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« New School MFAs Go Places: Justin Sherwood, MFA '12, in Conversation with Academy of American Poets Executive Director Jen Benka, MFA '07 | Main | Friday February 21st: i pocket a tangerine [by Julia Cohen] »

February 21, 2014


I think that would work if every poet who joins and contributes dues gets a chance to go on a reading that is equally funded with all other readings. I can see how it could be abused so that a small group gets lots of well-funded readings and all the others never get to go on one. That could be avoided if a system was established that ensured equal opportunity for every member to benefit.

Poetry is a part of the gift economy. One has to wonder what would happen to poetry if it were brought into the market economy like this. I'm hardly saying that it wouldn't be a good thing -- but all such changes have unforeseen and unintended consequences. Still, it's the kind of bottom-up solution that might actually benefit poets. But they will no longer be purely in the gift economy.

This sounds to me like a version of the Screen Actors Guild and it makes a lot of sense. If poetry were part of the gift economy, why do some poets get paid a lot (those who give readings at, say, the 92nd Street Y in NYC) and others get nothing? A poetry reading is entertainment and entertainers should be paid for their work. It should also be that publications with certain #s of subscribers must pay above an established minimum,and readings sponsored by certain well-endowed institutions should do likewise. I'm assuming that by being a non-tenured poet one could be outside of academia entirely, working at some other kind of job to support his or her poetry writing.

I think this is a great idea. And I'm very interested in your political reasoning about AWP. I think there should be some options to AWP. Some celebrations perhaps that one might enjoy rather than merely survive, if that. For imaginative people, how sheeplike we become.

Count. Me. In. Seriously. Something like this -- and yes, it is a lot like SAG -- would do more than simply shore up the poor schlubs who operate outside the ivory tower (I chose not to pursue teaching creative writing for the simple reason that I was 20 when i received my mfa and knew little except that I was not yet experienced enough to teach anything. Ironically, now that I'd be good at it I am a less attractive candidate than the hordes of 24 year olds who are free to relocate to pocatello and work for peanuts as an adjunct.)

It would actually make a step toward re-establishing the legitimacy of this thing we call avocation. Remember avocation? William Carlos Williams. Wallace Steven. AR Ammons. any number of our Really Important writers had DAY JOBS. Had expertise in fields that were not poetry. Were fed by those other inputs and not stuck in the self-referential Charibdis of the MFA program where before you know it you are 28 and still only able to write poems about writing poems.

There are some amazing writers who teach. Some of them are even really gifted teachers and they should be doing it. The rest of us should not be delegitimized by the fact that we pay the bills by being paralegals, EMTs, cardiologists, middle school math teachers, cab drivers, sales executives, pharmacologists, project managers or software engineers. Having a guild structure would really be helpful, in a lot of ways.

Caution: I have to disagree with the above poster on dues paying being a guarantee of paid reading appearances. Please believe me when I say that a large percentage, possibly a majority percentage, of SAG, the Screenwriters Guild, and related entities have NO SUCH GUARANTEE. That would be like saying anyone with homeowners' insurance can expect a funded bathroom renovation. SAG members still audition, and get turned down or ignored. There are a bazillion people writing poems and not every single one of us has the inherent right to demand an audience. It could, however, ensure you a minimum honorarium for the readings you do, and that would be an amazing step up from what most of us deal with

PS Charles Coe -- Ask anyone who knows me about my "suck-up" factor. I would *love* to talk to you about heading this effort and, as I have cultivated other skill sets than teaching creative writing, I think I have a sense of what it would take to do it.

I just presented a multidisciplinary panel on poetry and ecology last night, at a public library, for a 250 person audience. I organized it myself (the librarian was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic, but it was my idea and i chose the panelists and designed the program) and even so, I walked in last night with no idea whether I was being paid. We just hadn't talked about it, because no one wanted to seem venal or focused on this as a commercial enterprise, and ta-da. I was given an honorarium, and was happy to receive it. But it shouldn't have been in question and it was so because everyone felt so sheepish about bringing it up. If we had a structure wherein that was a foregone conclusion, it would be very helpful not only for poets but for venues who host readings. It would make things clear and simple.

Needless to say, I am unable to work for free. :-) but I'm not joking. email me.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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