The Decline & Fall Of Quincy Troupe
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider, 3/27/04
1 of the
silliest aspects of the Political Correctness movement of the last couple of
decades has been the egregious notion that truth has some all-powerful role in
art. ‘Art is truth’ is the catchphrase. Yet, even as silly as that notion is
(& I’ve disemboweled it many a time) an even worse corollary is the idea
that artists must be ‘truthtellers’ in order to be good artists. Forget
skill, talent, & industry- none of them are the equal of truth in the
pursuit of high art.
Of course, this leads to the inevitable smug self-righteousness of many PC Elitists, who cannot see how eerily similar their POVs are to those of Right Wingers they revile. To the PC Elitist, as to the Right Winger, dissent is not merely informed disagreement, but ignorant, & often evil, blasphemy. Yet, as with the Right Wingers, most PC Elitists have feet of clay. Many a professor has been caught using his power to seduce comely coeds, grant favors or recommendations to undeserving writers merely because they were students or classmates, or nominating for monetary grants only those writers who sit on other grant giving boards so to heighten the ‘I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine’ factor- more truly the ‘I’ll line your pocket if you’ll line mine’ factor. In the late 1980s Right Wingers saw the downfall of hypocrites like Jimmy Swaggart & Jim Baker, but in the last few years there has been a similar fall from grace for PC Elitist poets.
Most people know of poetaster Amiri Baraka’s ridiculous appointment to the Poet Laureateship of New Jersey a couple years ago, only to have the governor of that state strip the title from him by the only legal means available- rescinding the post. The reason was because of AB’s ridiculous assertions that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks in a laughably bad piece of doggerel. Now, let me state, that as much as I abhor & ridicule most of AB’s political thought that should have had no bearing on whether he was appointed or stripped of the post- only his poetic acumen should have been the determining factor. & there was very little to recommend him on that score- New Jersey State Polemicist Laureate? Perhaps- but not Poet Laureate. The fact that AB has been a foaming Anti-Semite for the last 40 years since divorcing his 1st Jewish wife & joining the Nation of Islam should have served as a heads up to the governor. That AB was even nominated shows how much of a stranglehold the PC Elitists held over arts decisions in that state, since it has been over 35 years since AB produced anything resembling real art, & not platitudinous screeds.
Yet, there was an even more precipitous fall from grace that occurred a couple of years ago- involving another black male poet named Quincy Troupe. QT was, unlike AB, a poet who fringed upon greatness. He was 1 of only a handful of poets who could have been said to have mastered ‘jazz poetry’ early in his career. He did so by innovatively writing his jazz poems as ‘jazz proems’ & dashing the commonplace jazz poem ‘tercet’ form that added too many breaths & pauses to the jazz poem, which needed to be read in long, swooping breaths. Add to that innovation the fact that his poems often sparkled with crisp imagery & he was someone who seemed to be going places. Then, artistically, it all fell apart as he spent years aping his earlier innovations. By the 1990s QT was better known as ‘that poet who uses the word ‘eye’ for the personal pronoun ‘I’ in all of his poems’ than for being a good poet who cusped on greatness. His art was where the decline of QT began, but his fall would have to wait until late 2002 when California’s governor appointed him the Poet Laureate of California.
Until then QT had been cruising along in life with a $141k/year sinecure at the University of California at San Diego. He was a Humanities Professor which means literally, he had a ‘job’ where he was paid to do very little save sit in on a couple of classes per week, pontificate to students far too credulous to question his assertions, & let the money roll in. Such a post also means plenty of free time to write, travel, & lecture both in the school year & out. I recall 1 such jaunt he took in the mid-1990s. I saw QT read at the old Hungry Mind bookstore in St. Paul, to promote his book Avalanche. He was already past his prime as a writer, but still gave a far better performance than most poets. The PC Elitist white folks seemed to enjoy QT’s theatrics & condescended to him the way a customer might clink a coin into the cup of an organ grinder’s monkey.
Then, in early 2002 QT got a call at home that he was 1 of 3 finalists for the 1st Poet Laureateship of the state. This sent QT into a panic, because he was told that a cursory background investigation would be conducted. Why a panic? Because, despite gaining a tenured professorship QT knew that he had for decades lied on his résumé- claiming to have a 1963 Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Grambling College when he only took 1 or 2 classes & never completed them. QT sweated things out, & after being appointed figured the check had overlooked his lie. But, like most government agencies, the check merely took longer than expected. A few weeks after June 11, 2002 when he was sworn in as Poet Laureate his lie was exposed, QT was revealed as a liar & hypocrite. At his university he was given a choice of being fired outright, suspended for a year without pay, or taking a forced retirement, with all his benefits intact. He, of course, retired- thereby paying little price for his life based on falsehoods. He also resigned as California State Poet Laureate.
