The harrowed halls of the academy and the state of the(ir) art of poetry and writing.

I haven't blogged in a while but here is part of a heavily edited (& supplemented) version of a recent contribution of mine to a discussion among poets and writers here in Ireland & the UK.

I agree (with a particularly talented and accomplished poet) that Facebook and other commercial digital social media tools will mirror the boom n bust (adoption/abandonment) cycles of their predecessors.. (although I still have friendster, delicious, hotmail & librarything accounts among my tumbler/pinterest etc).. when I joined the email list approximately 9+ years ago and ostensibly in an effort to understand something of the state of networked poetic discourse on these islands at that time.. it was maybe a high, if not foolish, ideal born out of my then immanent late return to academia / formal learning after 20+ years writing and working in theatre, media, & game dev.

There have been some wonderfully tetchy exchanges on the list during that time, when I have lurked (mostly) on the sidelines, in wonder, aghast, surprised, informed, disgusted, completely clueless, amazed, inspired... but somehow also reassured that there are others on the list who are 'real' poets at heart, poets at bone, poets at breath, poets in soul.. and as such, are naturally incapable of posting forty self promoting anodyne FB posts per week, or who, like me, simply cannot spend day after day electronically slobbering through their sphincter about their own work being 'of significance', very well received on twitter, or of considerable import to their FB friends list.

I simply can't be one of those constantly advocating the need for everyone in the entire world to subscribe to my very own bland version of a creative writing course/session/workshop. my apologies I refuse to be permanently positive, real life is not like that. In terms of an irritation scale.. the list, even if a little monastic & silent at times, is a veritable oasis of calm among what can seem a competing on-line ocean of doe ray sofa me me me me me me me me me..

I also mostly agree with the views of another poet, in recent years there has been a major societal shift to networked culture, the existence of the list (& this website) reenforces that fact. Poetry, Prose and Creativity in general have found new outlets, new methods, new modes, new communities and new forms of expression, Yes I too, like others, see the list as a tool. I also see it in less utilitarian terms as a meeting place of minds, egos, works and perhaps souls.. I just spent six calender years at the aforementioned (by another poet on the list) UCD exploring the potential for a personal digital poetic.. Bunkered down 24/7 at my home desk mostly or traveling to physically interact with other souls, on campus and at meetings/seminars, somehow trying to find a kind of intellectual or aesthetic bridge from traditional even pastoral (spiritual) poetries of the past, through various recent media incarnations/ narrative devices, rhetorical strategies and emerging platforms, to its potential modern networked based expression/manifestation, work using networked and standalone computers. (Opps Sphincter vicinity alert)

While at UCD earning my PhD I discovered several things; academia is indeed an industry and like every other industry (whether it contains lamb slaughtering, animal testing, overpaid CEOs, clueless employees or dodgy political or personal gerrymandering) it has inherent flaws, tensions, and black spots. It is certainly motivated in great part by personal, political, & cultural, profits and it only takes a few arseholes to turn the whole thing into a self contained piranha pool. In my own personal experience there are good genuine people everywhere, even in black spots, and especially in academia. This is merely one of the many reasons why I resist tarring all academics with the same brush.

Modern institutions, despite their medieval heritage, entrusted with today's mass of rhubarbrian offspring, still appear by their very nature conservative, inward looking and often of similar personality to some of their less likable employees. (Jon Ronson's mates spring to mind) The Irish Research council does not currently, nor will it, fund creative work (unless its dressed up as some kinda (friend)ly STEM app), it will fund studies of other people's creative work, it will fund networks of academics discussing other people's creative work, fund the building and population of infrastructures & databases of other people's creative work, provide funds to digitize creative work, maybe even fund a cleverly disguised application that surreptitiously has creative work at it's core, but it still does not directly support original research that is poetically creatively centered. Nope it does not.

Despite being the first in my field, ironically, I may well be (one of) the last Creative Writing PhDs to emerge from UCD.
As I have previously explained to a very accomplished full professor of Science, despite it's high technical content / technical requirements, my 'Creative Writing' PhD was the only doctoral area I could find (6 years ago) in Ireland that contained the word 'Creative'.

