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  #1  
Unread 08-01-2019, 12:40 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Default Bob Hicok's Essay

"The Promise of American Poetry"

This essay has been lighting up my Twitter feed. It's weird to see a man with 10 published books, 2 NEAs, and a Guggenheim find a way to self-pity.
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Unread 08-01-2019, 12:42 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Thereís always a way to self-pity. Think of everything the man hasnít won. Not that Iíve read this yet.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 08-01-2019, 12:53 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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It's fascinating, John, because it's pitched as a lament for his falling sales paired alongside praise for the diversifying poetry scene paired with open envy of that diversifying scene.

It's a strange mix, and it's getting dragged.
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Unread 08-01-2019, 01:17 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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I don't know, Andrew. I thought the essay was honest in addressing his ambivalence. These issues are the elephant in the room in any discussing of the current status of poetry. To admit that he hates to lose the attention and perks that he has had for many years is truthful. Many poets have not had attention or perks, so it is easy for them to see self-pity in his acknowledgment. The pendulum swings in any field over time, and everyone gets old. Change involves pain. Many great poets never got any attention until after they were dead. Perhaps the best attitude is to act as if we are dead already, to expect nothing. Then we can properly appreciate any attention that does come our way.

Susan
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Unread 08-01-2019, 01:43 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I almost regret being negative about your most recent post, Susan. I agree with that. I do think, though, that poets have become too aware of what sells. As if we're getting rich. Rich with attention, I suppose. If that makes you feel good (and it does). I would never submit a poem, at this point, to someone I knew. Also, I don't see poetry as a product. I think a lot of this is churned out because that's productive. Or meeting the bone-headed requirements of keeping a university job. Did I drift again?
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Unread 08-01-2019, 02:53 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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The problem, to me, isn't that he has a case of the sads. I mean, that's fine. We all wrestle with our own mortality and relevance and that has been a fruitful ground for essays and reflection since people have written essays and reflections. It may be a little galling for Hicok to be complaining about it, but that's no concern.

I find it odd and uncomfortable that he blames his declining readership on young poets of color. He tries to grapple with that and to justify why it is a good thing, but at his core he feels some pain "pain" as a consequence of the industry diversifying.
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Unread 08-01-2019, 03:42 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I find it uncomfortable that he's concerned about his readership. I do think that's what we're talking about here. I think it's uncomfortable when Hollywood makes a Ghostbusters, but with women. It's ridiculous. The first one was terrible. Ha. Ok~ anyway, I think the very fact he protests says a lot.
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Unread 08-01-2019, 07:29 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Speaking as an aging white guy myself, it does sound a bit like a regret that young poets of color are taking his job. Grace is a hard-won thing.

Cheers,
John
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  #9  
Unread 08-01-2019, 07:39 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Quote:
It's a strange mix, and it's getting dragged.
The contents of one's consciousness, when one is trying to reconcile difficult truths honestly, are a strange mix. What does 'getting dragged' mean?
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Unread 08-01-2019, 08:56 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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I guess it's possible to see this as him be preoccupied with his own pain. Personally, I didn't see self-pity. I think a more charitable reading is that he's a making a point about the experience of being a straight white male poet, and this point contributes to an understanding of how straight white men respond to the changing face of the poetry 'industry' -- and also how they respond to their perceptions of this change, which, as he touches on, may well not be exactly the same as the reality of the situation.

On the other hand, when it comes to this:

"Though emotionally I’m crushed that I’m disappearing as a poet, ethically I find it necessary and don’t know how to put the two together."

I do wonder a little what he's been doing all his life. I think pretty much any adult who's reached his age and has tried to act as an ethical being will have faced at least a few situations in which the ethical course of actions conflicts with what's easy, or with what we strongly want and desire. Still, maybe it's for effect, and he's spelling the point out. This seems to be the crux of the essay, after all. The conflict and interplay of these two forces.

On a slight tangent, but related to one or two points he makes in the article: I once had a poem accepted for a magazine, and was told it would be in one of the next two issues. When it didn't appear in either, I emailed to enquire after it, and was told, basically, that they'd said yes to too many white people, so they so they gave 'my' slot to someone who wasn't white (they did apologise for not having let me know in advance and did eventually publish my poem). It was an interesting mixture of experiences for me: I was looking forward to seeing it come out, so there was the unpleasant feeling of not getting something I wanted and had been expecting. There was also the novelty of the reason why I wasn't getting what I wanted: the colour of my skin. Something that hadn't happened to me before, so quite an interesting experience, too. Plus, I got a chance to reflect on the fact I had the luxury to consider it interesting.

So, anyway, I think he covers some interesting ground. Interesting to me, anyway.

Andrew,

I not sure it's strictly accurate to say that "he blames his declining readership on young poets of colour" in that he makes it clear at the beginning of the article there are likely other, bigger contributory factors. But even so, I don't see it as odd to suggest that this might partly be the case -- or in general, even if not specifically in his case (I'm not completely sure which you're finding odd). It seems logical enough in the general case. Leaving aside 'young' for a moment, since that's likely at least in part a different dynamic, it does seem to follow that a growing commitment to diversity leads to less space for previously over-represented groups in situations where that space is limited. For example, if those awarding major prizes are committed to increasing diversity, there will be less opportunities than before for members of previously over-represented groups to win those prizes, simply by virtue of those groups having previously been over-represented. In such cases, statistically, being white, male and straight, his odds will have lengthened.

Mark,

I'm guessing 'getting dragged' means that people on Twitter are saying less than nice things about him.

Last edited by Matt Q; 08-01-2019 at 09:20 PM.
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