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Since one of the occupational hazards of journalism is the atrophying (from disuse) of the journalist’s powers of invention, the journalist who sets out to write an autobiography has more of an uphill fight than other practitioners of the genre. When one’s work has been all but done—as mine has been for over a quarter of a century—by one brilliant self-inventive collaborator after another, it isn’t easy to suddenly find oneself alone in the room. It is particularly hard for someone who probably became a journalist precisely because she didn’t want to find herself alone in the room.

Our vegetarian vampires, I think, are afflicted with the same crises of conscience that we are as first-world twenty-first century humans. We eat too much, we shop too much, we use too much fuel, water, land; we mistreat the animals on which we depend for food and the other peoples whose labor produces for us the cheap abundant goods we have all grown so used to. The vampire’s insatiable hunger for blood mirrors our insatiable hungers for food, wealth, property, and possessions. Contemporary vampire fiction mirrors our collective anxiety about our need for self-discipline and a return to a more humane approach to our fellow beings: Now, the vampire, the most appetitive and unrepentantly murderous of our culture’s mythic archetypes, restrains himself in our popular fiction. He has become a “vegetarian” of sorts, the vampire version of a Whole Foods shopper, who prefers humanely raised meat, free range eggs, sustainably farmed produce. From the shimmering pâleur of the vampire radiates something new and hardly otherworldly: an aura of white liberal guilt.

Or perhaps it’s merely a matter of common sense: If a poet spends sixty years writing, what harm does two or three years under any particular poet’s on-again off-again tutelage do, and/or how is such tutelage different from non-Academy mentorship, and/or why would anyone assume that any independent-minded poet is going to offer up his or her individuality as a artist on the altar of this-a-one or that-a-one? If you wouldn’t, why would anyone else? Poets who attend MFA programs are as stubborn and egotistical and arrogant as those who don’t, surely. In any case, whatever you choose to do—whether you are an MFA detractor, the publisher of such detractors, or a current higher-up in a program that may be ill-serving the financial futures of its incoming students—do not continue to do what it seems many of you are doing now: Speaking from a studied ignorance and/or an instinctive defensiveness, and accepting any and every invitation to hold forth on things of which you have, it must be said, much opinion but little understanding. The singer-songwriter Jewel one day decided to become a “poet” (cf. A Night Without Armor), and you, it sometimes seems with equal forethought and preparation, have cast yourself in the role of someone with an understanding for how the MFA phenomenon has developed and is still developing in America. Whether this is a convenient truth for you or not, the fact remains that the American poetry community is early in the third decade of a fifty-year revolution, one which will change forever how American poets live and write and are invested in and are encouraged. You can start spending your time and energy and money fighting for positive change within this emerging but still imperfect cultural framework, as many others are now doing, or else continue to stand in the schoolhouse door. It’s your choice—and, until cooler heads at the larger fora prevail, apparently your microphone as well.

Latest reasons for suspicion: at the end of April, the LOA will publish a slim volume containing John Updike’s famous New Yorker farewell to Ted Williams, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” fleshed out with a little more eulogizing, published when Williams died. There has already been a LOA volume devoted to baseball writing, joining other volumes about American subjects (food, New York, Los Angeles, the legacies of Lincoln and Twain, the environment). You could file all these volumes under the heading, “Cleverly Curating the Franchise.” But somehow the Updike volume seems not just physically thin but insubstantial—too much made of a good thing. And then, in May, here comes an entire volume dedicated to …. Shirley Jackson? A writer mostly famous for one short story, “The Lottery.” Is LOA about to jump the shark?

There is a serious backstory to the story of O. The first thing you need to know is that there was great surprise in the publishing world that such a book could even be done. Oprah, being the doyenne of making or breaking books, was thought to be immune from an unauthorized biography because … well, she is the doyenne of making or breaking books.

April 27, 1770: Made Mead. At the assembly.
May 14, 1770: Mrs. Mascarene here and Mrs. Cownsheild. Taken very ill. The Doctor bled me. Took an anodyne.
Sept. 7, 1792: Fidelia Mirick here a visiting to-day.
Jan. 26, 1873: Cold disagreeable day. Felt very badly all day long and lay on the sofa all day. Nothing took place worth noting.

Written by menachemkaiser

14 April at 11:07

Posted in rants

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