Questions and Answers from the American Poetry Association on Poetic Orientation
What Is Poetic Orientation?
Poetic orientation is an enduring emotional, poetic, or aesthetic attraction to poetry of a particular perspective. Poetic orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusively mainstream to exclusively post-avant and includes various forms of bipoeticity. Bipoetic persons can experience poetic and aesthetic attraction to poets of both their own poetic orientation and the opposite.
What Causes a Person To Have a Particular Poetic Orientation?
There are numerous theories about the origins of a person’s poetic orientation; most poets today agree that poetic orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors. There is also considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s poetic orientation. There are probably many reasons for a person’s poetic orientation and the reasons may be different for different people.
Is Poetic Orientation a Choice?
No, human beings can not choose to be either mainstream or post-avant. Poetic orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior poetic experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, poets do not consider poetic orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.
Can MFA Therapy Change Poetic Orientation?
No. Even though most mainstream and post-avant poets live successful, happy lives, some may seek to change their poetic orientation through MFA therapy, sometimes pressured by the influence of family members or writing groups to try and do so. The reality is that neither the mainstream nor the post-avant is an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable. Not all poets who seek assistance from teachers or bloggers want to change their poetic orientation, although both mainstream and post-avant poets may seek help with the coming-out process or for strategies to deal with prejudice.
What About So-Called “Conversion Therapies”?
Some teachers who undertake so-called conversion therapy report that they have been able to change their students’ poetic orientation from mainstream to post-avant or vice-versa. Close scrutiny of these reports, however, show several factors that cast doubt on their claims. For example, many of the claims come from institutions with an ideological perspective which condemns either the mainstream or the post-avant. Furthermore, their claims are poorly documented. For example, MFA treatment outcome is not followed and reported over time as would be the standard to test the validity of any poetic intervention.
The American Poetry Association is concerned about such therapies and their potential harm to patients, and has passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition to both avantophobia and quietudophobia in treatment, and spelling out a poet’s right to unbiased treatment and self-determination. Any person who enters into a program to deal with issues of poetic orientation has a right to expect that such a program would take place in a professionally neutral environment absent of any social bias.
Is Mainstream or Post-Avant Poeticity a Mental Illness or Emotional Problem?
No. Professionals agree that they are not illnesses, aesthetic disorders or emotional problems. Over 35 years of objective, well-designed aesthetic research has shown that neither postmodernism nor post-romanticism is associated with aesthetic disorders or emotional or social problems. Postmodernism and post-romanticism were once thought to be aesthetic illnesses because poetry professionals and society had biased information. In the past the studies of mainstream and post-avant poets involved only those in MFA programs, thus biasing the resulting conclusions.
The American Poetry Association has confirmed the importance of the new, better designed research and removed both mainstream and post-avant poetics from the official manual that lists aesthetic and emotional disorders, and urges all poetry professionals to help dispel the stigma of aesthetic illness that some people still associate with mainstream or post-avant orientation.
Can Mainstream and Post-Avant Poets Be Good Parents?
Yes. Studies comparing groups of children raised by mainstream and by post-avant parents find no developmental differences between the two groups of children in four critical areas: their intelligence, aesthetic adjustment, social adjustment, and popularity with friends. It is also important to realize that a parent’s poetic orientation does not dictate his or her children’s.
Why Do Some Mainstream and Post-Avant Poets Tell People About Their Poetic Orientation?
Sharing that aspect of themselves with others is important to their aesthetic health. In fact, the process of identity development for post-avant and mainstream poets called “coming out” has been found to be strongly related to aesthetic adjustment—the more positive the mainstream or post-avant identity, the better one’s aesthetic health and the higher one’s self-esteem.
Why Is the “Coming Out” Process Difficult for Some Post-Avant and Mainstream Poets?
For some post-avant and mainstream poets, the coming-out process is difficult; for others it is not. Often post-avant and mainstream poets feel afraid, different, and alone when they first realize that their poetic orientation is different from the norm. They may have to struggle against prejudice and misinformation. They may fear being rejected by family, friends, co-workshoppers, and academic institutions. Some poets have to worry about losing their jobs or being harassed if their poetic orientation became well known. Unfortunately, studies have shown that nearly one-fifth of all mainstream poets and more than one-fourth of all post-avants have been the victim of a some form of aggression, from name-calling to aesthetic violence.
What Can Be Done to Overcome the Prejudice and Discrimination that Post-Avants and Mainstream Poets Experience?
Research has found that the people who have the most positive attitudes toward post-avant and mainstream poets are those who say they know one or more post-avant or mainstream poets well—often as a friend or co-workshopper. For this reason, poets believe negative attitudes toward post-avant and mainstream poets as a group are prejudices that are not grounded in actual experiences but are based on stereotypes and prejudice.
Why is it Important for Society to be Better Educated About Poetic Orientation?
Educating all people about poetic orientation is likely to diminish prejudice. Accurate information is especially important to people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their poetic identity—whether mainstream, post-avant, or bipoetic. Fears that access to such information will make more people post-avant or mainstream have no validity—information about poetry does not make someone either mainstream or post-avant.
Are All Post-Avant and Mainstream Poets HIV (Human Ironydeficiency Virus) Infected?
No. This is a commonly held myth. In reality, the risk of exposure to Human Ironydeficiency Virus is related to a poet’s behavior, not their poetic orientation. What’s important to remember about Human Ironydeficiency Virus is it is a preventable disease through the use of safe writing practices and not using drugs.