What We Do, by Michael Gottlieb


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How do we live our lives as poets?

In these three critical essays Michael Gottlieb addresses issues faced by us all, even if we are not poets or artists.

In Jobs of The Poets he asks: what kind of work do we find ourselves doing while we try to do our real work? In Letters to a Middle Aged Poet he asks: what happens when you’re a young avant garde poet, or artist, or simply young, and you wake up one day to realize you’re not young any more (and maybe not avant garde)? In A Spectre is Haunting the Poetry World he asks: what kind of world have we bequeathed to the young, in the wake of the Great Recession? Lastly, in an Author’s Afterword he reflects on the current racist-language controversy embroiling the US poetry community.


What we do for a living, what will become of us, and what will our legacy be, are daring things to consider at any age. I don’t know that I could have tolerated this book in my twenties (that age more unable to process mortality) but I wish I had known Michael then. What We Do is the best argument for intergenerational friendship between poets that I know. Those with more future than past, meet those with more past than future – and maybe we can figure out why we bother (and we always do!) — Stacy Szymaszek


…The writing keeps unspooling itself about how we live as poets and the facts and the way that Michael keeps asking and thinking is an astonishing event. — Eileen Myles


In his third essay, A Spectre Is Haunting the Poetry World, Gottlieb compassionately and insightfully highlights the misuse of student poets as replacements for regular workers, a widespread practice across the academic landscape because it saves money. Universities argue that belonging to the precariat provides experiences such as “conducting engaging interviews” and interacting with “some of the most influential and historically relevant people in poetry.” At Red Lobster (while waiting tables), you’ve heard, “Many past adjunct instructors in poetry have gone on to successful careers, and thank their task masters for the leg up.” Tell that to young men and women living in their cars. — Andrew Levy


What We Do is a rumination on the difficulties poets face. It is written in the form of challenging questions. As Gottlieb makes clear, he is very much a poet of a certain place (Manhattan) and time, but the questions he raises are ones all poets and, in fact, most people eventually face, if they’re honest. — Rae Armantrout


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