Friday, February 19, 2010

Is That A Saw I Hear?

Australian writer and critic Alison Croggon who writes the blog Theatre Notes can "smell" an MFA writer anywhere. Here she reviews Madagascar, a new play from American playwright J.T. Rogers (White People).

There are always exceptions that prove the rule, of course - Charles Olson and Allen Ginsberg, who both taught poetry programs, spring lawlessly to mind - but the proliferation of polite, competently-written, dull poeticisms that presently clog the arteries of US lit are a direct result of the MFA creative writing programs, which raise well-meaning young poets to be well-meaning teachers who, in a kind of nightmare of eternal recurrence, then publish each other.

Madagascar is of this ilk. You can almost hear the sawing in the background as the metaphors and themes are workshopped. But most of all, what gives it away is the closed mental universe it inhabits. It's about the thoughts and sufferings of wealthy Americans, for whom the world is a giant mirror in which the poverty of their aching selves is revealed. It's a play that wants to be liked, that assumes - perhaps cleverly - that its audience is a middle class, liberal bunch with vague concerns about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. The audience gets to hear a lot about themselves, and even more about the meaning of life.

8 comments:

silent nic@knight said...

Hilarious notion. Alison seems to have been skim-reading the theatrosphere who has collectively been skim-reading Outrageous Fortune so they can serve half-baked opinions to one another about what’s wrong with the American theatre system. But the Aussie has nailed the problem I think. I wish I would have thought of it...It's American!!!

Ian Thal said...

I haven't had as much of a chance to get a representative sampling to develop the ability to distinguish the MFA New American Plays from the non MFA New American Plays by smell, taste, sight, or sound, but I did spend enough time on the poetry scene to notice the phenomenon of which Alison speaks.

It's very real. There is a certain uniformity in MFA poetry that coincides with certain academic fashions of the day. So I have no problem believing that the New American Play is also affected.

silent nic@knight said...

Ian,

In lieu of the New American Play, please point out to us an example of the New American Poem.

Ian Thal said...

Attend poetry readings and note the uniformity of any poet whose chief credentials are an MFA in creative writing.

There's a certain standard of quality they all match, but they sort of all blur together in their indistinctness-- so while they are often better than many "unschooled" poets, they are boring.

silent nic@knight said...

So you are saying that the New American Poem is better but more boring than the countless other poems out there.

I forget. Was it Aristotle or Plato who first articulated this profundity on aesthetics?

Ian Thal said...

No nic,

I'm saying that the American MFA poem has a certain standard of mediocrity that one can depend upon-- never sinking below a certain level of quality. The American non-MFA pome ranges from horrid to brilliant.

silent nic@knight said...

Ian,

What would be your opinion of the American Bachelor of Arts Poem? Is there the same dependable "standard of mediocrity" in a BA Poem, or is more schooling necessary for that?

Ian Thal said...

No opinion of BFAs since very few poets feel the need to list their undergraduate credentials in their bios.