Welcome back! If you assumed that I haven’t updated the blog in awhile because Ive been working on other things, you’re right. But with the new school year and the reinforcement of the lesson that writing more helps you write more, comes new determination to re-vivify this thing and keep it alive. Please feel free to suggest blogs I can add to my follow list, and please comment and ask questions.
I’ve been thinking about the discourses of poetry communities a lot lately, after spending the last few months immersing myself in the field of discourse analysis–I realized that it’s what I have been doing in my work for almost my entire scholarly career. As I mention in my previous most here, I have always been really fascinated by the arguments about poetry. Now I know that this is because those arguments convey and express dearly held discourses. In the field of discourse analysis (Introduction to Discourse Analysis), a “discourse” is a way of performing a certain kind of identity that is recognizable to community members. We use language, actions, interactions, ways of being, and various tools to “enact” these identities.
I think that this is what poetry communities do: help poets develop and enact poetic identities. I’ve been working on a paper for the upcoming American Literature Association’s Poetry Symposium in Savannah. In it, I argue that discourse analysis can help us usefully read poetry conflicts, and then I perform a discourse analysis of a manifesto produced by the Croatoan Poetry Cell, involved in protests at the Poetry Foundation in 2011. The text shows how differently the communities involved feel about countercultural poetry, institutions, and poetry funding.
I’ve also been corresponding with the poet Meryl DePasquale about a “how to submit to poetry journals” chapbook draft, and I was reminded of a talk I gave through the “Works In Progress” series at Minneapolis College of Art and Design three years ago. In this talk, I wanted to explore the question of why we might still need communities, when anyone can publish a poem online, without an editor, now. I said that in the past, communities helped train poets in how to be members of poetry communities: how to build supportive networks supported poetry by setting up readings, space, classes, and events; how to start presses and journals; and, yes, how to get one’s own work published. Most importantly, a poetry community will teach new poets the values / aesthetics of the community, and this is, I said, why we still need poetry communities in the age of instant digital publication: without those people who share your values and aesthetics, there aren’t readers for your work.
Communities disabuse novices of the romantic ideology of the isolated genius writer, and educate them in how to be a poet in that community through the discourse of that community: publishing practices, belief systems, methods, purposes, and behaviors. The poetry landscape in this country is made up of many different poetry communities, scenes, and networks, online and offline, who welcome the involvement of new poets. By training themselves in the discourses of communities of poets whose work they like, new poets exchange “labor” (ranging from peer reviewing poems, volunteering at events, cleaning or building spaces, working on websites, etc.) for a community of readers, of people who recognize that poet as a poet.
Discourse analyst James Paul Gee (linked above) is fond of saying that through discourse, we “say, do, and be.” In this technological moment, poets need communities because communities show poets how to speak as poets, do poetry, and to be poets.