Wednesday, February 20, 2019

gatekeepers and the myth of the "best"

I always sort of semi-roll my eyes when I hear the term "gatekeepers" when it comes to the literary world.  I've said it's because once you are officially (or even unofficially) serving as one, you realize how subjective it all really is--the choosing of one piece of work over another. When I was first submitting work in my 20's and early 30's I thought for sure, getting acceptances from journal X or journal Y meant that that particular work was better or worse depending on the exclusivity of the journal (ie the rejection rates).  What was crazy was that what I thought was my best work, would STILL maintain was my best work, was more often rejected than things I was a little more lukewarm on. meanwhile, pieces that were sound, but that I was not all that particularly excited about, met with reasonable success.

Regardless, it's hard to tell what someone will like. You can read the journals and see what the editor's tend to favor, but even that's not always guarantee that what you're sending will pique an interest (or gain a consensus when it comes to multiple editors.)  thank god I run my own operation since sometimes I see something and love it and would have a hard time explaining to another editor why. I just do--for whatever mercurial chemistry of voice, tone, and subject matter that knocks me for a loop.  And of course, it sounds like mallarky, to say "I don't know, but I know it when I see it..." and it is much the same with the visual art that I find appealing, but again, might not be able to tell you why. Admittedly, I do take it as a badge of honor when an author admits they've been sending something around and I'm the first yes after a long time of no.

I've always experienced the role as a editor as more of a curator than any sort of gatekeeper. Or hell ,a bit divergent perhaps even from the traditional role of editors in the historic sense.   I very rarely dig my hands into the manuscripts in much beyond a copy-editing.  I might make some suggestions, but usually these are based on formatting and layout concerns.  And I tend to say no to things that might need a lot of editorial work, even if promising for other reasons.  There is already too much finshed, completely polished work that needs a berth.  I've had editors of my own work  that were more or less hands on/hands off and find both appealing for different reasons in terms of line edits or ordering considerations.  Both are useful depending on what you need and have their benefits.  Some writers feel more comfortable with an editor who can be kind of a final reader with suggestions on ordering and cutting poems.   Some authors are sending things they consider finished and don't need anything more from me than to get to laying it out.

So really in the end, as a curator, you take what you like, what speaks to you, what seems important to you.  The sort of work you want to define as your press aesthetic. And it does seem, over time, people know what to send my way.  I used to get into really heated arguments with men about the logistics of running a feminist press, how certainly I was losing out on possibly publishing the "best" work out there by only accepting submissions from 50 percent of the population. But really, I am always highly suspicious of those presses and journals who keep throwing around that word "best." According to who?  According to what?  My thought immediately goes to the upper middle class, white, male standards that have only now began to crumble.

Granted we can usually agree on things that are bad (limericky rhymes and cliched overdoneness usually don't fare well), but there is a huge lack of consensus in the various corners of the poetry world as to what exactly is good depending on your personal aesthetics inclinations.  And truly, if Rupi Kaur is selling millions of copies, obviously there is an audience for all sorts of an editor, you just need to go with your gut.

So maybe it's all we ever do, as so called "gatekeepers"  (and there is another entry for another day about  founding and starting presses and how important such things are in abolishing gates of any kind.)  And really, so much of what the rest of the world deems "best" falls rather flat on me (stuff like Wes Anderson movies, red wine, jazz) So really, it's not surprising that my literary tastes run slightly askew..

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

dgp cover love | inky goodness

My original cover designs  from the last few weeks have definitely erred more toward conventional collage, but these are a few of the more graphic ones I've been designing since the first of the year, all in my very favorite colors (and be on the lookout, there is so much more pink coming down the pipeline.  The expanses of inky black have been appealing to me quite a bit the past few months and I love how dramatic they are when combined with pastels. (and probably why I love my hunger palace series so much).  

the summer house

What started out as a cover design for an upcoming dancing girl  chap (Nomi Washer's PHANTOMS) wound up inspiring a bunch of spin-off far there are five, and who knows, maybe more, but it was nice to be able to play around a bit (this is the first visual stuff, outside of a couple covers, I've done since the analog collages at the beginning of the year and I was feeling a little unproductive visually of late.) 

you can seem more of them here...

