I’ve been thinking more about something that came up in Monday’s discussion, something I mentioned about subjectivity. I was blasting the New Yorker, as I am want to do, because, though I, like everyone at some point, years ago, thought it the crowning achievement, and now, after actually, like reading other sorts of poetry, realize it most definitely is NOT. Still, I mentioned that really all I have to judge whether something is bad or good IS my personal like or dislike. Sure, there are things, criteria, we can agree on. Dirty-limerik type rhymes for example, or clichéd expressions (though we might disagree what is clichéd after all). Beyond that, I have certain criteria that other people do not. They expect things I do not. In poetry, it is completely true that beyond a few standards that raise a poem from terrible incompetency, no one really speaks the same language when they talk about “good” poems, or “excellent” poems, or “sublime” poems.
One of Chris’s points was that, in limiting subs to women, we might miss out on something “great,” with the underlying position, I’m assuming, that the aim of publications should be to publish the best of the best—the greatest—the sublime, and that somehow we might miss that by our limitation. I think one of the reason I’m not particularly bothered by this is that, to me, the idea of greatest, some universal standard of awesomeness, is completely unfathomable to me. Great according to who and what standards? The canon? What literary mag X or Y says? And aren’t those standards subject to suspicion?
In the end, I publish what I like. What interests me. I publish books that I want to read. I’ve said this before. That doesn’t mean I expect everyone to like then. But I wind up publishing those books and poems I love enough to devote time to wind up w/ sore hands, and an occasionally cranky back, from stapling and folding to bring them into being. I do it out of love, not for some grand idea of the “best” or what literature should be, but because I love these books and want to put them into the world. I’m not trying to change literature, or contribute to some grand culture (though I DO somehow, as any press does, it’s inevitable, but a delightful byproduct.) And I would gesture most small presses are driven by a similar subjectivity—at least the ones not driven by the bottom line. I am saying, these are books I adore, you should read them, too. Words like “best” and “greatest” just don’t mean anything to me. According to who?