the poetry market

According to "Buffalo '99" by Kent Johnson, certain energetic correspondents from the old POETICS list, including established poets and critics, were refused subscriptions to the new list. Johnson interprets the move as political, that is, "political" in the sense of being calculated to advance one's own interests:

Thus, the banal, punitive censorship carried out by Bernstein and his backers raises a host of interesting questions, a prominent one being the extent to which a formerly embattled and combative "avant-garde" (however much that term is poignantly eschewed by its members) is in the process of submitting and parceling itself into the Literature Institution's slow but steady artifice of absorption: To be clear, the stoop to censorship shows itself, at bottom, as a bungling move within an increasingly self-conscious effort to safeguard and circumscribe the literary pedigree of a once anti-academic, "open-ended" moment in American poetry.

Johnson's cynical interpretation of Bernstein's behavior depresses me, in part because I cannot disprove it. Even in Kostelanetz's venomous diatribe, predictable interests are made clear: one of the "newer" American poets that Bernstein has apparently failed to recognize, Kostelanetz admits, is Kostelanetz. Obviously both Kostelanetz and Bernstein have a sincere and passionate commitment to the state of poetry, and obviously both have a personal stake in it. This failure of Kostelanetz to stand for a position that doesn't obviously benefit him betrays a disappointing confluence of an aesthetic agenda and a career.

The exclusion of specific poets from the list is hard to understand in the light cast by some of Bernstein's writing: he is an open advocate of poetics as a public space, even an electronic space. In "Warning - Poetry Area: Publics under Construction," first presented in February 1995, Bernstein writes about the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo, and addresses the then-emerging World Wide Web and its relation to poetry:

This is a particularly important time for poetry on the net because the formats and institutions we are now establishing can provide models and precedents for small-scale, poetry-intensive activities. At the same time, the new interactive environment suggests new possibilities for every aspect of poetic work, from composition to visualization to display to performance to distribution to reading, and indeed, to constructing publics, this afternoon's putative subject.

It seems worth wondering, then, why the POETICS list is "private," and therefore not one of these "publics." The net is an illogical extension of the small press movement, the mimeograph machine, the art opening, and the performance space. Furthermore, Bernstein's criticism of the large press movement, and other well-funded venues for poetry, is relentless.

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