Friday, March 13, 2009

Writer + math. And you thought it couldn't be done.

Sure, maybe it turned out to be a bad year from MFA graduates, but it turned out to be RIP for those making, oh, at least $999,985,000 a year more than us. How many comp. essays would I have to grade to reach this superstar figure? Well, here's the math:

Pay for teaching advanced 5-week comp course for online class from a small Iowa 2-year degree school: $1,000

Number of composition students in said course who turn in their research essay (and therefore will receive further attention from me, the essay grader): 50

Number of major writing assignments each of those students must complete the course: 4

Total essays I'll have to download, comment on, grade and re-upload electronically to my electronic-persona-only students: 200

And...the grand total is...$5.00 per essay. Hey-- I can make $10/hr. for 30-min. each essay. I'm not complaining. Still...this brings us to the magic number:

200,000,000. 200 million comp. essays graded and I can be a billionaire. Why, that's only 547,945 essays to grade per day, every day, for the year! Yay. At least the toilet/economy can't take my crumpled $20 sitting on the floor. That's for laundry tomorrow.

This computation keeps me from dwelling on the issues in the poetry corner (not to be confused with The Poetry Corner, that small yet fragrant little glassed-in room in the library with a fake plant and someone asleep in the armchair with their sneakers off and spittle forming in the corner of their mouth). First, Donald Hall called the MFA workshop producer of nothing but the McPoem. You know, stale, bland, ubiquitous and forgettable. Then, David Orr does the same in his NYTimes article about the loss of (non-existence of) Greatness in poetry. Debate ensues: What is capital G "great"? Who decides the definition? Can Elizabeth Bishop be "great" if all she did was write about some fish?

And, oh, finally, as if I didn't have enough neurosis like having to leave the venetian blinds always 5 inches from the bottom of the window frame to avoid cat-caused damage to the slats (which would, as I am sure you can gather, render the entire set of blinds useless and a target for the landlord's merciless apartment checkout litany of charges again my security deposit) now I have to worry about the state of niceness in poetry critique. Jason Guriel writes, in "Going Negative" from the Poetry Foundation website, that

negativity, I’m starting to think, needs to be the poetry reviewer’s natural posture, the default position she assumes before scanning a single line. Because really, approaching every new book with an open mind is as well-meaning but ultimately exhausting as approaching every stranger on the street with open arms; you’ll meet some nice people, sure, but your charming generosity won’t be reciprocated most of the time. What’s worse, a tack-sharp taste, dinged by so much sheer dullness, will in time become blunted (into blurb-writing, no doubt).

This got me to thinking about how I went back on my belief and did just this. I refused to be publicly negative about work for a while. (And then I stopped being public anything, which I need to work on.) If a poetry collection was published I was going to find the merit or see the craft behind it. Really, though, I think negative is still the wrong choice of words here. How about just "critical"? Why be cranky toward poets? Geeze, we still have 547, 897 research essays to grade by midnight tonight.


Travis Fortney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis Fortney said...

Which is to say that by not having a billion dollars this year (and not losing a healthy percentage of it) we poor writers have effectively made millions. Bwah-ha-ha!

Congratulations on the publication, Kelly.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Ohhh! THE Poetry Corner. How many times did I climb 3 long flights at Mansfield thinking I could read back issues of Antioch and take a snooze before workshop when some slacker who pretends to care about poetry already snagged my two red leather Masterpiece Theatre chairs linked to create a makeshift pleather hammock. That mofo!
See, those droolers breed negativity instead of negative capability [note: poetry reference from a p(r)oser].

PS. Get to nola soon.

Molly said...

Oh, you are funny, Laurie. Thanks for the post.