Monday, November 06, 2006

cranky monkey

This afternoon, I was privy to a bit of discussion that sort of irked me bout literary careers and book publishers and such. One poet was talking about the work of another poet and made a comment that poet #2 had taken a big step down with the publisher of her second book, having gone from a small press that was founded by someone recognizably in the “establishment” --aka the academies, the writing programs, the big boys. (Incidentally, a press that actually isn’t on my radar much and seems to publish sort of bland , nature-epiphany poems but apparently had big prestige-factor.) Anyway the poet had published her second book with a newish, smaller, web-affiliated POD press and had won their contest. But it bothered me again that it’s automatically assumed that if you’re not plying in the big leagues that you are somehow lesser of a poet. That you’re taking a step down by choosing to move in circles that aren’t the bigger more established ones in the poetry world. What I couldn’t figure out is why shouldn’t poet #2 be just as content with her second book’s publication as her first—having collected her prize money and a pretty damned nice looking book to boot. I’m sure she sleeps pretty damned well, as would any of us. Isn’t the art enough, getting it out there. Finding a way to distribute it. I’m of the agreement that bigger name presses and journals function like brands, attempting to lure readers in with their name, which works too, but aren’t the smaller ones producing just as great an amount of work, forging their names as they go. (And I would also argue, sometimes publishing even better work.)

This is just one more in a long-line of stupid comments I’ve heard in the MFA world about publishing. Another recently about contests, someone advising another poet not to enter said contests because it was “small potatoes” and he’d never heard of it or the judge. Does that matter, does it make the prize money or the book any less real? Who exactly are we trying to impress? Who cares if you’re happy and have your book and readers and maybe you, yes you, will be the poet that raises the press from obscurity?

I’m not really a fan of the “poetry career”—the prizes, the grants, the teaching job, wracking up fancy shmancy pub credits, the little piece of fame poet could lay claim to in such a small world (though some occasional cash and ego stroking would be nice, thus I’m not ready to give up on contests, however small fry)...I AM out for a career, though, a readership of some sort, creating work and getting it out there. Perhaps Poet #1’s comments hit a bit close to home since the presses publishing my books are pretty small and newish, but I love them because of that. And I’m a small and newish poet, so it’s a good fit. I’d certainly rather be published by the uncovered jewel than the big and overhyped.

*sigh* the whole conversation just set me grumbling all the way home. I guess I'll just add this to the list of things I continually roll my eyes at, the suggestions that poets :

1) just have to be published in certain “name” journals in order to wrack up credits for their mss. before it will be taken seriously by eds . (It should be the advice to get your work out there as much as possible to garner an audience, wherever you think that audience may lie..)

2) that publishing your poems online is like throwing them in the trash and that you should save your “good” work for print (yes, I actually heard someone say this),

3) that POD is inferior to traditional publishing (I’m beginning to think the exact opposite).

4) That no one will take you seriously if you self-publish. (bullshit.)


Jessica Smith said...

wow, this is like the complete opposite of what they teach you at buffalo. did you read that thing that charles bernstein said (it's on my blog in one of the comments...)? i mean, he's a big deal. i guess i know that people think this way (as you've described) but i guess you should know too that there are hundreds of poets to whom these things are totally foreign concepts.

you'er a good kid, kristy bowen, you're gonna go far. regardless of what the "proper" route is for getting there. plus, your new book is gorgeous.

kristy bowen said...

Thank you. The same very much can be said for you!

I think here, for all their talk about innovation, radical aesthetics, this program is still very much tied to the establishment, and training us to seek out a place in (or rather under) that system. Whereas somewhere like Buffalo, already working from outside the mainstream, can encourage people to forge their own path.

That was great what Bernstein said..if only more poets would listen....

Jessica Smith said...

Well, if we look at it in terms of power structures, Buffalo is doing the same thing as any more conservative program, which is training younger poets to become "great" in the same way that the teachers there and their friends became "great." If more people self-publish, for instance, self-publishing will be considered more legitimate. There are all sorts of routes to "legitimacy" (publishing, BAP, contests, zines, editing, etc.) and it's just a matter of which schema one allies oneself with. Personally, I'm a control freak, so I want to do things My Way, thus self-publishing. In the end, the work will speak for itself regardless of what Path To Legitimacy one's chosen. I hope. BUt perhaps that's just really idealistic of me.

Amanda Auchter said...

Just wanted to let you know that we've (PLR) received your book for review from GRP. We're planning to review it in the Spring 07 issue.

I've included "Bloody Mary" on my blog (as part of my new Poem Friday installation).

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Isn't the art enough?

The art is enough.

K.A. Bell said...

I don't buy into what the old school, back scratching codgers say about online publication and chapbooks. Anyone without a narrow minded view knows that it's all a bunch of crap. You and I have a lot of the same views on the "Po-Biz". I don't really care for the pomp and circumstance...or the grandstanding and gloating. I don't schmooze well with the poetry world, I guess.