Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two Labor Day Links

Because I am SO slow to read stuff online, even stuff I'm deeply interested in and feel real kinship with, here are a couple links besides my own (written from afar, choppy, run-on) blog post, that speak to the Labor Day Event of 2010 organized by Brandon Brown, Sara Larsen, Suzanne Stein, Alli Warren, and David Brazil. One at A Tonalist Notes and another at Suzanne Stein's blog. Both in different ways mention the importance of non-academics taking the mic and giving talks about labor in relation to each discussant's poetry practices--insights those of us who teach should learn from (just as the converse, those outside academia going to or giving academic talks and learning likewise, as I used to when a full-time labor organizer--to speak for solidarity here in the same breath--has often been the case). Since any job sector is increasingly corporate, alienating, and de-humanizing, the questions here have shaken out as both unique to poetry and typical of binaries that have emerged, between work and personal time, out of the 70-hour work week: how might "we" gather together and think, write, and act--plan for action with regard to labor and, and of, poetry & poetics? To make room for our vocations to paraphrase Larsen and Brazil? To organize across-differences? Poetry's role (or non-role) as investigative, even labor-activist, here?

Awhile back--archived as pdf here and to the right under "critical writing online"--I wrote on this set of discussions in part because I really am glad these questions got asked in such fullness, and cross-generationally too. The tenured professoriate hasn't had much luck with their often less interested tenured colleagues, when trying to do so, in re-distributing resources internally or services externally. Most poetry teachers are contingent or casual workers, don't have much power in this regard and yet are interested in such shifts, and in numbers do the have organizing power to accomplish quite a bit. And what about for those who do have institutional power, those who aren't academic "interlopers" or otherwise casual, or part-time? I take it as not surprising that most of the flourishing faculty unionism and alternative pedagogy in higher ed is contingent or otherwise non-tenured faculty-led (or if not led, then very much co-created). And that, again not surprisingly, much of the bridge-building between academia and beyond, i.e., much of the interest in how to think anew about the politics and community of poetry pedagogy, comes out of non-full-time faculty working with folks from all manner of backgrounds who are poets, curators, critics. One can get stuck in the classroom. Especially when one doesn't have office windows.

I've made it no secret that (and this is my experience organizing, among many workers, academics) I find way too much complacency and lack of solidarity in academia. Too much myopia with regard to what engagement is or can be, too much interest in self in this short-term way, in actually self-defeating, pedagogy-defeating, colleague-defeating, and public service-defeating ways (careerism taking the place of wider engagements--and in many ways understandably: very few members of any faculty have any real job security, especially in the non-union private sector). Tho I caution myself at the same time here not to make wholesale generalizations: writers who are regular teachers such as Mark Wallace or Jules Boykoff or Juliana Spahr or Kaia Sand or Susan Schultz, and any number of others, have been tireless organizers and community activists. I myself am a regular teacher of text arts, mainly poetry, and an activist, albeit not a very effective one (choose your pick as to which "one" I'm talking about, ugh). And not to pretend that academia is any more complacent than many, maybe most other job categories. But especially at academic departments with prestige, whatever that means, and/or with writing MFA prorgams (mills rather than the more unusual small, more radical program such as Mills--capital versus small "M"), most faculty interested in labor and workplace, hence pedagogical radicalism, feel like a handful of folks in a sea of otherwise less-than-active folks. This felt especially true when organizing with adjuncts and teaching and research assistants at Ivy league institutions--the tenured faculty there were largely (not wholly) useless. "I'm supportive, but I have to go home at 5pm" seemed to be the motto.

Since momentum is in part a numbers (density) game, I should point out (to myself as well as anybody else) the myriad dejections workers have faced in the past decade of casualization--anti-union rulings by national boards, huge budget cuts, etc, all of it has made organizing that much more difficult, has amounted in the past 20 years to academics, especially at private institutions, where unionism was systematically made non-binding by Reagan--where institutions did not need anymore to legally recognize their faculty unions--rather disengaged and all the more careerist. So I suspect activism would haven been higher in academia, making those walls more permeable, had there not been such an historic loss of momentum. Luckily--however, due to some really even more difficult times--things are changing slowly. But for poetry the consequences have been very profound. Just as they have been in other job (and job-volunteer, i.e., unpaid job) sectors, where, again, organizing density and momentum is (and has been for even longer) staggeringly low due to corporate (managerial) resistances. At least this is part of the story anyhow.

Anyhow. Two really excellent synopses of these cross-job-category labor and poetry talks and discussions, covering much of these pressing concerns, are on the other side of the links above--great quotes from notes. Wish I'd checked these out sooner, but alas. They provide more thoroughness that I did, and, I'm sure, more accurate reportage.

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