Monday, February 18, 2019

ordinary planet

The next installment in the books & objects series is very , very close to being a real, papery thing (after a couple more rounds of proofing.)  It's my strange little steampunky dystopia group of poems I finished during NAPOWRIMO last spring..  Here is a sneak peek at the cover...

Subscribe here for all sorts of loveliness...

for a taste of the text pieces, check out recent issues of  Grimoire and Rust & Moth...

armchair travel

I have mentioned before that I am not a good traveler.  Part of it is that I am not really able to take huge amounts of time away from either the library or the studio--either vacation time considerations or work backlogging more than it already does. It also makes me anxious--particularly traveling where the bulk of financing and organization falls on me (which unless I was traveling with my parents, which I used to do fairly often--trips to Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, shorts jaunts to Wisconsin.) But,  mostly even then, I miss my cats and my apartment after a couple days and being away makes me feel panicky and out of control. And I can never really afford it, no matter how much I plan ahead, money becomes an issue. Various crises wind up in canceled plans and trips.  I also don't fly due to terrible plane crash dreams and anxiety around the endeavor, so while I adore road trips and train rides, my options are kinda limited to the continental US regardless.

I am a big fan of my own sort of armchair traveling via books and film and scoping out places I am curious about on things like Google maps from the comfort of my apartment.  Granted, not really the same, but I'm okay with that.  I occasionally do weird things like take tiny faux vacations to Paris--roam around Montmartre via google maps, watch French movies, read travel blogs, and eat too many eclairs.  One night I ate amazing tacos and roamed around Tijuana and SoCal (one place I actually would like to visit IRL).  So much us at your fingertips and doesn't cost a cent, but there are things that don't translates, the noise of a place, the scent of a place.  The intangibles.

There is also a charm to the state of being in transit, on the way to or from something.  When I took the train out to Seattle a few years back for AWP, I have fond memories of rolling through the darkness of Montana, completely alone and wide awake in the middle of the night, listening to Elton John.  On the way back, when we were stuck for awhile due to an avalanche ahead and delayed by almost a day, I spent a considerable portion hiding from a creepy seat mate in the lounge car and writing.  There I  witnessed one of the most awkward drunk girl scenarios, a college student who kept trying to kiss the older guy in a suit as he tried to politely keep her from falling over on her way back to her seat. Then she sat down across from me, noticed I was staring perplexed at my laptop,  and started talking about how she could help me with whatever I was writing because she was good at it. 

But no matter how much I enjoy the transit, nothing matches the relief of coming home. (especially after getting stuck on train for three days.)  In my head, I idealize  the fun of a road trip to the west coast, staying in weird vintage hotels.  And I love New Orleans, would move there in a heartbeat if I was less afraid of hurricanes and big bugs, and settle for occasional trips. Also the Carolina coasts, which I've loved since my first semester of college and have only been back to Myrtle Beach once.  And here's where I wish time travel was a thing, because I would love to see Las Vegas in it's glittery, seedier mobster days.  But I always like coming back just a little more... 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

on smallness

A week or so back, I got to thinking about this article and the joys of limited adventures.  When I started the press, I could have went one of two ways--limited or open editions, and having felt the frustrations of being unable to obtain things once they ran out, I went with the latter.  Still, there is a certain charm to smallness, to tiny editions, which is why I love issuing much of my work in editions under 100-whether visual or written. 

Poetry sometimes, itself, seems so small in appeal--compared to other art forms--music, movies, pretty much anything else at all. So to be even tinier in that tiny sea seems appropriate.  I think of legacies, what we leave in the world, and knowing that most poets vanish inevitably into the obscurity. Most poets live in obscurity.  For all the submitting and scrambling, the hustle and po-biz, most of us, even if we have a brief glimmer of notoriety while alive, will be forgotten.  We may live forever through our work, but it's afloat in a much bigger sea.