Within the (Irish) education system, Industry trends appear to predominate and the recent introduction of very costly, essentially MFA style, courses elsewhere will merely add to further historically based homogenization of outputs of which Henry Ford would be very proud. Not to mention the subtle creation of further monetary based perceptions of exclusivity. I usually don't complain publicly or criticize such blatant and myopic capitalist policy simply because the levels of frustration at the current status quo within the academy are even more intense than those outside it's harrowed walls. (Yup we wouldn't want to upset that valuable international student market.)

Also by my own volition I am not a member of any (teaching) union. (Update 23/10/14: I am obviously a member of various guilds, professional groups, etc, the original point here was that I don't have a vested viewpoint on these specific educational matters.. except as a student having been in & out of the 'system')

While I must agree and acknowledge certain fundamental inadequacies in terms of quality on a national scale, I also fully recognize the imperative for change to that system overall, I also however see little point in any of us standing outside throwing stones at individual edifices.. and yet conversely there remains Leonard Cohen's line "they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom for trying to change the system from within". I have encountered many bored academics in the last eight years.

For some, entering the academy seems the ultimate endorsement by their peers, an absolutely necessary and solid magnet of consistency to allow career progression, get a pay packet, or provide access to a supposedly informed readership or some oddly amoebic set of traditional quality metrics. Yet the only consistent tradition here is one of change. Change that as we all know has begun to accelerate further as a result of digital disruption. Anyone with even a passing interest in current employment and work practices within the academy will already know that the 'easy life of the mind' ship sailed a long long time ago. To be replaced by a numbered cog in a big impersonal machine.

For others Academia is that personal journey of discovery to assess 'the state of the(ir) art', make investigations, comparisons, friends, and maybe gain a little insight, create a few insignificant ripples in their own waves of learning.

For even more folks, i.e. many of my own salt of the earth personal friends, most of whom are resilient, proud, smart, working class and from around the border area, a lot of academia has become an inaccessible inexplicable monolith of mystery that deserves as many stones as it can be hit with. Oliver Callan's comedic: Now why in the name of jaysus would you need a windmill to run a college? being the least perplexing question to which no answer is ever offered.

And Like many other parts of the public service in recent years some of these institutions seem to have lost sight of their original function, i.e. to serve the educational needs of the wider Irish public. Specifically above their own growth strategies. Some would-be ivory towers of Irish 3rd level appear more Tupperware factory, in full pursuit of throughput, looking to get licensed out by/to any highest bidder(s). Now populated by three plastic tiers, a corpulent management level that is all mission, student recruitment and corporate obfuscating geekspeak, a struggling established academic layer growing ever more irrelevant, insignificant and insecure by each restructuring and overburdening year, and a (life) raft of new ( paid way less ) part-time, temporary and adjunct recruits still suffering from recessionary hangovers and quaint educational idealism. Malleable, corruptible, hungry and ultimately gullible these lowly personnel support the crumbling foundations of a top heavy tanker all too willing to jettison them when required. Students are mere fuel.

Part of the difficulty of the recent widespread/exclusive association of writing and poetry in particular with such an academy is my own mention of either can cause my mates to stock up on da rocks. 'Poet' has also somehow become an inaccessible and unacceptable moniker partly as the preponderance of new journals, poetic presses act as gatekeepers, networks of self congratulatory crowd crud, under collective banners of inept sameness, safely stinking within the agreed margins, acceptable parameters, the elevation of mediocre work and ridiculously talentless scribblers to the rank of writer, poet, again driven by economic, personal, and monetary, rather than aesthetic, motivations, all providing fodder to later fill and fuel the tuppaware factories. Those that don't and refuse to visit these (what Martin Amis called) 'new mental hospitals', end up insane on their own, in isolation, Sweeney astray arís... maybe mad as a bag of cats poets make good employees after all.

After my eight year brush with academia, I'm still ruminating on the value of the formal experiences and trying to decide whether I myself have actually become an academic, or if Groucho like it's a club I'd actually like to join. There are so many things I'd like to change about it all and maybe how I interact with and perceive this thing as a whole. I'm the only one that can change that right now, and like any significant change, incredulously it must begin with 'me'..... or even me me me me me me me me....