Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I am a poet from Johannesburg, a student for the past five years in the United States. My dissertation, which doesn’t seem to end, is about the influence of U.S. post-war poetry on South African poetry (black, colored, and white) of the post-Apartheid era. But that is neither here nor there.

About three months ago, I wrote a letter to the Paris Review DailyPoetry RX” advice column(the idea of which, by the way, seems to me possibly stolen from your own column, which certainly came first). I won’t bother you with the somewhat narcissistic romantic problem that was the subject of my letter. But I will admit I was hoping that Kaveh Akbar would write me back. I have been a fan of his work and have had a little bit of a crush on him for some time. Well, more than a little crush, maybe. A big one. So it hurt me double when I never got any sort of reply—not even a small personal note.

And then the other day, in between tearful skypes to family back home, I came across this webpage, and saw there the image of my poetic infatuation, Kaveh Akbar. How dispiriting! My heart sank. I simply could not believe it!


Indeed, after reflecting on the matter, I now wonder if it is possible to fully believe in the sincerity of Mr. Akbar’s “heartfelt” advice? How can we now avoid the suspicion that his “compassionate” RX letters may be mere performances, ones that are covertly implicated in a more cynical desire (whether he is aware of the desire, or not!) to brand and increase the market share of his poetic image? I know that is a terrible thing to ask, and it doesn’t make me feel good to ask it. And it’s not that I blame him, necessarily. At least not completely. For these days, capturing cultureindustry share is what 98% of poets seem to want. He just happens to have gotten it. Good for him, most would say. But I would ask: What about Keats? Or Dickinson? What about Audre Lorde? Or Hafez, for that matter? What did they want? Would they have signed with an ad agency to get it?

So I thought I would ask you what you thought about this—I mean about poets in America today being so willing to corporatize and monetize their products, in manifold ways, and at various levels of the culture. What does it say, in this particular case, that a range of recently popularPOC poets are so eager–and in a cultural moment that cries out for principled cultural resistance–to be stabled with a for-profit ad agency “roster, and to be speculatively marketed as “creatives of color, to institutions who have the “financials” to purchase them? Openly promoted as not just readers of their work, but as “facilitators” for “brand and commercial partnerships,” “creative consulting,” and institutional “event hosting not excluding being offered for rental by otherad agencies?

Is it wrong of me to ask these things?

Well, now having asked, I am more depressed than ever. Thank you for your column, in any case, which I find often funny, enchanting, and thought-provoking.

—Lonely in Academia



Dear Lonely in Academia,

My dear, thank you for writing.

Please believe me when I say that your brave questions stand as my answers.

Forget about getting crushes on poets, of whatever ethnicity or color they may be, who are into the whole Po-Biz fizz.

Of course, if you are looking for love with a poet, that seriously restricts the available pool, I realize.

But love is waiting out there. You seem like a special person, and I am confident you will find it.

—Emily Post-Avant