A NEW book of poems, Monetized, looks at our new Gilded Age, with its staggering extremes of wealth and poverty. The book is written by the New York journalist Alissa Quart, who has written three books, the most recent of which is Republic of Outsiders.
The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman has a smart profile of Quart on the magazine’s site today. What she’s describing, she says, is not brand new, but it marks a disturbing and important shift: “Thinking about money used to be in the background, and now it’s foregrounded.”
The story continues:
A few of the poems in “Monetized” are about the obvious subject of gentrification—about walking around your old neighborhood and encountering, as Quart put it, a “Danish lady with blonde pigtails, an Uppababy, and shiny sweatpants,” where, twenty years ago, you might have met a leather daddy on his way to Rawhide. Quart longs for the chaotic, untidy, unpredictable New York of the seventies and eighties. But most of the poems pursue more elusive subjects: the hollow satisfactions of Internet culture (“ ‘What’s the point?’ seeps out / of that hyperlink”); the simultaneous pride and shame with which we approach our own consumer identities (“Overnight, binging turned positive”); the commercialization of self-perfection, which gives each of us, in place of a super-ego, an “internal continuous / improvement consultant.” In many of them, Quart traces the influence of money-obsession on her own imagination. “When you write narrative nonfiction, the dream is to get into another person’s mind. With poetry, you’re always already in somebody’s mind—it’s just your own,” she said. “There’s that feeling where your inner life is shaped by financial concerns and values. You’re sort of self-objectifying.”
I’ve met Quart only once, but feel an eerie connection between her work and mine, as if she’d tapped into my thinking and translated it to the verse that I don’t know how to write. Monetized is well worth looking at for anyone who cares about poetry, the new plutocracy, or the invisible, psychological impact of the wealth economy.