I wanted to share this article written by Jaswinder Bolina and published by The Poetry Foundation. It’s a bit long, but it’s well worth the read, especially in the context of the M.F.A. debate, academia, the culture of privilege, and labor issues. Here are some passages that I think are especially striking and raise some of the various class issues regarding pursuing an M.F.A. and being a poet.
Jaswinder on his parents feelings towards poetry: “Poetry wasn’t a bad idea in the abstract to either of them. It might even be a noble pursuit, but it also seemed a thing better left to the children of the wealthy than to the son of working-class immigrants. ”
On class issues, education, and career decisions: “Where the working classes are regularly forced to take pragmatic action out of necessity, the privileged are allowed to act on desire. My parents’ money, modest as it was and still is, did more than pay for the things I needed. It allowed me to want things they couldn’t afford to want themselves. ”
I think the second point I posted is one to ponder, specifically the idea that graduate school is mostly limited to only a select group of people with at some privilege, namely decent economic circumstances. Furthermore, even those that have access to graduate school don’t necessarily land a full-time, tenure track teaching job at a university after completing the degree, so why do so many people keep signing up for M.F.A. programs? Is it simply about career ambition, and how detrimental is that to the poetry at the national level if much of what is written and published is done so by M.F.A. and Ph.D. students and graduates? Beyond open mic nights, slams, and other community events, how does poetry break out of its insular culture of privilege?