I’ve been hearing rumblings regarding the Campion essay in the latest issue of Poetry. Having taken a perusal I can’t say I even understand what that essay is actually about -- it sort of wanders through a myriad of maturbatory high falutin’ literary references all over the place while stopping near the middle to take a quick jab to the ribs of poetry blogs. While I could easily just brush it off as spawned by a certain neo-conservative knee-jerk technophobia and its appearing in Poetry for god's sake, (the most vanilla publication I know of), it still somehow riles me.
While I too sort of cringe at the academic careerism so many poets seem to be completely fixated on, ie whether this MFA is better than that one, whether this journal is more noteable for my CV, this prize more important, etc . I think it’s really only a symptom of the academic culture where such things have a huge bearing on whether or not you can keep a job or get a better one. Even though I’m not really on that side of things, not desiring to teach, I have to admit I do think about this IS sort of a poetry “career” I’m fostering. Trying to get my work out there to an audience, trying to get these things I write into some sort of circulation, and hopefully the largest circulation I can get.
So many people, and oddly typically ones with essays in places like Poetry and way swank presses like U. of Chicago publishing their books, like to say it’s all about the POEM, and not publication. (Ask them that if their poems and books were still largely unpublished and you’d see a whole different attitude) Well yes, the poem is the first thing, that’s where your focus should be when you’re writing it... But when you’re done, what then? You want a way to share it, or at least I do. I mean there are various ways to do this, writing groups, readings, publication, whatever works for you. Typically, these things like winning prizes and cushy publication credits are the best way to get the maximum exposure. And in a way, this becomes some sort of career. You know, for some reason, I don’t see these discussions going on regard to novels. Fiction writers seem far more comfortable in their yearning for publication and a career as a writer. Perhaps it’s because they actually can have a “career” in the money-making sense, but they don’t seem to be quite as embarrassed by their ambition as many poets seem to be.
As I said before, I rather like to read about other people’s trials in the world of poetry, how to get their work out there, things like process and inspiration. It makes me feel less alone in this crazy “career.” Occasionally I learn a few things. And since I’m a freak for literary voyeurism and biography, I especially love reading such things from writer’s I admire and sometimes even the ones I don’t. The article also ignores the blogosphere as community. Since I’m not typically surrounded in my daily existence by hoardes of like-minded writing folks with a couple of exceptions, the online community has been invaluable in offering support, advice, reading recommendations, and I’ve met quite a few very cool people, poets and non-poets.
My own blog began as a xanga journal which for a long time was really just a new incarnation of the marble composition books I kept prior…..one that I could update more regularly when I was bored at my day job. Yes, I talk about writing and things I’ve read or encountered online. Occasionally, there’s some self-examination of my work. Yes it’s narcissistic. Rarely will I give you a serious discussion on poetics since I’m primarily a sensualist and not all that intellectual as some of the poetry bloggers I read regularly.. Nor can I offer you any discussion on my generation of poets or what have you.. Campion asks "Could these writers really have such little felt experience outside "the poetry world"? Personally, my daily surroundings and activities are largely guided by poetry and books, working in a library and doing this poetry thing, and reading quite a bit. Yeah, this is pretty much it, it’s not like I’m climbing mountains or fighting in wars, or doing any typically male great Hemingwayesque adventures that inform my writing. I spend a lot of time commuting, slacking off at work, writing poems, revising poems, reading blogs, reading poetry books and novels, listening to music, etc. I occasionally spend some time weekly updating my website in shameless self-promotion, working on various publishing projects, studying up on submissions, obsessing over my manuscripts, my chapbooks, what I’ve sent out and when I’ll hear back. What is this blog for? Well, it’s hooked to my website, so it primarily contains any good news, any random neuroses about writing or publishing, the occasional rant, writing or non-writing related. I started my website largely to hook together all the places online where my poems were appearing, but now I use it as well to sell chapbooks, talk a bit about who I am, what I do. I try not to get too personal on the blog,, since this is a public forum, so I won’t talk about my private life on the whole that could get me into hot water with the folks I see on a daily basis. I will talk about things I’ve read, things I’ve seen, and occasionally indulge in a bit of thinking out loud and random brainstorming. Sometimes I will toot my own horn, sometimes I’ll toot anyone else's horn who I think deserves it. Sometimes I will mope, sometimes I’ll talk about the weather.I’ll even talk about submitting –gasp!!—or the book manuscript I’m working on—gasp!!!—or how I got rejected from some publication I wanted to be a part of ever so badly.
So many poets I’m convinced try to make it look like they don’t think about publication but I suspect it’s a whole lot of smoke and mirrors.I’m fully ready to cast off the veil—yes, I submit my work, nearly all of it eventually, yes, I want to be published, yes, I’ll promote my own work any way you give me a chance to. I write with publication in mind, with an audience in mind (people are always surprised by this). Not any particular publication or audience, but nevertheless. I remember reading an interview with a poet whose work I like very much and who’d been pretty active in the city giving readings and such and she made it rather defensively clear that she didn’t seek any of those readings out, yet had been sought out by the coordinators. Fuck that, I’ll read anywhere I see a good chance to. (and thus have been termed a poetry whore on occasion) From the swanky SAIC ballroom for Poetry Center of Chicago to the crappiest dive bar with three people in the audience. One reason is that I like to read, probably vestiges of my theatre background, even at open-mics, but another is that it’s getting that work out there, not allowing it to moulder on my hard drive. I want publications, prizes, I want books, not to validate me really , but because these are the things that writers, whatever your genre, want. Otherwise, we’d be doing something else. If that’s “careerism,” so be it.