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2009 Creative Careers Interviews : Bruce Deitrick Price Interview

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Artist, Author, and Education Crusader Bruce Deitrick Price

By Molly Anderson-Childers

The Education Enigma by Bruce Deitrick PriceWelcome, readers! If you can read, consider yourself lucky. Many high school graduates and American adults are functionally illiterate. If you can read, thank a teacher today. If you can't, the man I'm interviewing today may be able to explain why. Bruce Deitrick Price is a freelance writer; painter; art director; and education crusader. He is also the author of The Education Enigma, and Theoryland. He's got some very interesting ideas about the state of education in America today. Thanks for joining us, Bruce!

Q: Please tell our readers what inspired you to write Theoryland, the story of a young professor desperate for acclaim in the cutthroat world of academia.

A: Many bad things came together and made something good. A death in the family; no money; I was angry with my college alumni magazine for reneging on an agreement to publish an article about sophistry (Google "9: Philosophy Weeps"); for some unhealthy reason I was reading, day after day, the most difficult stuff about structuralism, poststructuralism, etc. If I really focused, I could see to the bottom of it and feel confident that there was no there there. Which made me even angrier; and that anger transmuted into a satirical tsunami, i.e., my poem.

Q: What is the most important thing you learned while writing Theoryland? Can you discuss the parallels between this work and T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland?

A: The main thing is the attitude I have to learn again and again: don't be crushed by the rules; find original ways of doing things; make it new, as Ezra Pound said. As for T.S. Eliot, I mainly want to note that his poems and his voice suffuse Theoryland. I told my story through him. So my poem is an homage, but it is also a try at being just as original. Imagine: a ten-page poem that is fun to read.

Q: Your collection of essays on American education, The Education Enigma, is a fascinating read. In your essay, "The Creativity Question," you discuss some disturbing trends in education, as regards to engendering creative students. In your opinion, what is the best way teachers can foster their students' creativity?

A: I believe that the decline of American education is the great tragedy facing us. So I'll always be in favor of more content, more knowledge, more basics, more facts. Everything that John Dewey and his gang of socialist bandits tried to destroy, I want to restore. So even in matters of art and creativity, I won't often take the typical line that we must liberate kids so they can be more creative. I think foundational knowledge is important, as are discipline and hard work. If you intend to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants, first learn something about the giants. I think finally that creativity is a very mysterious, Zen-like matter. Often, if you desperately want to reach A, march toward B. One translation: non-creative work often engenders the most creativity.

Q: Your essay, "The Plight of Poetry," challenges readers to think of one famous living poet. Who are your favorite poets — dead or alive — and what do they have to teach the young poets of today?

A: Poetry is ever the same project, to capture the raw essence, to sing in 20 words what prose states in 60 words. I look for liveliness and taking chances, for something I didn't see before. I tend to like the mavericks, the experimentalists, the strange and sui generis voices. A good example from another era would be Catullus. He's often surprising, twenty centuries after he wrote.

Q: In your essay, "The Rules of Poetry," you encourage poets to explore, to write their own set of rules. What are your rules for writing an electric poem?

A: The whole challenge is to say something, preferably something new, in a way that nobody has said it before. Good luck.

Q: Your work is an enlightening call to action; crying out for massive reforms in our schools, and the way teachers teach. What can teachers do to get involved in school reform on a local, state, and national level?

A: I love this question because the answer is right there in front of us but I don't think many people see it. I believe the Education Establishment has created three sets of victims: students, parents, AND teachers. The first step is for teachers to realize just how profoundly they have been tricked into joining a perverse crusade against the true interests of kids, parents, society, and teachers themselves. It's sick. Teachers are deliberately trained and encouraged to do a mediocre job. Fixing this does not, by the way, require massive reforms. It merely requires cleaning out the stables.

Q: Any final words of advice for aspiring writers, artists, teachers and rebels?

A: In Norfolk where I live, there seems to be an endless appetite for what I call "birds on a beach." If you can do that in a sophisticated way, you can make a living. Meanwhile, I like to create weirder stuff that is neither bird nor beach. I don't sell much. Probably I'm not practical enough. Practicality aside, we have to follow our hearts. Never giving up is a virtue. I often remind myself that I'm lucky just to be in the game. (The arts are a lot like boxing — even when you win, you get beat up.) We don't know where the great idea will come from. I remember the wonderful story about Utrillo. He wanted to drink; his wife wanted to pay the rent. The remedy was to keep him chained to an easel painting street scenes for several hours each day. He is still famous for work he didn't want to do. I would suggest that if you have unusual technical skills — don't scorn them, rather figure out a clever way to use them. Or do what Robin Cook did — read 200 best sellers until you have absorbed the essence, and then write one yourself, as he did (Coma). Art and originality are so elusive, tastes are so different, I can't give fixed advice. I'm much more comfortable arguing that knowledge is rarely wasted. The more you know, the more you can learn! American education tends to favor dumbing down. That's pathetic. For me, the beautiful thing is smartening up. •

Connect with Bruce Deitrick Price

Connect with Bruce Deitrick Price by e-mailing wisewords[at] or visit: Bruce writes: "…my videos on YouTube… reveal what an odd bag of skills I've acquired; how I'll use any gambit to attack our faux educators; and perhaps most important, that I have a lot of fun doing all this!"

© 2009 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

Rain GoddessMolly Anderson is a a highly creative writer and artist from Durango, Colorado.

Updated 9/7/15