Monday, 8 December 2008

spitting the dummy

Bureaucrats have their uses. Our cultural institutions couldn’t function without them (and I have to admit that I have myself benefited from some arts organisations). But the relationships between the various arts and their funding and broadcasting bodies have some significant differences. Imagine, for example, how visual artists would feel if their supporting frameworks were run by Sunday painters. This probably sounds like a ridiculous fancy. Yet consider the comparative situation of poetry. Most of the quangos that form what meagre support base poetry has, are populated by just this kind of person. I won’t use the word ‘amateur’ here because, often enough, the Sunday painters of the poetry world are the ones who consider themselves ‘professionals’. Running an institution or a magazine is just part of the structure that confirms them as artists. If you need to ask you’ll find that, sure enough, those heading Poetry Societies, those in paid positions in Poets’ Unions etcetera, almost all fit this bill. They are, of their nature, good at filling in forms, good at all the institutional aspects of the art world. These poetry bureaucrats don’t necessarily sign their own cheques (there are others of similar job description who will do this for them). But they do, often enough, shape the landscape. The world of poetry created by them is often enough the world that review journals like the TLS and LRB seem to accept as the only one. Why is this so? It all seems to come back to that sense that since written language is shared by many of us we are all de facto experts. Is the fag end of romanticism reconstituting itself as bureaucracy?

6 comments:

PB said...

Hi Laurie,
Those are all good points about poetry's vast and innumerable institutions. Particularly that special ability to fill in forms its functionaries possess. I've often flunked out on that skill (given my ratio of applications to successes, or should I say 'failures'?)
I'm not so certain about what you call the 'fag end of Romanticism' - Australian poetry is currently "enjoying" a revival of High Romanticism - emanating mostly from younger female graduates of the writing courses in academic institutions.
Surrounded ! By institutions ! Yikes and crikey etc.
Pam

Pam

david lumsden said...

Tarax always helps.

Laurie Duggan said...

Tarax these days sounds like some kind of drug.But I suppose it was.

Louise said...

hi laurie, i thought about this post and wondered if you were willing to take it further? some of your reflections on the oz scene would be gold on a blog post.
i hope you are enjoying poetry in any case, your own and the other work that the 'sunday minders' don't control.
cheers,
louise

Laurie Duggan said...

Thanks Louise. Well, I might. But I'm also a little daunted by distance. I guess I have my opinions but I don't want to turn into one of those Australian expats who have become Australian experts.

Jeff said...

Hello Laurie.
This is an old problem, of course. The trouble is the best and most truly professional poets are too busy writing poetry to wish to take time off to fill in forms, whether they would be good at that or not. And really, that is the way it ought to be. One could say similar things about other arts and fields of endeavour. Administration is a skill of its own, and ought to be done not by the best practioners in a given field, but by those willing and capable of doing it. Ideally, one would like those people to have a sympathy for the field they are adminsering and its practioners, and to have an appreciation and understanding of the whole of that field in all its variety and complexity rather merely than a narrow band or school within it. Idealy. But we cannot always get what we would wish for.
Jeff