It’s time to Occupy Poetry
This, on SUNDAY, NOV 13, 2011 12:00 PM EST, in Salon Magazine. You can read the full article here. Opening paras, below:
Merry pranksters call the Poetry Foundation elitist and beholden to Prozac cash. Are they right, or just annoying?
One evening this fall, two young activists walked through the bright, modern library of the new Poetry Foundation headquarters and marched up to the glass balcony. Some 30 attendees had gathered that evening in Chicago to hear a free poetry reading, and now many turned to view long, hand-painted banners unfurling from the second floor. With solemn fanfare, the two men, members of a small rebel alliance called the Croatoan Poetic Cell, had launched their latest defense of poetry — shortly before someone at the foundation called the police.
“What would have happened,” asked one banner, “if Emily Dickinson had been prescribed Prozac?” Idle speculation aside — one pictures long, glazed-over afternoons spent knitting frocks in New England — the protesters were implying that Prozac stymies creativity, and that the Poetry Foundation, lavishly funded by a pharmaceutical fortune, does business with the kind of people who might, given the chance, have put Dickinson on antidepressants.
The story of how a nonprofit literary foundation became a stage for anti-Prozac agitation begins in 2003. That year, Ruth Lilly, the heiress of the pharmaceutical family, gave a fairy-godmotherish gift of $200 million to the Poetry Foundation. In the cash-poor world of poetry, it was like dropping a quivering church mouse into a gourmet cheese emporium. Since then, the foundation has built a sleek new headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop, which boasts a gorgeous library, a public garden, an auditorium and the offices of Poetry, the foundation’s storied magazine.
To the CPC, the foundation has also settled comfortably into its new role as an oppressor of the masses: a monied bastion of “state-corporate control,” according to their leaflets. They believe the foundation now wields the anti-creative influence of its financial overlords.
As the Occupy movement nears its third month, the CPC — though not strictly an Occupy offshoot — is among the many groups decrying arts institutions as clubhouses of the 1 percent. In October, New York protesters occupied Sotheby’s, MoMA and the Artists Space gallery in SoHo. “We, the artists of the 99% have emerged!” one protester wrote. “Not as pawns in your fraudulent art market where the royalty of Wall Street rule.”