So really small endeavors seem inevitable and right.  Even larger things are small drops in the water--unless you are a best-selling novelist, most trade paperbacks are really only moving into a limited number of hands. Unless you are maybe, like an instagram poets with weirdly large appeal, you're world is already a very limited one.  We know this, and yet as artists there is always the struggle reach for more--more publications, more accolades, more audience.  All well and good, but sometimes pursuits for those seems hollow sometimes, like a game that is rigged but we like to play regardless. 

So how to go about creating the creative life, knowing the stakes are so very small?  Knowing that even while we are alive, there will be more work and attention given to the things we create than will ever be given it after it releases out into the world?  I guess then all we are left with is not quite legacy, but practice, the wonder that we created anything at all.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

do better

There is much discussion in the po-biz world over politically reactionary poets being rewarded in po-bizzy ways and whether that sort of work should be acknowledged, let alone given support. Sometimes I read articles and am pretty sure the claims of "censorship" flying around are not exactly using the concept correctly.  Inevitably those same defenses jump to Godwinning all over the place and just sort of being embarassing to watch. I'm pretty sure censorship would not exactly be removing your work from a publication (which an editor has every right to do) but more like imprisoning you and taking away your pen. Or forcing you to cross out every objectional thing in black marker wherever you post it.  Even if it's your own blog.

Regardless, sometimes the garbage people start to collect into tiny gross constellations-the reactionaries, the racists, the neo-nazis. That dude (white)who wrote in a problematic way about Michael Brown's death  and the woman (also white) who doing was something racist with Gone With the Wind quotes.  That guy who pretended to be an Asian woman.  Add in the creepers, the rampant abusers, the assholes of the po-biz world  and you have a movement against what they consider the "mob" of poets who dare question or call them out.   Also, pretty much the people who defend them and their work, of course, who seems to do so out of similarly aligned thought patterns of their own (usually disguised in, of course,  1st Amendment garb, but I see you for what you are....)  They call their adversaries "social justice " poets, but I'm not so sure it's about social justice at all and more just not being a trash person. They also like to bring up struggles to silence work in the past--usually of a progressive or daring nature. But aren't quite self aware enough to realize yes, writers historically fight against the silencing of work that is moving forward, but why would you want to reward work that is regressive.?  Is this not antithetical to the purpose of artists in the first place--to make us better humans?

I like to operate under the assumptions that artists, if anyone in this whole world, are the sane ones.  The good ones.  The better ones. Fighting the good fight. We're not always perfect, and the ability to say, "hey, I made a mistake when I wrote that, and I apologize and will do better." goes a long way. Why in the world, as an editor, as a reader, would I want to publish or support the work a horrible person.  So much is said about the "quality" being the only thing that matters. Bullshit.  It matters if you are a quality person, because if you aren't, no matter how good you're work is, I'm not going to read it, publish it, or support it.  There is no disconnect between the artist and the work--it's the same reason I won't watch Woody Allen films or support Louis CK's comedy.  I cannot divorce the work from the artist themselves. In anything. If my Uber driver is a mysogynist prick but still managed to get me home in one piece, yes he's good driver, but I'm not exactly keen to ride with him again.

If the lit community can't work toward being being better people, who will?

Friday, February 15, 2019

a little spring

Yesterday was Valentines Day, and J arrived at my door for our regular sleepover date with a bundle of the lushest, most heavenly smelling pink and ivory roses. I keep smelling them today and thinking about how much flowers of any kind have a strange power to lift my mood.  That one bleak winter two decades ago,  where all I did was sit in the dark and cry in my apartment, I was saved by a trip to the Lincoln Park Conservatory (or at least it seemed like it) where everything was pink and white and lavender.   I remember it only because I kept taking photos with a disposable camera and later developed them and think of it every time I come across one.

