Dear Ms. Prevallet,

I am writing this with a nine-tab wad of Nicorette in my mouth. It’s like a huge plug of chewing tobacco and tastes about the same. And yet, I think that now my nerves are a bit more soothèd?

(In my jitters last night, I remembered that Obama once recommended Nicorette in midst of a stump speech, somewhere, ca. 2013. If memory serves, it was the day after a drone attack he’d ordered immolated a big wedding party in Yemen. Or maybe it was Pakistan, can’t now recall for sure. Try Nicorette! he yelled, after someone in the audience asked if he had any advice on how to quit smoking. And then he chortled that endearing, trademark chuckle, and everyone started chanting: YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!)

So, because of this memory, this morning, the 4th of July, as warplanes were soaring to martial music over Trump’s colossal orange head, I went to Walgreens, bought a gallon of Scope, and ten packs of gum.

And a couple hours ago, chewing away and reading your chastening letter, I got to thinking:

DT’s aside, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten quite so tetchy with the gentle-sounding quacks of the Paris Review Poetry Rx column. Even if they are pushing a Poetry as Tranquilizer line to boost their poetic capital for reasons having little at all to do with relieving the suffering of others. (Inevitably, as Bourdieu makes clear, any gain of position by ambitious subjects in the literary field, aggressive as such position-taking is by nature (whether the aggressiveness be cloaked or open), entails a psychic, emotional loss to those who are displaced. Which means that the poetic field, deep beneath the protocols of bonhomie, is an unrelieved Purgatory of antagonism and vindictiveness, pain and resentment.)

Still, I think my point (which my addled brain admittedly lost track of amidst the cravings that wracked me) is appropriate. I.e., that at best, Po-Rx at the Paris Review is proffering poetry as a genre of easy, passive consolation, a kind of hip, upmarket Hallmark Card “esprit de corps” for down and out members of the petit-bourgeois intelligentsia: Here, my brother/sister suffering one, read this poem about somebody else’s broken heart; you’ll feel better and not so alone.

Which greatly differs, I would say, from the active principles and practices of poetic therapy–something much more complex, deeply engaged, and precarious than what poets practice when they go about “matchmaking” genuine pain or longing with this or that apropos lyric from the canon.

In fact, one of my bosses, Fric, suggested on his Facebook page that what you do is perhaps in familial league with George Quasha’s notion of a risk-taking, non-consoling axiality. Quasha locates axiality as foundational to a praxis that enables processes of healing by virtue of indeterminate, often disorienting and discomfiting engagements with poetic language and associated creative acts (see Quasha’s essays in the brief but thrilling Poetry in Principle, published by Dispatches Editions).

So yes, I used the word “therapy” too casually, too broadly, in my post, and I wanted to make at least the gesture towards a finer distinction. I mean as a way of admission of my imprecisions. As I said, I had the nicotine jitters really super bad, and I wasn’t choosing my phrases as carefully as was called for.

And to repeat (though why I am repeating I don’t know), maybe I was too harsh on the Po-Rx cool-kid clique. After all, what poet, cool or not, doesn’t seek to boost her or his poetic capital in one form or another? Fact is, just about everyone in U.S. poetry currently plays super nice and professional in the light of day and then becomes a disturbing vampire at dark. White poets, Black poets, Brown poets, Asian poets, Indigenous poets. Male poets, Women poets, Trans poets. Post-Avant poets, Identity poets, Slam poets, Instagram poets. In the age of Po-Careerism and Prize-Grant-Institutional supremacy, where it’s all one big Market now, Lit vampires populate the field. Everyone knows this, but hardly anyone can admit it, because then they wouldn’t have a Career in Poetry.

Oh, my. I can see that maybe my generosity is beginning to slip. Excuse me while I take a break to refresh my Nicorette… [….Sound of tin foil unwrapping nine times, loud chewing, snapping, and grunting sounds for about twenty minutes….]

OK, I’m back, sorry. And seriously, whatever you may think of me, Ms. Prevallet, I want to be clear: I consider your work to be something entirely different from that which I was critiquing in my last column. In spirit and kind. Yes, I used phrasing that was imprecise and unhelpful (e.g. “unlicensed”; “therapy”). Apologies. Because to me, anyone–institutionally degreed or not–who actually and devotedly practices a vocation that seeks to counsel and heal through the arts is truly admirable and fully legitimate. That devotion is what gives them license. Be they poets or not.

And that’s why I applaud your chosen path. I am sure it has helped many and will continue to do so. In fact, I’d like to say that I’m sure my cheapskate employers, Fric and Frac, would welcome contributions from you in link to your practice, anytime. As in a regular column, say? Plus, I think the two old guys could use a little therapy themselves, if you know what I mean.

Thank you for your marvelous letter. You know, Apex of the M was a brave and important project. Thanks for that, too. Things branch out in unsuspected ways of accretion.

There may not be a very loud amusement park right outside my window, at the moment. But there is a huge mass of chemical gum in my cheek that makes it look like I have a tumor the size of a baseball.

–Emily Post-Avant