SOMETHING ELSE ABOUT MARY: Mary Grabar has responded to the criticism of her Creative Loafing column on the Java Monkey poetry slam. Her column and my response is below, so scroll down to refresh your memory. My pal Robin Kemp has posted a letter from Mary on her blog. Mary says she has been hurt by all the reaction to her column. She seemed to have very little concern for the feelings of the poets who read at Java Monkey and other open mics when she was penning her column. As I said before, she paints open mics in general as the dominion of untalented, leftist, losers. Since Mary has never read her poetry at any event I've attended in the last three years, I'd like to offer her this bit of sage advice: put up or shut up.

Robin has suggested we open a dialogue with Mary on poetry, but it will have to be a two-way street. She can either write her fictional accounts of the poetry slam she did not attend and gripe about the state of poetry, but until she gets off her (self-admitted) elitist ass, then there can be no conversation...or education. Mary has been offered at least two opportunities to feature and share her poetry, etc. and has declined. Is it because she doesn't want to muddy her hands at one of those "awful" open mics, or is she afraid to read her own work? How can she sit back and judge others' poetry when she's too afraid to share her own? I'll accept her elitist attitude if she can prove her poetry is any better than the drivel she claims to have heard at open mics.

What I still can't figure out is what Mary's real beef is? Is she concerned about the state of poetry or that "leftist" Dems are getting all the grant money? She tried to wrap both of these things together in her Creative Loafing column in what appeared to be an attempt to pander to both the conservative right and the circle jerk academic poets. She failed miserably at both. If the poets at Java Monkey had been reading quickly written love letters to Bush, would she have felt better? Or what if the so-called leftist poets had fashioned their rants against Bush into perfect sonnets? Would that have made her feel any better? And cut the gripe about the local grant money. That's an old Republican dog that just won't hunt, Mary.

The other day, I stumbled across a piece of "non-fiction" Mary had written for The Pedestal. The piece starts off as a well-written account of the passing of her uncle, then it devolves into fiction. Mary describes the lofts in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta this way:

The abandoned cotton mill in the neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to Atlanta has been converted into lofts for the moneyed young and restless, those who have the funds for real estate but neither the time nor the inclination to take care of a patch of land, a shelter of wood and brick. I wonder what a mill worker from this, one of the poorest areas of Atlanta, the mill town named Cabbagetown for the pervasive smell of this cheap staple, would think of someone living with all the amenities in a space where he or she worked long hours to the detriment of physical and emotional health. What would he or she think of having a twenty-something, who had never known the desperate need to make enough money for survival, of having been forced by necessity to do manual labor, living in this now exclusive place? The young professional comes home from the office or the gym or the ethnic restaurant and drinks an expensive glass of wine surrounded by walls that once held the bent bodies of those now lying in paupers' graves.

I just had to sit back and laugh at this. Anyone who follows my blog will know that I have lived in the lofts she's talking about for five years. There are 500 rental units here, a good majority set aside for government subsidized housing (meaning rent is about $600). The average age here is probably 30, many are starving artists, I'd say more than half of the tenants are African-American. Everyone here, including me, struggles to make ends meet. Everyone here works for a living. It's this kind of shitty, inaccurate journalism that squashes a journalist's credibility. Oh, to be the moneyed young and restless.

If Mary is so concerned about the state of poetry she should do something about it. Not sit around and whine. Read at an open mic, apply for a grant, teach a workshop. Don't bitch and moan and then do nothing. If she continues to muddle her messages with over-heated, inaccurate think pieces in the local media, her already diminished voice and opinion is going to disappear altogether.

Although I'm sure she won't come, I'd like to invite Mary to my open mic at the Barnes & Noble at Georgia Tech this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. We're having two incredible poets --Beth Gylys and Travis Denton -- who both work in academia and have very diverse voices. In June, I'll have Lady Hardin, one of the city's best performance poets. Or maybe she'd like to come to the open mic I'm hosting on Wednesday, May 11, at Oakland Cemetery's Arts In the Park event, featuring award-winning poet Tania Rochelle. You'd be welcome at any of these, Mary. Consider it an olive branch...just be brave enough to reach out and grab it. You might be pleasently surprised.


Anonymous said…
This is one of your more intelligent posts. You can be very sarcastic and snarky, not that she didnt bring it on herself. it was big of you to offer her a chance to read. But will she take it?
Anonymous said…
robin's blog (and your dialogue with her) has some real rigor and depth. but as for the "quality" of poetry at open mics, slams, etc. and whether they're "killing" poetry... personally speaking, i would put it real simply to mary. i have been an avid reader of pretty much everything EXCEPT poetry since i was about five years old. i just didn't get it. but these events are literally bringing it to life for me. as i see it, they're keeping the spirit and the art of poetry alive.
Collin said…
Thank you, second anonymous poster. If you have a moment, read Dana Gioia's essay "Can Poetry Matter." One of his tips for keeping poetry alive is this:

Poetry teachers especially at the high school and undergraduate levels, should spend less time on analysis and more on performance. Poetry needs to be liberated from literary criticism. Poems should be memorized, recited, and performed. The sheer joy of the art must be emphasized. The pleasure of performance is what first attracts children to poetry, the sensual excitement of speaking and hearing the words of the poem. Performance was also the teaching technique that kept poetry vital for centuries. Maybe it also holds the key to poetry's future.

I totally agree with him on this point. Maybe Mary will come around. The link for Gioia's essay is at Robin's blog.
nolapoet said…
May I point out that Dana is a Republican. ;)
Collin said…
He's forward thinking for a Republican, at least on the issue of poetry. I'll give him props for that. :)
nolapoet said…
Dana's extraordinarily NOT the "stereotypical Republican." Neither are most of my Republican friends (though for the life of me, I can't understand why they could possibly back Bush...)! I'm sure the feeling's mutual.

Dana has his fingers in everything--opera, poetry, conferences, criticism for bright general readers--and he had the extraordinary good fortune to study with Elizabeth Bishop. Boy, what a trip THAT must have been.

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