Friday, March 04, 2011


So yes, I'm now officially on Spring Break. Which, for those of you who get their impressions of what a university professor does from Fox News or other organs of the right-wing propaganda machine, does not involve cocktails and brandy snifters, much movie-watching on the Barcalounger, and lots of beach time, but rather involves frantic catching up with all of the job- and career-related responsibilities which the teaching week doesn't seem to afford enough hours to manage.

I'm resisting the impulse to do what a couple of far- and near-flung colleagues have done lately – that is, to chronicle hour-by-hour what a university teacher does, and how a 40-hour week is a kind of joke with us: you can see them doing it here and here. But I've begun today by drafting most of a book review; it'll be done by tonight, & e-mailed off. This weekend I'll do revisions on a major essay, & with luck get that off by Sunday night. Over the week proper I'll read the books for and begin working on three more book reviews, I'll go in to campus (argh!) and read the files for this semester's applicants to our graduate programs, and I'll give a whole bunch of hours' attention to a major overhaul of a college-wide graduate program. That means a lot of number-crunching, collating of documents, and from-the-ground-up proposal writing. And of course I'll be reading ahead for my classes – the second half of the Odyssey, some Virginia Woolf essays, Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. (Okay, I admit it, that last bit doesn't really seem like work, but rather something I should be paying to State of Florida to be allowed to do...)
After a longish chat with some graduate students at the pub, I got to thinking about what the academy, & perhaps pobiz in general, has a tendency to do to some perceptions of literature. Some background first: I've been thinking about writing for quite a long time in a larger sociological context, in terms of fields of production, cultural capital, & all that Bourdieuvian jazz. On the page, it all seems very academic, but when you immerse yourself in the poetry blogosphere, and especially in the webs of the poetic corners of Facebook (where I get maybe 8 or 10 invitations to readings and announcements of new books – please buy me! please buy me!) every week, the degree to which poetry is written in the context of a literary marketplace becomes very clear indeed. And one begins to think that this stuff is what really matters.

And then my Sitemeter showed that this blog had gotten a substantial "bump" last week. A big bump even bigger than the usual "Silliman Bump," when Ron links you on his blog & your traffic goes thru the roof. It turns out that one of my posts – on John Ruskin and Victorian pubic hair, of all things – had been linked on Facebook by a Steampunk site, Parliament & Wake. Yes, a good steampunk site, an interesting steampunk site, but by no means the largest or most popular steampunk site. (Remind me sometime to post my steampunk thoughts, prompted by my observation of steampunkers [steampunkies? steampunkistas?] as among the more well-represented subcultures at the Renaissance Fair a couple weeks ago.) & I thought to myself: my word; if Parliament & Wake has more linking power than Ron Silliman (by far the most visited poetry blog around), then poetry really has become a small subculture within our larger culture as a whole. (Quick stats from FB: Lorine Niedecker fans: 511; LZ fans: 420; Jack Spicer fans: 581; Billy Collins fans: 5345; Sonic Youth fans: 400,000; BeyoncĂ© fans: 16,700,000.)

What then keeps me with poetry, I thought in a rare moment of introspection? It can't be the meager cultural capital (and wages) I'm drawing at the university. Have I lost sight, for a moment at least, of the power & force of poetry at its best?

So part of what I aim to do over this break, in between juggling the plates of my official responsibilities, is to refresh myself with some concentrated poetry reading. Last night I read – or rather, read & looked at – Susan Howe's Bollingen-winning That This. Today I've spent some time with Rachel Blau DuPlessis's Drafts, and in a few days I'm looking forward to diving into Carolyn Bergvall's Meddle English. The sun is shining, & I'm ready to get back into the swim.

1 comment:

Signore Writes said...

I recently retired from the academic life and am amazed by what I had been missing. Teaching is almost hazardous to intellectual health. I recall constantly trying to keep up with papers, reading, interactions and my own life. Today, I am reading through 17th-18th century literature -something not done since grad school-and plugging into sites like this to get the sense of what is going ton in literature today. Fix news hates intellectual endeavors-threatens them-unfortunately, too many people believe the stereotype. Finally, I can say "screw them" and read more of Pynchon than I did before. A good read: "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" by Hofstader!