This is the beginning of a weekly column, special to Dispatches. Emily invites people to submit letters to her and she will be happy to answer them.

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Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Sometimes when I get invited to go out with other poets I pretend that I am sick because I am afraid I will end up making a fool of myself and then no one will ever invite me out again. Can you see the irony?

– Caught in a Jam


Dear Caught in a Jam,

No, I don’t see the irony at all. In fact, seems to me you are being absolutely sane and logical. Poets are generally insecure, inferior people who try to destroy others, if not in person, then behind the scenes in private. So let the hurting fuckers get together with themselves and do whatever they will do with each other, I say. You will be spared the ordeal of falsely socializing with a bunch of backstabbing losers, and soon everyone will forget about you and not bother you anymore with invitations.


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I have published a few poems in undergraduate college magazines, but since graduating and enrolling in my MFA program I have gotten a string of perfunctory rejections, all of them of the “form” kind. My confidence has really taken a hit, and now I am afraid to send out any more poems. Do you have any advice on how I can overcome my fear?

– Afraid in the Midwest


Dear Afraid in the Midwest,

It is clear that you are not fit for poetry. Poetry is a business for sadomasochists. The best advice I can give you is to quit now, before it is too late and you end up hanging yourself, or else killing many other poets in a rampage with automatic weapons through the AWP.


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I know people in my program are gossiping behind my back. And then, after workshop, everyone goes out for drinks and no one invites me to come along. Do you have any advice on how I can begin to fit in? I am paying close to 100,000 bucks to complete this MFA, and the last thing I want to do is be lonely and resentful the whole time I am doing it.

– Lonely and Resentful


Dear Lonely and Resentful,

The solution to your problem is easy. The people who have decided to make you a scapegoat are a bunch of creeps and assholes, just like all poets are, at bottom. Here’s what I would suggest to get you started towards getting noticed, which is better in poetry than being accepted. I don’t know if you are a man or a woman, but it really doesn’t matter: Follow these bastards to the bar, and then climb on to their table, open your fly or pull down your panties, and pee all over the table and into the faces of these losers. They will never invite you out again, of course, and they never would have anyway. But they will never forget you, that’s for sure, even after you long have forgotten about them, as you sit there, in a wet wheelchair, in a nursing home, somewhere in Arizona.


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Sometimes I wonder if I drink because I write poetry, or if I write poetry because I drink?

– Chicken or the Egg


Dear Chicken or the Egg,

Did you ever hear the old Russian riddle that provides the elegant solution to this timeless conundrum? If not, you can find it somewhere in Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. I won’t tell you what chapter or verse, because that would spoil the egg hunt, as they say.


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Will the world end in Ice or in Fire? And either way, if the world is going to end, what is the point of poetry?

– Scared in Seattle


Dear Scared in Seattle,

That is really a stupid question, when you think about it, and it’s obvious you are asking it just to slide in the cute reference to the famous poem by Robert Bly. The answer, as everyone knows, is that it will end in Fire, either in slow-motion carbon-fuel cooking, or else from ten-thousand poetically named warheads launched without warning from North Korea, in which case Seattle probably gets hit first.


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Today I was talking with some poets and they were saying that anyone who opposes Antifa tactics is not a true “communist” poet. Then someone else started yelling that anyone who couldn’t see that the translation by white people of poetry from Latin America was a colonialist, appropriative act was not a true “communist,” either. I admit that this intimidated me, and all I could do was sit there, smiling and nodding my head, hoping for acceptance, while everyone smoked Gitanes, sipped wine, and looked really stern. But the thing is, I don’t necessarily agree 100% with these positions, and I don’t want to feel like I am just going along so that I will be taken into the group, if you know what I mean. Doing that makes me feel small and dirty. Is there a way I can still be accepted without being totally cowardly, obsequious, and opportunist?

– Principled in Bay Area


Dear Principled in Bay Area,

No, probably not.


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

My friend and I were having an argument the other day, and I was wondering if you could help us resolve it. She maintains that the only thing that matters in poetry is the quality of writing. I maintain that “quality” is always-already an overdetermined function of a sociologically enacted network of axiological forces that are themselves the ideological superstructure of a never-ending process of position-taking in the cultural field. What would you say?

– Sure That I’m Right


Dear Sure That I’m Right,

I myself tend to swear by Bourdieu, but I need to tell you that A) I hate it when people are absolutely sure that they are right, and B) that you really do sound like an ass. I’d much rather hang out with your “friend.”


Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I have just finished reading, in one sitting, an 87-page book called The Hatred of Poetry. It is by a poet called Ben Learned. I am totally depressed after reading this book, and I am thinking that maybe now I should give up on the idea of being a poet after I finish high school, here in Tulsa. But I don’t really want to do that, because I have already seen that being both an athlete (football, swimming, and baseball) and a poet is something that impresses the girls. Have you read this book and what do you think of it.

– Poet Jock


Dear Poet Jock,

I am not familiar with this book, no, but it sort of sounds like the kind of cash-register display thing that comes out once every fifteen years, funded by right-wing think tanks in their never-ending campaign to destroy the Humanities. In any case, I would encourage you to forget about whatever the book says and forge ahead with your plans to become a poet. I can tell you from experience that it is definitely true that (if you are a boy) that the girls (or some boys) in the poetry world go totally crazy for the male feminine, marvelous, and tough types. Keep writing and reading!

Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I have always liked the poet James Wright. It has seemed to me, all these years, a natural thing to like him. But lately, since starting graduate school, I have heard some critical things said about him: For example, one person said that his famous football poem is racist because it uses the words “Polacks” and “Negroes.” Another not very nice person said that If fetal alcohol syndrome could write a poem this is what it would sound like (or something like that). Another said, about Wright in general, I assume: You can’t say it that way anymore. And then when I ask these very critical people what they like instead, they point me to Gertrude Stein, for example. And when I say, Well, did you know that Stein was a Vichy sympathizer who wrote speeches for Marshall Petain, so don’t give me this racist stuff about Wright, they get all weird and huffy. Or when I say (chuckling) that If there is anything that sounds like fetal alcohol syndrome writing it is Tender Buttons, for example, they just turn away and (I’ve noticed) never speak to me again. Am I wrong to like many of the poems of James Wright? Am I, as one of my program mates said to me the other day in workshop, A Poetry Retard?

–Isolated and Confused in Philadelphia


Dear Isolated and Confused in Philadelphia,

Don’t let those starving cocks and pullets get you down. Wright’s “Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio” is one of the great poems of the 60s. Or did he write it in the late 50s, I can’t remember. In any case, what these closet fascist “vanguard” types don’t get (and how could they, they can’t see the picture because they are so deep in it) is that the poem is a wonderfully subtle parable on the poetry field itself, most specifically on the position-taking dynamics of the whole workshop program industry, which is now dominated, for all intents and purposes, not by mid-level state Scenic-Mode schools, but by Post-Language Mode tendencies who are so far gone down a teleological shining path they would probably hang Du Fu or Wang Wei by a lamppost for being old fashioned. (Do you think the phrase “Autumn Begins” is just an accident? Let me ask you: When does the school year begin for MFA programs? And what happens to young men and women poets when it does? Well, I’ll tell you what happens: They gallop terribly against each other’s bodies! And who are the hardest hitters, the dirtiest players, I could ask: I’ll answer my own question: Not the diffident old guard Deep Image types, but the aggressive avant-gardists!) By the way, did Gertrude Stein really write speeches for Petain? I’ll have to check on that one…