The North Carolina Poet Laureate controversy isn’t about poetry, it’s about power – and probably about money, too…
North Carolina has been in the news a lot lately – and not for the right reasons. A Tea Party-dominated legislature doing the bidding of a billionaire ally of the Koch Brothers, a guy named Art Pope who, while having inherited a vast fortune made by his father by selling crappy stuff to the poor, has wholeheartedly embraced the somewhat warped version of Randian philosophy of “more for me and none for you if there’s any way I can make that happen.” As is typical in such cases, Pope sees himself as a self-made man who “won life’s race.” Well, as my colleague Sam Smith notes, winning the 100-yard dash of life is not so tough when you start at the 90-yard line and your competitors start somewhere in the Gobi Desert. Call it the Dubya Effect: congratulating yourself for being the scion of wealth and scoffing at those who didn’t wind the biological lottery.
The words you’re looking for are selfish, self-satisfied asshole.
While Pope and his minions destroy North Carolina’s educational system, environment, and social safety net, NC’s sock puppet governor, Pat McCrory, given the small amount of time he’s needed for rubber stamping into law
Lord Voldemort’s Art Pope’s acta, just this week took it upon himself to dip his toe into one pool that he and his fellow Libertarian ubermenschen had previously avoided direct contact with: the arts. (Of course, they’ve cut funding for the arts – lazy shits like artists, writers and musicians should make art that makes money or die like the worthless curs they all are, right?)
There are several ways of explaining this mess:
1) McCrory is an ass – contemptuous and dismissive of anything he doesn’t understand (and that covers pretty much every damned thing), and his appointment of Valerie Macon, a state employee (ah – politics) and aspiring poet is a slap in the face of North Carolina artists of all stripes, not just poets. Boy, is this a satisfying, if depressing and probably mistaken, explanation.
2) McCrory’s appointee, Valerie Macon, is a well meaning amateur (which some claim we should embrace as the return of the past) – and we are unfairly criticizing her, and we might be guilty of sexism (although two of the last four poets laureate for NC have been women), racism, every other -ism. I hope I am clear when I say this is demonstrably false.
3) By choosing Macon, what McCrory and his puppet master Pope hope to do is undermine, then abolish the office (and divert its pittance of a stipend which ranges from $5000-15000 into the pockets of those who already have far too much). IndyWeek describes this scenario thus:
Or could McCrory be sacrificing the hapless Macon in an effort to eliminate the laureate program altogether? You can anticipate his smug 2016 statement: “We’ve evaluated the effectiveness of the poet laureate over the last two years and have decided the position no longer merits taxpayer funding.” The budget line item is, however, tiny—the News and Observer reported the laureate’s stipend as between $5,000 and $15,000. That’s around 5 percent of the taxpayer funds McCrory had planned to spend to renovate his Executive Mansion bathrooms until public furor flushed his boondoggle last year.
This seems the most viable explanation. McCrory, mouthpiece of the hatred of learning – and its attendant, critical thinking – has been noising his contempt for liberal arts education, a cornerstone of which is an understanding and appreciation of literature.
By the way – the attacks on Macon’s poetry, which I think she works at sincerely, are cheap shots – condescending and contemptible. She’s self-published, yes, but so was this guy, another North Carolina poet who sometimes referred to himself as an amateur. She’s not a great poet, but how many poets are? There’s a little of what my pal David Comfort calls the “MFA Mafia” smell about the reaction to Macon. I agree that she’s unqualified to be poet laureate. I think the process of choosing the next poet laureate needs to be as transparent – and democratic – as possible. Otherwise the selection process will become yet another partisan bludgeon against an “elite” that McCrory and his ilk will use in working towards their avowed aim of creating gammas rather than alphas. Politicians aren’t the only ones capable of slipping into cronyism.
Whether North Carolina’s creative class have won anything from McCrory by Macon’s resignation – and, sadly, needlessly, Macon’s humiliation – remains to be seen. Do I think somehow North Carolinian poets and writers will seize this moment to take a stand against mean-spirited plutocrats? Can’t say. From what I’ve seen, the creative class I’ve seen speaking truth to power have been musicians.
Maybe poets need to speak up more often than simply when their own turf is threatened. Here’s a textbook example of a time when remembering the words of this Founder might be useful.
And who better to articulate the people’s displeasure than their most able wordsmiths?