In honour of National Poetry Month, which begins today (no foolin’), Torontoist’s in-house poetry columnist Jacob McArthur Mooney is curating a near-daily, month-long feature called The Optimisms Project. As articulated on Jacob’s blog, Vox Populism, the Project’s pie-in-the-sky aim is to “cobble together 25 or so poets, all under the age of 30, and give them space to express, in whatever way they choose, what makes them feel optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada. The word Optimism is pluralized in the project title for a reason; we hope to have diverse, surprising, and even contradictory hopes expressed in the same space. Submissions could be prose, poetry, general, specific, practical, fantastical, whatever.”
To get the happy-face-stamped ball rolling, Jacob has written an open letter to readers and contributors (there’s still space left for a few more poets), which you can read below. Come back on Monday for the first edition of The Optimisms Project.
Dear Whiny Poets: An Introduction
I am not an optimist.
I understand that as the point man for this operation, it is my duty to be an optimist for a single thirty-day period, and I can manage that, if I concentrate. But it’s not my default position. My worldview is tilted down. I stare at my feet when I walk.
To clarify, I’m fairly content. If my rent is paid and my friends are happy and there’s at least some faint idée of a poem tickling the inside edges of my brain, I can’t complain. But, if made to choose a single narrative for the world and all its ancillary dramas, my prediction tends to skew down rather than up. Shittiness, eventually, consumes us all.
So I approach this job as Quarterback of Optimistic Poets with all the focus of an aged lady sitting down to her morning crossword puzzle. I don’t do crosswords all day long, but I feel I should do them regularly, to keep my mind sharp. Such is how I feel about optimism. We can not let the patterns of thought that define us burrow deep holes in our brains.
Optimism, in this period of our national history, lies somewhere between goofy naïveté and revolutionary stubbornness in its relationship to the dollars and cents reality of what we may laughingly refer to as “the poetry industry.” To be an optimist is to divorce yourself from the overarching trends that plague poetry, and to say you’ll do it anyway. But we shouldn’t turn away from these realities. These past twelve months have seen the end of cultural investment in literary journals, the decimation of arts funding in BC, and a weekly parade of more minor disappointments, insults, and squabbles. People have thrown in the towel. I can’t blame them for it, can you?
However, I was taken aback a couple months ago when a poet friend in his (or her) fifties posted a link to a news story about one of these events on her/his Facebook page with the caption, “This is the worst time and place to be a writer.” Embarrassed by that hyperbole (this person, apparently, skipped over large chunks of history class in high school, and has their Google News filter set to censor info from places like Iran, Myanmar, or The United State of Texas) I found myself wanting to have my outlook reset, and this project seemed like as good a way as any.
I’ve specifically chosen this demographic (poets under 30) not because “the youth are our future”, but because I have never come across a whinier, more passive-aggressive set of ritualistic pessimists than poets in their twenties. We are truly the angriest lucky bastards I’ve ever come across. We are so incensed by getting to engage with this ancient art form, beyond all the dreams of our immigrant ancestors who came to this country with twenty dollars and no sense that any of their children would ever have the free time to think about something as invisible as “aesthetics”. Woe is us.
So, I approach this month’s daily feed of optimisms eager to unlearn. When I queried my peers about participating in this project, many of them grimaced, shrugged, and said, “But Jake, I’m not an optimist,” to which I replied “Neither am I. But what would happen if we made ourselves pretend?” And so wilful optimism became a theme of the project. Twenty-something twenty-somethings, all willing to pretend.
These optimists (some coming to it honestly, others willing to play-act for the cause) will appear one at a time, Monday to Saturday, with the exception of the coming Easter Weekend. They include known names and fresh faces, published poets, and unpublished ones. And everyone has something unique to say. Some have chosen to say it in a poem, others have done so in prose. They will be joined by a small selection of “Special Guests”, these being more established poets who have been picked to lend a representative voice from other generations of writers. I hope to see this becoming something of a conversation. I’m hopeful we’ll all pick up on something.
That is to say, I’m optimistic.
Jacob McArthur Mooney
PS: As you read this, there may still be a few places left for later in the month. If you have something to say, please read the submissions guidelines over here at Vox Populism, and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacob McArthur Mooney is the author of The New Layman’s Almanac (M&S, 2008) and a semi-regular contributor to this site. He blogs at http://voxpopulism.wordpress.com. He lives in Toronto and is preparing his second collection for a 2011 release.