Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I’m sure you’ve seen the Paris Review “Poetry RX” column, where various poets take turns playing counselors for people sharing this or that emotional trauma or lesser (usually romantic) quandary. The people with the trouble unfailingly request that the poet-counselors offer a poem that will shed light on their plight and help make them feel better. Of course, the poet counselors invariably come up with the precise poem to fit the bill.

I’m struck by how different the Paris Review column is from the Emily Post-Avant one. You also are an advice columnist at a poetry publication, but you almost never seem to try to make people feel better. Or maybe you do, in your own way. Sometimes I can’t quite tell what it is you are trying to do, to tell the truth. I like a lot of what you do, but sometimes me and my friends in the program here find it over the top.

–A Poet from Missoula


Dear Poet from Missoula,

I quit smoking after forty years last week, two packs a day in the last ten, and to be frank, I find your coyness very annoying, right now.

Of course people should feel better. Even the oh-poor-me-belly-button-gazing poetic intelligentsia deserve a measure of happiness. Totally grating as they collectively are, as they eat their sushi and sip their wine.

But I’ll let that be, because I’d probably start talking about Lenin and “liquidationist-Narodnik-Cadets,” etc, look it up. And that would lead to me lighting one up again, which would make it final I-90 cancer stretch for sure. (By the way, where do you think the North American intelligentsia will be when the U.S. launches war on Iran? Likely asking the Paris Review for an emotional-support poem about how to deal with Imperialism-anxiety. Not that it would bother them that Hillary Clinton clearly said she’d obliterate every man, woman, and child in Iran if she had to, but oh well.)

I’ll say this: Anyone seeking solace for personal problems should go to a real therapist to feel better, and not to a fake poet-therapist dispensing advice without a license, when that poet (because he or she or they are a poet, after all) is likely just as screwed up and confused as the poor person crying out for a nice, fuzzy poem to chill their nerves.

Or they should go to a yoga group, say. Or they should go to their doctor to get some meds (like Prozac, for example, profits from which the Poetry Foundation got its $200 million). Pot is possibly helpful to the psyche, too, as my bosses at Dispatches tell me.

No, real poetry–the kind that shocks and alters the head and body, the kind that crosses or mangles our comfy psychic circuits, the kind, just for example, that Dante, or Dickinson, or Rimbaud, or Vallejo, or Césaire, or Pizarnik manage–doesn’t exist to make people “feel better.”

No, poetry exists to make us more disturbed, more weirded-out, more enchantingly perplexed and perplexedly enchanted.

Poetry exists to drive us into a knowing that there is no knowing beyond sometimes sensing with certainty the faintest background radiation of something far beyond the frightened materialist theories of language and shallow political correctness that passes itself off for so much “advanced” poetry these days. Not to mention the greeting card, commodified drivel that goes by the name of Instagram Poetry. Gag me with a ladle.

Those poets who pretend to be therapists in a major poetry journal (which dear, allow me to remind you, has been yoked from the start to the Empire’s intelligence agencies) are really just agents of the plague of the Poetry-As-Valium episteme.

How is your MFA program going in Missoula, my love? Are you going to be a Creative Writing Program teacher when you graduate, which is another way of practicing Poetry Therapy?

Sorry if I seem to be in a bad mood. Don’t be too mad at me for being on edge. All I want to do right now is chain-smoke four packs of American Spirit and watch Eastern European movies from before 1989. Does anyone know of a poem that helps people who have nicotine withdrawal? Poetry RX poets, do you? Since you all have personal connections to Poetry Foundation Big Pharma Central, maybe so? If you do, please send me one. I feel like the freaking top of my head is about to come off.

–Emily Post-Avant