Saturday, November 28, 2009

An Addiction Worth Having

I'm pleased to report that Jeff Gordinier was recently in touch with us, the good bloggers at SotB. For those of you not in the know, he is the author of X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking (Penguin paperback, pub'd in hardcover by Viking) and Editor-at-Large for Details magazine, which one might assume is a pretty badass job.

So Gordinier is successful and works with all these major NY publishers - Conde Nast, Penguin. But he still finds much to love in stupid old heavy impractical books, in particular, poetry. And he's happy to make that known, using the fame he's attained through these big publishers to talk about poets published across the publishing spectrum. For that, I give him respect.

But in addition, he's written about it in a pretty fun way. I appreciate him sending the link.

The story in question is this one, posted on the Poetry Foundation's blog under the headline, "Absolute Necessities: The recession confession of a poetry shopaholic." In this article, Gordinier talks about his addiction to poetry books, which he manages to find on any and every trip, from business trips across the country to his daily commute, rushing through Grand Central station. He can't help himself. And he wonders if he should be more frugal with this addiction in our current dismal economic era, when everyone is screaming out for cautious spending. 

It should go without saying that I was quite charmed by his reasoning:  
I justify my poetry slush fund in a variety of ways. I tell myself, for example, that buying a book of poetry constitutes a gesture of resistance. Gargantuan corporations can now cull, measure, and parse every move that we make in the global marketplace, but picking up a collection of verse is still so minuscule and arbitrary an act that it must surely defy all their algorithms—it feels as commercially untraceable as slipping an apple into your bag at an orchard. (For one thing, you’re not coerced into buying poetry because of, like, ads. You have to make a deliberate effort. You have to seek it out. And even in bookstores that do offer a diverse selection of poetry, merely finding it can pose a challenge: Invariably the poetry aisle is located way, way in the back—“yeah, just turn left at the Sasquatch section and it should be right across from Occult Interpretations of High School Musical.”) The publishing business relies on the massiveness of authors like Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown to such a degree that a stray underdog purchase of, say, Dean Young’sEmbryoyo barely even registers on their Reader Tracking Devices, and that’s what I love about it. It’s a tiny push in the opposite direction—a pipsqueak of peaceful defiance.

Now that's an argument I can get behind. This kind of call from an author published by a corporate house is reassuring to me. More authors need to take stock of their position and voice support for those writers who are not writing books popular with bigger houses.

So let's all remember, in this season of giving, that perhaps we should shop a bit less than we have in the past, but we should get meaningful gifts for those people who matter. Let's shop independents, and get books that connect with the reader, rather than just grabbing what's on the bestseller lists. This feels particularly resonant given the media's annual drunken celebration of Black Friday consumerism. Forget long lines at Best Buy and head over to your nearest independent bookstore.

I for one see Gordinier's article as serving, as well, as a useful guide for modern poetry, since this is a field that many of us find hard to get into due to our ignorance of what we might like. I think I'll start with Li-Young Lee, whom a friend of mine has loved for some time and whose poem "From Blossoms" Gordinier quotes as follows:

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. 

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