I hadn’t planned for this commentary to coincide with the Sussex Poetry Festival, the chief criterion in my dashed-off email to Jessica nearly a year ago being that I put it off until later. But here we are talking about irritation, and anyone who’s been involved in planning a poetry festival knows about that.
At Sussex our union is in a labor dispute with management over eroding real pay against increased workloads, the wage gap for women, and casualization (again: gendered). Basically, although no one has said this, it is a dispute over the “feminization of labor,” the fact that it is now considered not only okay but natural to treat all workers the way it was always considered natural to treat female workers (underpaid, precarious, competition-based, smile required).
We are working to rule (a bad strategy in the summer; we should do it during term-time when our research time is destroyed anyway) and there was some question as to whether we should hold the festival at all.
“The fatal problem with poetry: poems,” says Ben Lerner (32). What he means by this is that each actually existing poem stands a monument to the unrealizability of the utopian hope that we call “poetry.”
Lerner has some interesting things to say about poetry and its relationship to work, the desire and the worry that writing poetry not be work. Poetry is utopian insofar as it seems to offer an alternative to “getting and spending,” an order of work that is also seamlessly a way of leaning and loafing at one’s ease; hence the defenses. That very utopian possibility also seems a monstrous indifference to the brutalities of being constrained to sell one’s labor in order to live; hence the denunciations.
“I, too, dislike it.” It’s the title of Mia You’s new book from 1913 Press; it’s also the opening gambit in Ben Lerner’s recent book The Hatred of Poetry, a book that takes Moore’s gesture of self-distrust as emblematic of poetry itself, an art “defined for millenia...[by] a rhythm of denunciation and defense” (10).