at least, such is my understanding. there are of course poets and poet-critics who go to the MLA, but the MLA is where you go to try and get a university teaching job. socializing and networking aside, that's what it's about. the panels of critical papers are entirely perfunctory; there's no reason to give a paper at the MLA unless you're interviewing for jobs. you're far and away going to get a better hearing of your paper at a smaller and/or more specialized conference.
now i've been to paradise (MLA), but i've never been to me (AWP). and i can't for the life of me really figure out why someone would go to the AWP: it's not about getting a job, and the panels are (like at the MLA) thoroughly perfunctory. i can see if you are a publisher, because the bookfair is probably pretty extensive and representative of the literary publishing landscape at present. so anyone who can tell me something i'm missing -- again, socializing and networking aside, which is a very real and compelling reason for going to something like this, perhaps ultimately the only one -- do let me know.
in the meantime, there's nothing but a good ol' fashioned post-AWP poetryblog dust up! josh corey, following up on kasey's suggestion, discerns a "clash of cultures" (shades of samuel huntington?) between two constituencies:
The first is what I think of as the culture of affirmation; the other is the culture of solving artistic problems. The former, larger group consists of people who are most urgently concerned with confirming their identities as writers [....] The second, smaller culture consists of people who, though hardly free of the anxiety and desire for affirmation that constitutes the affect of the first, are primarily concerned with questions about what they'd like to accomplish as writers and how they should go about doing it. [...] Put simplistically, the first culture concerns itself with becoming, while the second assumes its being so as to get on with questions of doing.as reginald shepherd's takes on this in the commentbox correctly point out, this clash is clearly posed in terms of a progression in which the second group is more advanced than the first and is thus fraught with all kinds of class conflict -- sufficient enough to send one seth abramson into a full-on rage against the poetry elite machine!
what's more interesting though is how josh seems unable to articulate his own place in the dynamic he proposes. for example, the AWP panel (scroll down) josh sat on...
Ballroom D 2nd Floor...reads to me as the consummate statement of "people who are most urgently concerned with confirming their identities as writers" and belongs squarely in the first of his cultures.
F105. Post-Avant: Strategies of Excess. (Jed Rasula, Johannes Goransson, Anne Boyer, K. Silem Mohammad, Joshua Corey, Lara Glenum) Certain contemporary poetry flies in the face on the well-worn strategies of elegance and eloquence. Such poetry is invested in strategies of excess, violence, and aberrance. Opposed to the New Critical "no noise in art" dictum, these poets oppose the functional and the tasteful and revel in extravagance. Six writers inquire into the nature of these post-avant modes, from the grotesque to flarf to the postmodern baroque.
UPDATE [march 9, 12:15pm]: in response to anne's comment i include this excerpt from an email i sent her backchannel
he [josh] seems to have no trouble writing himself into the obviously superior position while largely ignoring the possibility that he may not really have distanced himself from "that older, now disavowed self—the self which desperately sought affirmation from sources high and low to confirm his or her identity as poet" at all.
and i felt this real contradiction to manifest itself in the very panel he was on, which appears -- to me at any rate -- to be partly about flarf and partly by flarf poets and supporters. i presume this applies to at least half the panel (josh, kasey and you, possibly johannes too tho i don't really know his work), while lara seems to being coming at it from the gothic and, yes it's true, i'm not how jed rasula fits into this panel. ("affirmation from sources high"?)
now if the panel, as it appears to me on paper at least, is in fact at least half about flarf and by flarf poets and supporters, this seems to me the consummate gesture of confirming one's identities as writers. i mean, it's quite an imprimatur from the academic literary establishment for the AWP to host a panel on your writing -- with you as the panelist. [...] again, i readily admit lack of familiarity with AWP culture, where perhaps this kind of thing, poets talking about their "craft," is de rigeur -- but to me it's one high-profile bid for self-affirmation.
which is not inherently a bad awful thing, because -- of course -- we all need affirmation and validation as writers. and we satisfy that need in various ways. (or else it goes unsatisfied and creates very very angry people.) my point was to criticize josh for setting up a simplistic binary that would place him largely in a position above or beyond that need.
and to which i add that when josh writes that "maybe the best that can be hoped for is to speed the transition from one culture to the other, while having the wisdom and courage to recognize that the desire for affirmation never really goes away, and the contempt I might feel for someone's naked desperation or emotional neediness or obsessive logrolling has its origins in the wince of self-recognition," he does gesture toward recognizing his own place in his dialectic; but that speedy transition ("with all deliberate speed"!) contempt and wince speak volumes.
to be clear: it's about the nobodys and the somebodys. (hegel called it slave and master.) the nobodys must spend all their time and energy frenetically trying to become somebodys, while the somebodys can spend their time in the more noble pursuit of "solving artistic problems" while wincing at the contemptuous little nobodys (who look all-too like their former selves).
identity claims within this dynamic are inherently competitive: every "i am somebody" here reinforces an "i am somebody too" or an "i am nobody" there. ("don't be the last one on your block to be somebody!") i prefer a dynamic that begins "we are all nobody" and reaches out and within that "we" to a series of "you"s -- "you are somebody," "you are somebody," etc.
UPDATE II [march 9, 7pm]: in response to kasey's comment i include what i sent him by email
if you have the time and inclination to elaborate that's something i'd like to hear. for what it's worth i don't know what neo-calvinism is so any parallels there would be coincidental. on some level i was thinking something more like zen. or wittgenstein (TLP 6.45).
UPDATE III [march 13, 11am]: in repsonse to al, i include an email i sent him:
mea culpa, you're absolutely correct! my comments were far too unqualified, as you and juliana spahr and steve mccaffery and marjorie perloff (and others i'm surely leaving out) have done a great deal to raise the level of poetic discourse at the MLA and make it a place hospitable to poetries that other literary institutions neglect. (i even gave a paper on coolidge at one of those perfucntory panels too!) still, it's such a sprawling affair and with concurrent sessions and 15 mintues per presenter it does end up feeling like the panels are anything but the real raison d'etre...