Skip to main content

Orr Into Gold

David Orr has a long essay in the February issue of Poetry, ostensibly on a new anthology, Poetry of the Law, which spins off in a number of fascinating directions.  I am most interested in his discussion of creative writing within the academy.  He writes: "Creative writing is not, on the whole, a strong discipline in the way that the university conceives of such things.  It lacks a coherent methodology, shared assumptions about its own materials, perspective on its relationship with other academic departments, and often any kind of historical sense.  It can be pretty loosey-goosey stuff.

But it's also supposed to be loosey-goosey stuff." - and then he quotes McGurl, who notes that creative writing's raison d'etre is "as an institutionalization of anti-institutionality" (italics his). Orr then observes how law students and creative writing students share more than at first might meet the eye - they both look to a world where their practice is validated, beyond the university's theories and doors - after all, for all the theory and study, lawyers actually do things with words, as do poets - as Austin noted - some words are performative, and lawyers and poets both make things happen with words (in very different ways).  If this seems unlikely, Orr makes a striking point, one I'd never considered before - for all the talk of poetry's dying, the reason it is so universally studied and supported by universities as creative writing practice is because people still (obviously) find it alive out in the world - whereas no one now runs university workshops in the writing of "serial novels".

I like this idea of freedom within the academy that creative writing (perhaps especially of poetry) seems to offer, though I sometimes wish the poets would also yearn a bit more for the yokes that, conversely, the university offers for them to embrace.  That is, I am puzzled by the signal lack of a coherent development of a creative writing methodology (beyond the workshop process, itself heterodox) at most universities.  Writers and poets no doubt resist the institutionalisation of their writing practice, but that is what is, to a degree, required, in order to "bottle the magic" and impart it.  One thinks of Hogwarts here, perhaps, where students fall under the spell of various teachers, each with their own foibles and intentions - but even there a sense of progress underlines the seeming chaos.  Yet, how often do we hear a poet say, "I've licked sestinas and now can go on to pantoums" - within the context of a workshop?

Another article in the same issue by poet-critic Adam Kirsch, on another new anthology, this of Rap, from Yale, is also essential reading - making this I think a bumper issue.  Kirsch makes the brave argument that Rap - whether seen as lyrics or verse - despite its bravura formal elements, in some ways more impressive than contemporary poetry (Big Daddy Kane seems to out-Muldoon Muldoon in the rhyme department) - is a genre limited in some ways, constricting the larger-than-life rappers.  Rappers tend to be misogynistic braggarts, because the conventions of the genre expect that - and to break away with irony, self-reflection, modesty, and even anxiety (aspects of modern writing of poetry, for instance) would seem to be beyond the bounds of the Rapper's very art.  In this sense, Rap is not Poetry, after all - but a definitively different kettle of fish.  Still, the idea of 920 pages of transcribed Rap is an exciting one.
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…