Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Daily Blog Posts?

How long can I keep this up? How long can I keep posting daily? So far, I've been posting everyday on this blog. Practically all the posts have been about Asian-American poetry. Some of the posts have been long. Relatively few have been short. But, as I'm busier nowadays, I have a feeling that soon my posts may be less frequent. In the meantime, below is an excerpt of a recent post on ranking poets that I was a bit surprised provoked no reaction, either in the form of comments or e-mails as such opinions tend to do. Which must mean I'm totally right! Woo hoo! I've always wanted to be totally right.

Hmmm...rankings and questions of rankings are, of course, very controversial in NCAA basketball and football and perhaps even more controversial with U.S. News and World Report's college and graduate school rankings. In fact, many critics have argued that U.S. News and World Report should not rank colleges and graduate school rankings, because the ranking methodologies are flawed and the idea of ranking itself only encourages ill-feelings and competitiveness between schools. If we made up a ranking of poets, especially of living poets, then the same critique could be levied against these rankings. These arguments are valid.

But I would put forth the counter-argument that rankings of poets may be fair and desirable in poetry, for the same reason that they are fair and desirable for classifying undergraduate and graduate schools, because poets are already ranked. It bears repeating: poets are already ranked, just as undergrads and graduate schools have already been ranked by social conditons of wealth, societal perceptions, institutional histories, pop culture, and power in general. "Prestigious" poets and editors in power rank poets and poetry, just as undergraduate and graduate schools typically rely on high school class rank and SAT scores in admissions decisions and often rank students with class ranks themselves.

Poets are ranked by literary magazines who decide which poems should or should not be published, poetry publishers who decide which books of poetry should or should not be published, poetry critics who decide whether to give a favorable review, general readers of poetry who decide whether or not to purchase a book, and perhaps most importantly, by "prestigious" poets who decide whether to give a poet and her or his poetry their attention and their approval. Poets are even arguably ranked by their own social class and socioeconomic situations, which has given them the education and time to write poetry.

I would assert that there is such a rough hierarchy in Asian-American poetry as well. It goes something like this, from top to bottom: "prestigious" national print magazines, national ethnic print magazines, small press magazines, online publications, individual bloggers who are "prestigious" poets, the rest of the poetry bloggers (including all "azn" poetry bloggers), and vanity press publications. It is more difficult to place state poetry societies and spoken word movements in this hierarchy of wealth and power.

A ranking of poets would help make this hierarchy more open and transparent. It would also make the hierarchy more open to reform say, if people think that Poet X is better than Poet Y but Poet Y is not better than Poet X...By now, you're probably thinking, nah, ranking cannot possibly work! Poets would be at each other's throats, and the rankings would be so subjective anyway. Well, I think the first point is valid, though if true, it is sadly anti-intellectual that poets cannot deal with openness and transparency and have an interesting discussion over the comparative qualities of poetry. The second point is not as valid, because, as I've discussed above, there is already a ranking of poets and poetry, however subjective.

For example, why is it that the blogging world has recently been so interested in Best American Poetry 2004? As David Lehmann correctly suggests in his introduction to BAP 2004, it is at least partly because the series has laid claim to the title of "Best" American Poetry and subsequently has become a best-seller, at least by poetry standards, as opposed to other poetry anthologies and publications. If at least a part of most readers does not believe in the existence of a bestness in poetry, then this anthology would likely not sell nearly as well.


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