Of course,  I have no idea if it actually was the conservatory or just those things coincided, but I do wonder. It had been a bleak start to a year--stressed about my grad classes, about what to do after grad school (which was intended to be teaching, but by then knew that wasn't really my thing.) About money and a million other little hobgoblins I'm sure.  My anxiety, which is usually manageable without treatment went full blown and turned into depression for a couple months.  But by Valentines Day and that trip to the zoo and the to see the flowers with my parents, I was feeling infinitely better.

I've discussed with a friend whether or not summer or winter is more prone to random sadnesses and depression, since for  me, even actual legitimate reasons for being sad are harder to get too down about when the world is green and the weather mild. In winter, whatever seems bad exacerbated by the world outside being basically inhospitable to life.  Everything is harder (this week's icy nearly unwalkable sidewalks being a perfect example), When things are grey and bleak and bare, I feel similar in mindset.  My friend, on the other hand, hates how summer makes you feel like you should be happy and ebullient and it's extra tragic you're not.

Regardless, it's been a rough winter where I'm feeling it a little more even than usual. A little more like circling the drain. It comes and goes, but it does feel a little less hopeless now that the days are longer and spring is a little more in sight.  And flowers, even roses and their shortest of lifespans,  can make a huge difference sitting there on my table and smelling gloriously like summer for as long as they can....

an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger

Last night was our annual (mostly) Breton's Birthday celebration of Surrealism. This year, our theme was Surrealist love letters.  (Largely because the main event coincided Valentine's Day-- Breton's actual B-Day falls next week.) Mostly it's a chance for some collage artmaking, reading some poems, and a final zine project we've been collecting over a couple weeks and promoting some resources in the library. Because a portion of the event was an open mic, I wrote a new piece culled, collage style, from a discarded book with an essay called "The Reach of Imagination" by  Jacob Bronowski.  While maybe not a love letter per se, at least not to an obvious lover,  it actually turned out reasonably good with a couple killer lines (that one at the end of part one is really nice.).


i. into what seeming deserts the poet is born

wooden as a rain gauge or self-registering machine.
The temperature of bloodheat.
The conditioned reflex.  An animal cannot recall,
behave consistently.
The salmon and the carrier pigeon find their way home
as we cannot. The recollection of absent things
 is where the animal falls short,
trying to fix the light in the mind by fixing it in its body.

ii. beautiful papers on the random movement of atoms

an imaginary experiment:
suppose, said Galileo, you drop two unequal balls from
the tower at the same time. The drag or brake.
Your assumption, the contradiction.
The heavier ball falls more slowly,
falling at the same rate when they are tied together.
Speeded up, slowed down.

iii. the price we pay for living a thousand lives

A child begins to play games with things that stand for other things.
All chess players sadly recall the combinations
they planned and which never came to be be played.

*the title of this post is taken from Breton's poem, "Free Union"

Thursday, February 14, 2019

dgp round up | february

*A week or so back, the folks at Quail Bell Magazine interviewed me in regard to press doings. I talk a little about the aims of a feminist press in a crazy world and balancing the demands of running a one-woman it here.

* The Slender Man anthology project, MANSION,  edited by Kristin Garth and Justin Karcher is getting closer and closer to realization and should be available in the next couple of weeks.   It's a really exciting project that features a whole passel of delightful authors and delightfully creepy writing, including some of my own Slender Man pieces, so I am extra excited for the release.

*We're in the process of working through the last of the 2018 chap offerings and the first few of 2019, so keep an eye on the shop's front page for new titles available daily. I am in proofing mode on a few things I'll be finalizing up very soon.  I'll also be finishing up copies on some of the things that debuted right before Christmas and still need to go out.

* Keep an eye out on social media as well for some AWP happenings at the end of March featuring our authors. While I won't be making it this year, plans are afoot for some things organized by dgp-ers that I'll be sending books along for..