30 July 2009

Down with the programme

Few American writers were able to make a living out of writing books. Somewhere in the 1950s some nut put together the bogus notion that you could haul in some bigwig writer like Ernest Hemingway or Samuel Beckett and get him to teach a bunch of some ten to fifteen young people how to write. [...] The concept of the creative writing program looked good on paper, but it was, in reality, a giant shuck, and the (mostly) poets who were on the lucrative gravy train in the early sixties were, for the most part, a bunch of wasted men who had helped popularize the craft during its glorious moment 1920–1950, when poets like W. H. Auden had the cachet rock stars would acquire in the second half of the century.
I came across this passage the other day while reading Victor Bockris's Lou Reed biography, Transformer, and it really struck me, not only because it was such a vehement opinion on the creative writing programme (previously discussed here), but because it is practically the only opinion Bockris offers on anything in the book's background detail. Elsewhere he maintains the studied neutrality of a dutiful biographer, reporting context without judging it. Bockris graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. I'd guess that it had a creative writing programme and one Bockris had a bad experience with. Wonder which wasted bigwig it was that taught it.

[Bockris photo via interview with Burroughs here]

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