Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The main reason why I like the term "competence" is because it situates poetry evaluation in a social context. Groups/presses/journals develop their competency standards. It's not a bad term. It has the risk of being normalizing, but it also has the potential of being evocative.

There are certainly formal aspects to competence - often as simple as having learned the right vocabulary, using the right kind of sentence structures, diction etc.

There are also more obviously social aspects to competence as well. For example, a poet who has published a book of quietist lyrics is more likely to have a more daring book of poems published than someone who doesn't have that to back them up. If you've had poems published in one journal, that gives you competence with some other journals (and incompetence with others).

Anecdote Time in the Blog World:
I learned a lot about the way the academic poetry world works from going to the U of Iowa - the classism, the hierachy think, the competition-based model of literary "fame" etc. I remember once in a workshop with Jorie Graham - who played a large part in the latter canonization of Tate - she told me: "You can't throw everything but the kitchen sink into the poem. James Tate can do that because he wrote "The Lost Pilot" - he has proven he can write a traditional poem, but you haven't proven that."


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