides, the forum is still open on Thursdays for us to share posts.

On the other end of the scale, I note the closing down of Foetry, a poetry forum which brought out the worst in a poetry community. Its focus was initially to expose fraudulent poetry contests, and on that score, Foetry was partially successful. Most famously it doggedly uncovered inappropriate judging at the University of Georgia and was relentless in exposing Jorie Graham's act of nepotism. But frequently, members of the forum would cast wild, reckless, and unsubstantiated rumors and accusations.

About two years ago, I ventured on their forum, trying to offer a corrective to one of their charges. Evidently, according to Foetry, there's a conspiracy between Harvard professors, the University of Iowa Workshop, and Colorado State University--this is a typical charge on the forum--which corrupts the Colorado Poetry Prize. For one example, they cite Dean Young who won the prize in 1995 for his book, Strike Anywhere. I had the temerity to point out that Dean Young had absolutely no connection to Harvard, Iowa, or Colorado State before winning the award. I was then roundly ridiculed, charged a sell-out, and mocked as an "academic" poet--oh, unlike nearly all the posters on Foetry, I used my real name. And still, their erroneous assertion about Dean Young remains uncorrected.

Since then, Foetry has stewed in its own bile. Yes, occasionally one of their claims would have merit, which only emboldened the community all the more, made them more sanctimonious and self-righteous. Predictably, the passing of the forum has gone practically unnoticed. The still open "good-bye" thread has fewer than a dozen different posters paying their respects. That's an accurate reflection of the import and impact of Foetry.

But what good did Foetry do? Yes, some changes in the language of contests themselves and in the standards supported by the AWP and CLMP, but the truth is that most poetry contests are on the up-and-up. And any contest will have an arbritrary quality to it, reflecting the limitations and biases and preferences of the editors, staff, and judges. If anything, Foetry reified the value of the laurel, by placing so much emphasis on who won what award, on who judged what award. It has done precious little in promoting poetry itself. Yes, I see that the Foetry folks have created a blog for "Post Foetry," and they're making a stab at providing information about contests and such, which reminds me that maturation is possible.

Even so, I look at the good of Poetry Thursday, the better place and space Dana and Liz have so generously and prettily designed. Rest easy, sisters. I can't wait for the playground to be open again!

8 Comments:

At 11:48 AM, Blogger January said...

It's funny how much press Foetry received. I mean, a site that points out the negatives in poetry gets lots of attention (which is not all that much because this is poetry, after all). Yet a great site like Poetry Thursday, a place that brings people together from across the globe, gets little to no attention at all. I just don't get it.

 
At 12:40 PM, Blogger jim said...

I've encountered so many different types of poets through the years--two of those types are the happy warriors and the angry men (which is about one third women, by the way).

The happy warriors realize how deeply poetry is and has been out of favor, but they don't mind that. They just genuinely love poetry, both the good and the hackneyed, just because poetry itself is an inherently good enterprise. These are the people who start open poetry communities (Poetry Thursday), start really good literary magazines (Stirring), ambitious private presses (WordTech), and poetry reading series (NEWS).

The angry men are the scorekeepers, as they keep count of who has published where and who has won what reward. They are angry because they are not receiving the attention, and so they preen themselves with the comfort of knowing that they are "out of fashion."

Early in my own career, I must confess that I was something of one of these angry men. Talk about wasted energy. Now I'm apprenticing as a happy warrior--no we never really ever get into a genuine battle, but we're plucky and happy all the same.

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger Tinamtl said...

I am new to Poetry Thursday. I am not an academic, nor have I studied poetry more then at a college level. But I have always loved reading poems and writing from my heart.

I also strive to learn from other poets, academics or poets who write simply for the pure pleasure of the art.

I am feeling like maybe I am out of my league here.

I don't know.

I didn't realize that there were "angry men/women" like that. I assumed all poets/poetry communities would encourage even the amateur.

 
At 4:43 PM, Blogger paris parfait said...

It's fascinating to hear all the "inside" stuff about Foetry. It all sounds rather mean-spirited, more about egos and less about poetry for the sake of poetry.

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger Remiman said...

jim,
In every nook and cranny, in every endeaver involving humankind we will find builders and deconstructionists. It's a fact of life, but builders will out, because praise and encouragement breed praise and encouragement. While disssent and discouragement ends up eating and deconstructing itself.
Long live Poetry Thursday!
My forays into writing (I've always read) poetry was given encouragement at every post. I don't write for awards or accolades. I write poetry because I love words and finding new ways to express my feelings.
I've never felt that I was competing for a grade here, just being a part of a team of congenial and collegial folks who find it important to appreciate poetry.
Tara at Paris Parfait got me started down this road and everyone else has been nothing short of supportive.
rel

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger jim said...

I count my lucky stars, too, Rel, for falling into this place . . . . Thank you!

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger gautami tripathy said...

I discovered Poetry Thursday in Jan 07. I have not looked back. I have been writing for it since then. I enjoy interacting with everyone who posts. I have learnt a lot. I was inspired to villanelles and pantoums. It has been positive growth for me. Where most encourage and let you do your best.

I never heard of Foetry. Good for me.

Thanks Jim, for this post. We neededit.

 
At 2:37 PM, Blogger SarahJane said...

liked your write-up. when poetry thursday starts back up, I hope to get wind of it.
thanks

 

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