Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Derek Webster on the myth of "power" in the poetry world:
Here are things that deserve the word “power”: armies, missiles, accelerating cars, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, hydroelectric dams, prime ministers, rocket launches, black holes, and gamma rays. In the poetry world, much of what we call “power” is just rung envy in authors looking up the ladder. To the unpublished poet, magazine-poets have “power.” To the magazine-poet, those with books have “power.” Have you been asked to judge a contest? Then you must have “power.” Canadian poets will point south to their more celebrated American counterparts: they wield it. But even poets with multiple books will tell you it's the publishers who wield “real power.” Or is that the tastemakers at big-circulation newspapers, websites and magazines? Or the Canada Council, without whose support none of this vast nefarious apparatus of “power” could exist? It’s hard to keep track of all the power-lunching people with a finger in the pie. But for the word “power” to be meaningful, it helps if there’s something to lose, some counterbalancing, non-power position that shows a demonstrable drop-off or significant opportunity that someone has lost by not having, or not being favoured, by “power.” And yet for every contest winner or hired professor, there are dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of losers; and for every annual new winner, thousands of losers remain the same. Suddenly it’s very hard to tell who is winning from who is losing, because everyone is losing. Among writers, powerlessness is the general state of being. All of us are losing, almost all of the time. Back when Jon Stewart was an up-and-coming comedian in the early 1990s, half a dozen years before the success of The Daily Show, he got invited to do his comedy routine on The David Letterman Show. He was ecstatic: this was his big break! On the fast track to success! After the show, when the adrenaline wore off, back in his hole-in-the-wall illegal sublet, he realized nothing had changed. Same person, same problems, powerless as before. If Letterman didn’t change Jon Stewart, imagine how powerless a Canadian poet remains, post-publication. We are Pluto, orbiting a distant, shining sun. We aren’t even a planet anymore.
(Illustration by Guy Billout)

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