Wednesday, June 16, 2010

News That Doesn't Stay News, or: Suck a Little Out of Class Bias

I'm "rethinking poetics," too!

Any discussion of the role of poetry in American... culture... should take into account its uses therein, viz-

This news story,"Allure & Fox News: Beauty Magazine Celebrates 'Foxy News Channel' With Poems, Pics." Turns out Allure magazine is celebrating Fox News' anchorwomen in its July issue, explaining, "with its bevy of babes, the network should be called the Foxy News Channel." You get to see Martha MacCallum, Jamie Colby, Jane Skinner, Courtney Friel, Megyn Kelly, Alisyn Camerota and Gretchen Carlson "feted in poetry form." Here are a few examples of those fascinating feats of feting:

Their hair, it's clear, would hardly budge,
Nor would their makeup even smudge
If they were set upon a luge-- [sic]
They'd laugh and cry: "We're going rouge!"
Sure, Rachel Maddow has the smarts
But can she work her giggly parts?
The obvious, let it be said:
Their favorite power suits are red.

On Colby, the magazine bard rhapsodizes (warning - NSFW):

The dress so short, the smile so glad,
Is that her cohost or her dad?

And on Friel:

Fox cameras never miss a chance
To show that she's not wearing pants.

You didn't think I'd forget Bloomsday, did you? (File under Kneejerk Poetics!) Well, here's a little B'day story: on this day fifty-six years ago -

... a Bell System manager sent postcards to 16 of the most capable and promising young executives at the company. What was written on the postcards was surprising, especially coming from a corporate ladder-climber at a time when the nation was just beginning to lurch out of a recession: “Happy Bloom’s Day.”

You know how everyone's discussing how valuable the humanities are, now that they're being slashed from the curriculum again? Check out Wes Davis's op-ed piece in the Times:

The sociologist E. Digby Baltzell explained the Bell leaders’ concerns in an article published in Harper’s magazine in 1955: “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.” Bell, then one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.

In 1952, Gillen took the problem to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a trustee. Together with representatives of the university, Bell set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education. There were lectures and seminars led by scholars from Penn and other colleges in the area — 550 hours of course work in total, and more reading, Baltzell reported, than the average graduate student was asked to do in a similar time frame.

At the same time, the institute’s curriculum provided for the sorts of experiences that were once the accidental concomitants of a liberal education: visits to museums and art galleries, orchestral concerts, day trips meant to foster thoughtful attention to the history and architecture of the city that surrounded the Penn campus, as well as that of New York and Washington.

Unfortunately, it didn't always take hold.

Perhaps the most exciting component of the curriculum was the series of guest lecturers the institute brought to campus. “One hundred and sixty of America’s leading intellectuals,” according to Baltzell, spoke to the Bell students that year. They included the poets W. H. Auden and Delmore Schwartz, the Princeton literary critic R. P. Blackmur, the architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the composer Virgil Thomson. It was a thrilling intellectual carnival.

When the students read “The Lonely Crowd,” the landmark 1950 study of their own social milieu, they didn’t just discuss the book, they discussed it with its author, David Riesman. They tangled with a Harvard expert over the elusive poetry in Ezra Pound’s “Pisan Cantos,” which had sent one of the Bell students to bed with a headache and two aspirin.

The trouble with the new rethinking is that it resembles the old rethinking.

Yet here's a genuninely new idea from Metropolis magazine: don't waste former industrial spaces on artists, but use them for light industry, instead. We learn that "Rust Belt cities have reached out to the creative-class pied piper Richard Florida to teach them how to remake themselves as magnets for affluent professionals." But Metropolis's Karrie Jacobs muses:

Every time I see an old industrial building newly converted into artists’ studios or luxury condos, I wonder: Wouldn’t it be better to convert that old factory into a bunch of small, technologically adroit new factories? What if the Ford Foundation announced grants based on the notion that manufacturers can spur growth in their surrounding areas? Isn’t that how economic development used to happen?

... Maybe Richard Florida has promoted the wrong creative class. In his model, artists beget coffee bars that make formerly dreary neighborhoods attractive to real estate developers, who lure lawyers and accountants into luxury loft buildings with names like “the Shoe Factory.” Maybe there’s another model, one that sucks a little of the class bias out of the formula and privileges artisans over artists, blue-collar jobs over white-collar ones. Give enough people who are passionate about making things the stability to invest in equipment and hire workers, and you might slow, or even reverse, the death spiral.

There's no such thing as great poets or poetry, as we all know. In fact, as Katy-Evans Bush's dark-horse candidate for Oxford Professor of Poetry puts it, "there might be a mute and inglorious Milton living next door, so how can we say what’s best?" (Not next door to me, I assure you.)

Best thing about Katy's blog post, though is this clip:

It's from Peter Whitehead's landmark documentary of the Albert Hall Poetry Festival in 1965, Wholly Communion, which, Katie says, "sadly you can no longer get on Ubuweb, but happily you can get it on DVD as it has been reissued by the good old BFI." The Festival was the Monterey Pop or Woodstock of the poetry world, to be a little anachronistic. Well, why not be anachronistic - we're all taking the long view, & rethinking things.

But just plain thinking works best, and here's a great example: Ron Silliman's answers to ten questions on poets and technology. His responses are some of the clearest, most cant-free remarks I've seen made by an American poet in ages - chock full of fresh and good ideas. Reading it gives me heart.

And speaking of technology, here's an inevitable headline: "Poet Lands Publishing Deal after Posting on Twitter." Full story, albeit short one, here. Of course, the typewriter, as Ron points out, was a great workhorse of ingenious literary technology; collectors can bid on Jack Kerouac's last machine... click here for details.

History of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow from SansGil—Gil Cocker on Vimeo.

Pictured: Marjorie Perloff's shoes, from the Rethinking Poetics conference, via Ben Friedlander

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