Tag: poetry


by on Jan.08, 2014


I generally don’t get on with women. They make me feel competitive and inadequate and too-powerful and too-beautiful and hideously ugly and like I will never be able to fold a piece of paper and tear it perfectly upon the created axis with just my hands. Nevertheless I have found myself constantly in the company of women, having gone to a single-sex college and being a “woman poet” and a member of a former girl band and now working on a pastry team composed of all but one woman. Also perhaps because I bear the physical markers of the female I am labeled a woman-[whatever] and therefore grouped with other humans who are perceived by others or self-identify as women.
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Poetry is Not A Profession: A Few Thoughts on The Poem Assessor

by on Jun.13, 2013

So I went off the internet for like a day yesterday because I had sad friends scattered throughout the city and I thought I could make better use of my time in cheering them up than in sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. I was right. After a day of walks in the park, cigarettes on various fire escapes, and experiments in cooking with balsamic-truffle oil glaze and teeny tiny bowtie pasta, I settled into my room to paint and edit poems for an hour before the very reasonable hour at which I went to bed.

Which is why I woke this morning at 6 AM to read my horoscopes and check my e-mail and saw that I had been tagged or mentioned in a bunch of things across social media outlets regarding this “Poem Assessor” business.

Remember like, a year-and-a-half ago when that I Write Like thing was super popular? I just analyzed the above paragraph and it said I write like H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a cute party game for when you’re really, really bored. And the people behind I Write Like were clearly just having fun and trying to bring a little culture to the webgame table. I played it a bunch that one week it was cool, had a few laughs, and promptly forgot about it.

Yesterday I had some poems go up on Similar:Peaks::, which is one of the few things keeping me really engaged in any kind of poetry community outside of my actual close friends. This morning I learned that some of the good folks behind SP were upset because The Poetry Assessor(s) were rating poems from their site and tweeting the scores. So I logged onto twitter and I looked at the conversation and it was annoying. They gave my poem “Red Mess” a 2.5 on their scale, equivalent to that awarded to Plath’s “Crossing the River,” which they use as an example on their website. I put in another poem from the same manuscript and it scored like, a -1.8 (positive scores being “professional,” negative scores being “amateur”), and then put in poems by poets I really like and saw that most of the poems written by people I love in real life scored on the positive end of the spectrum. I was like wow, I have great taste in people if everyone I love is a Professional Poet.

The Poem Assessor uses an algorithm (described in detail here) that defines whether or not a poem is “professional” based on word choice, variety of vocabulary, sound devices, and conveyance of emotion. The study notes that professional poems are more optimistic than amateur poems, which is obviously false because every single poem by a friend I entered that got a positive score was super sad.

What’s bothersome about this is not the existence of The Poem Assessor nor the inadequacy and obvious failings of its systems (the whole point of poetry is that it’s human – now go ahead, someone, tell me about how we should let computers do it because that’s avant-garde) – poetry exists and is necessary because society requires that a measure of its humans put time and effort into exploring the interaction between the internal and external worlds, creating bodies in which a fusion of the two can exist. What irks me is this attempt to define the Professional Poem/Poet.

Here’s a lesson I learned hard and well: Poetry is not a profession. It is not a career and it is not an investment. It’s a vocation, like becoming a priest. You don’t have to give up sex thank god but you have to give up a lot of other stuff, like dignity and a solid sense of self. No one in their right mind would do it unless they had no other option. That’s why there’s a lot of sucky poetry in this realm of the “professional” – you can’t filter out insincerity with a paradigm. You have to have the blood on your hands.

Poets of the world, “Professional” and “Amateur” alike, don’t get upset about what The Assessor says. In a week we’ll all be making those paper cootie-catchers embossed with the names of poets we want to sleep with or something.

The end.





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Poetry Fundamentals: Power, Risk, & Resistance

by on Dec.11, 2011


Stop the Heavens
from crashing to the Earth.
This is the cry of the biggest
assholes in Heaven.

– from The Portable Atlas

Last month Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman were beaten by Berkeley police, and Geoffrey O’Brien ended up with a broken rib. They are obviously not the only poets (“academic” or otherwise) to suffer at the hands of the State since the Occupy movement started, but they are the first to be given an opinion piece after the fact in The New York Times. Generally speaking, I’m not all that interested in their credentials or even their poetic oeuvre. What interests me here is their act of resistance as a form of poetry. (continue reading…)

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THE PIN-UP STAKES: Clarifications

by on Jan.24, 2011

* This is a post-script of sorts to my original post THE PIN-UP STAKES: Poetry & the Marketing of Poetry. [for the below I’m paraphrasing and reorganizing replies I made in the comments field of the original post, as well as in the comments field to Mike Kitchell’s post about The Pin-Up Stakes on HTML Giant – thanks especially to Jackie Wang for her engagement]


The central concern of a marketing model is the communication of an idea (or thought, or vision) via the image. This is precisely the concern of the image artist. I would argue, for example, that Jon Leon’s poetry is not poetry but the idea of poetry. As he’s said before, “Poetry is not why you come to poetry.” This is a strategic insight shared by Leon and marketing VPs, and they share a set of tropes as well: in place of Stevens’ palm at the end of the mind we have Leon’s “Beverly Hills of the Mind,” in which the idea of Beverly Hills is more Beverly Hills than Beverly Hills is. This is not to say that Leon is engaging in some kind of trite ironic critique via appropriation. I would argue that he is not critiquing this strategy or these tropes at all. In fact I think he uses them because he feels they are effective. He likes them, and follows Stevens’ adage of “It must give pleasure.” You could argue that many people won’t be able to tell the difference between what Leon is doing and what an ad agency or some asshole is doing, and that this approach could easily lead to a reinforcement of the status quo. I would not disagree with this, but it misses the point. What matters is that his objective is to assert the infinitude of thought, and his tactics are slyly and not-so-slyly disruptive all along the audience expectation spectrum, from staunch conservative to radical leftist. This is what makes him a prototypical pin-up artist. He welcomes and fucks with everyone.
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