I got a note yesterday from my friend Teresa Carson. I'd asked her what she thought of the Vendler review, and without reading any of my blog posts she said, among many other smart things, "while [V's] comment that 'all poets who wield language powerfully are exquisitely well educated' makes me a bit uneasy, her further comment that 'just because someone describes a “hardscrabble Appalachia” doesn’t make one a hardscrabble Appalachian' hits home for me. Take, for example, Phil Levine’s anointment as the voice of the working class poet. While I have no doubt he worked for some short amount of time in the auto factories, he didn’t get stuck there. (MFA from Iowa is about as far away from manual labor as you can get.) As someone who worked many years in a union job and then more years in a low level management job I can tell you many of his poems about work are tainted by a sentimentality that’s only possible for someone who got out fast."
So, here's another take on "exquisitely well educated"--that it's a dangerous phrase, in some way, and that it influences the kind of blue-collar posturing that all of us who live on the class line find ourselves doing. Teresa and Phil Levine and I don't negotiate the identical demarcation--not by any means. But I'm a housewife in a remote, conservative, north-country town. Teresa spent her career working for the phone company in urban New Jersey. Levine worked for a while in the Detroit factories. We've all found modes of escape that are also modes of comprehension. We've all used poetry to reconfigure ourselves and dramatize the world we both live in and stand outside of. Meanwhile, we teach at Iowa or copy out all of Paradise Lost or compose talks about Keats or whatever. The definition of "exquisitely well educated" becomes no clearer.