About Professional Poetry
This book sprouted from a group of poems I’d collected since 2006. Most all seemed to question: “who-is-this-human being-self proclaimed-metamodern-poet-female-me-person anyway?” The working title, in fact, had been “Who Do I Think I Am?”
Later, it morphed into a collective surface analysis of the most recent rise of careerism in the arts, specifically within the realms of writing and distributing poetry (acknowledging that, historically, there has always been some form of commodification/capitalist influence upon the creation and distribution of writing, for better or worse, and of course, that contemporary artists, writers, and critics have addressed this ad nauseam).
But these days, in our shifting, technologically “advanced” as well as precarious economic times, the rise of the corporation has never so much pervaded all areas of our lives. The Occupy movement and the last two political cycles have underscored the extremely negative effects of corporate America. And it’s been well documented recently by scholars such as Noam Chomsky that widespread corporate modeling has infiltrated one important place/space that many poets (not all) work and thrive in—universities and colleges. Chomsky notes that, ultimately, among other things, this blatant corporate intrusion (specifically of university structure and processes) destroys the fostering of creative and independent thought and inquiry—which incidentally are very much at the heart of reading and writing poetry.
The overall configuration of the university has turned sharply to the business model—it’s all about the “bottom line” because corporate dollars (in the form of philanthropy) fund nearly the entire operation (statistics show that, among all types of giving to universities, corporate giving jumped nearly 12% from 2011 to 2012, where individual giving only increased by 3%, though individual giving remains a primary source of funding for most institutions). These institutions were, at one time, spaces in which a poet could actually create work within the boundaries of their own inspiration’s space and time (and still be able to survive on a decent wage). Not so anymore—enter careerism in poetry.
Because the mentality within universities and colleges has drastically turned to corporate “performance measurement” and “results-oriented objectives,” the now-pressured poet (and I refer here to poets both within and outside of the higher education system) may begin to feel, perhaps, as if s/he is on an industrial assembly line (ironically, as the US has outsourced most all manufacturing jobs), forced to “churn out” work as s/he struggles to maintain relevance, if any, first among peers and, second (and ultimately) in American society.
In my own experience as a poet who has been publishing and reading and participating in poetry events for 12 years, I believe this corporatization has spawned a general, unspoken, unhealthy competition (?) amongst poets that repudiates the fairly collaborative spirit of literary eras gone by. Yes, writing poetry is ultimately an isolated act, but at least poets could once prodigiously stand with one another in solidarity (also with visual artists) over common goals—mainly to create works presenting new perspectives that also evoke human interest and interaction. Never so much as it is now that we see poets often avoiding any connection with one another because it may affect their unique monetary earning potential, “popularity” or “brand.” And what to make of all of the “marketing” one has to engage in just to be heard?
This overarching corporate shift—coupled with the recent media frenzy covering the demonization by far-right politicos and their devotees of unionized professions (or those workers demanding to unionize)—made for a logical/appropriate starting point for this book.
Lastly, during the manuscript’s revision process, I became unemployed. This unfortunate incident seemed fitting for what became the overall focus of the project: highlights of various professions via the poetic lens, ala Stud Terkel’s labor piece, Working.
Each poem in this book is implicitly dedicated to a profession. Poems may, or may not, offer a blue-collar sensibility or perspective, which has been my own experience, as I come from an ancestral line of Lithuanian farmers and skilled laborers and an immediate family of union-member workers (on my mother’s side specifically, my family members were waitresses, maids/housekeepers, plumbers, mechanics, maintenance men, factory workers, and machinists). Upon completing this “project” I personally appreciate the variety of voices that have emerged, all speaking from interesting perspectives: a turn-of-the-century shopkeeper, a carpenter, a locksmith, a cultural anthropologist, a union leader, etc.
These poems are for work—work in general, because poetry truly is work, the most meaningful kind—it exists to help us find universal meaning (if any)—and everyone, each human being on this planet, is a work in progress.
—Lina ramona Vitkauskas