Yes, there is a battle to be fought over Macon's qualifications and poetry chops, should you choose to fight it. But it's important to remember that a good general wins battles and a great one wins wars.
Relative to what's really going on here, any attack on Macon is -- and will inevitably seem to those outside the literary world -- simply petty. We don't even have to use the problematic word "elitist," as "petty" is perfectly adequate.
It's frustrating to have to belabor this point when I don't think we should be talking about Macon's poetry at all at this point. To do so is to take the bait the administration has set.
Again, what's needed here is to reframe the issue. It's really not about Macon. It's not even really about *poetry.* Refocus on winning the war.
Chris, The point is not that a poet shouldn't be able to critique another poet. That's fine. There's a time and place for that kind of thing, no doubt.
There's a larger issue at play here, and your critique is not doing anyone any favors. If it's helpful to anyone, your position is helpful to the McCrory administration, ostensibly your adversary in this case. Because it plays into McCrory's unjust caricature of the "elite" liberal/arts establishment, your article could easily be used as leverage in an attempt to defund yet another important public program. If you need any proof of this, take a look at various comments from right wingers who suggest "leaving the poet laureate position vacant" in order to "save taxpayers money." Or look at McCrory's positioning in the aftermath of this debacle: he's pivoted now to directly characterize the vetting process as "elitist."
Whether you like it or not, Macon's poetry is not the issue here. Macon has been used as a political pawn. By playing into McCrory's game with ad hominem attacks in a public forum, you are being used similarly. If you want to do some good, highlight the administration's loathsome chicanery here and elsewhere. Or, better yet, use your position to remind everyone about the important role publicly-funded arts organizations play in the economic and social well-being of our great state.
There's a subtext to the narrative McCrory has constructed around this issue. A good poet would know that's where the real meaning lies.
Here's a Letter to the Editor I just sent the N&O. It is relevant to this opinion article.
Re: Gov. McCrory says poet laureate position shouldn't be limited to cultural elites
Though my friends both in the arts and in the press have been slow to admit it, McCrory’s controversial poet laureate appointment is not about Valerie Macon. I’ve seen attempts to examine her qualifications for the position, even going so far as to publicly critique her poetry itself. But make no mistake: this appointment is not about Macon’s poetry, which may or may not suit one particular critic or another; and it’s only about her person insofar as the fact that she seems like a perfectly nice, genuine soul will be used to deflect criticism of what is actually happening here. The particulars of this appointment are a distraction.
This issue is about public funding for the arts. McCrory may play innocent and claim he “didn’t know” how these appointments are traditionally made, but the tactic his administration has employed here is straight from the GOP’s culture war playbook -- I believe it’s the second bullet point under “Defunding Public Programs.” For those of you who may have left your copy of the playbook at Art Pope’s last budget meeting, the tactic goes like this: Claim a publicly-funded arts program is “elitist,” usurp its power, claim it is therefore unnecessary and quickly defund it.
Arts Councils are not elitist organizations. They serve the public interest and play a vital role in our state’s cultural and economic ecosystem. In both recognizing our state’s heritage and promoting the work of contemporary artists, arts organizations help to ensure that North Carolina remains a richly experienced, attractive place to live for individuals, families and businesses alike. The revitalization of North Carolina’s cities over the past few decades is owed as much to the careful planning of various arts organizations as it is to any economic development program.
Looking past the McCrory administration’s smokescreen, it’s clear that this is just another example of the bad faith our governor has demonstrated at every level of his state stewardship. An attempt to usurp and strangle public arts programs threatens the aspects of our state that make it a great place to live. As the GOP persists in its attempts to destroy the Social Contract at every opportunity, I am reminded of all the reasons our civilization adopted public programs -- including our Arts Councils -- in the first place.
Chapel Hill, NC
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