Now, I’m not here to harp on QT- in fact, his case seems to be the best proof that resumes & cv’s mean very little as to whether a person can be a good teacher. QT was revealed to be an autodidact, not a man of letters. Yet, what irks me is that QT got where he was on a lie, & then paid no real price for that lie, even as he has spent decades pontificating the ‘art is truth’ line. That he is a hypocrite is beyond doubt. That he was by all accounts considered a pretty good teacher is also not disputed. But, here I write, having spent months on the unemployment line, while a man who had no more paper qualifications than me, & far less artistic qualifications, rode his lies to decades of sinecurate. Obviously if QT could do his job with no real training so could I. Why haven’t I been offered his post? What really galls, though, is that there is no permanent black mark against what QT did. He was basically allowed to get away with it because the school refused to take an ethical stand. At the very least QT should have had his pension greatly reduced as a penalty for his having cheated.
Even more troubling was the way that both students & teachers rationalized the whole incident- claiming that it was QT’s writing, not academic cv that got him his sinecure. The fallacy of that assertion lies in the fact that I have yet to be offered a professorship even though my poetry’s quality dwarfs QT’s. The truth is that QT had made a name for himself & then was offered the professorship in 1990. His name value trumped any desire for the school to see if his résumé claims panned out. Many at the school gave fertile ground for the lie’s seeming inconsequence- the whole university literature department started a petition to try to keep QT, claiming, ‘There needs to be a sense of proportion between an admittedly ill-advised misstatement on a résumé and a decade of outstanding service to his students and the community’. Of course- it was not a misstatement- a wrong year or a Master’s stated over a Bachelor’s, but an outright lie & fraud. The head of the literature department, Todd Kontje, rationalized in this manner, ‘His misstatements about his undergraduate career were sort of like a baseball player who had won the MVP and World Series and then was discovered to have lied about his achievements in Little League.’ Another of the school’s deans, Richard Attiyeh, stated, ‘When we hired him he was somebody who had many years of productive activity as a scholar, and he never failed to meet our expectations in any way. The question of his bachelor’s degree was not particularly critical.’
Well, not quite, since pro sports has no stipulations about needing to perform in any other leagues before trying out for them. Nor had QT produced any scholarly papers on the art of poetry- merely a biography on Miles Davis called Miles: The Autobiography- which won an American Book Award in 1989. The fact is that to get a professorship at a university it’s pretty standard that 1 needs to have graduated from college oneself. Again, his ability to do the job is not at issue- the fact that he lied about his past is.
This is something that QT has failed to acknowledge, instead offering ½-hearted apologies or 1s laced with race-baiting accusations. Here’s 1 of his many published responses floating the race card: ‘This guy is a black guy, he doesn’t have a degree, he’s got dreadlocks, he’s at the university, and he’s making $141,000 a year. How can that be? There was some kind of suggestion that I was not first doing my job. But I was publishing books, I was bringing honor to the school, and the students loved me. I didn’t cheat anybody.’ Well, yes, Quincy- you did cheat out the person who would have gotten your post had you not lied on your résumé. In an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune QT claimed, ‘It’s the only blemish in 34 years of teaching; then for people to try to squash you like a bug!’ Squash!? Let me retire with full benefits from a $141,000 per annum job & you can squash away! Answering that it’s unfair that colleges won’t give professorships to high school graduates is not an answer- only a rationalization. I happen to agree with you that high school graduates should be allowed to teach at universities if they’ve shown excellence elsewhere. That said, you’d still have to get in line behind me, QT! For I have done more to promote excellence in poetry in my years of going to & running poetry critique groups, & in my myriad essays, than you, Michael Dennis Browne, or a 100 other piss-poor poetaster-professors have done in your 1000s of years of credited work histories.
& yes, there are bad teachers that have MFAs & Ph.D’s, but that is a separate issue from lying on your own résumé. It was QT’s lies, not his race, that got him in trouble, & many believe that QT benefited from being black because numerous white researchers & professors who have been caught lying on their cv’s have been outright fired, not given the option to retire with full benefits as he was. QT also disingenuously claimed that it was mere circumstance that led to his lie. In 1976 he was teaching at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, when it was formed after the merger of 2 junior colleges. A friend who taught there told him he had faked credentials & gotten a higher salary, & that no 1 had checked. QT was in desperate need of money, & saw little harm in the ‘white lie’. He also learnt the only way to get tenure was to have degrees. By 1990 he got his tenure, but left for UCSD & a higher salary, after they heard of him after his appearance in Bill Moyers’ dismal PBS poetry series The Power of the Word. The college was actively looking to recruit minority applicants & QT was considered a big fish on their hook. The ‘ends justify the means’ attitude seemed to have paid off well for QT.
& perhaps it is this desire to find a ‘name’ rather than a quality teacher for a university which also contributes to so many Academics lying about their credentials. My belief is that while his lies should have gotten him fired, with a reduced pension, he should have in no way felt a need to give up the Poet Laureateship, for that truly is a title/job where only the writing matters. Still, to me, I recall the lecture QT gave back in 1996 at the Hungry Mind, where he called upon poets to rise up & fulfill their duty & obligation to tell the truth about what’s wrong in this life. Too bad that QT obviously did not have in mind the culture of routine deceit, hypocrisy, & lies he assents to when he made that statement. Or are those kinds of ‘truths’ too correct for the ‘Politically Correct’?
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