Saturday, April 08, 2017
Today I was doomed to the library, Open House day, and the Creative Writing Dept. was hosting info sessions on the library's 3rd floor like every other year, I am always amused by the baby writers, so young and hopeful and unformed. And their parents, who are pretty much my age (yikes!) and how much I appreciate that they are encouraging their baby writer to go on and study writing and not something respectable like accounting or computer science or engineering. Art school is a gamble, maybe more now than when I was myself a baby writer. As I was passing through the back hallway, I flipped through one of the departmental brochures they had left behind and kinda wished I'd encountered such a program as an undergrad. I was pretty much only lit in college, with a couple workshops here and there, but nothing as well-wrought as CC's program, not at the undergrad level. So I was a rough poet until I really sort of figured it out on my own until I enrolled in an MFA program. I've known some amazing undergad poets who've come through the program (and more from the grad program, both while I was in it and afterwards) and hell, have even published many of them through dgp. I'm not sure if they start out that way, or get that way, but there are gems there if you look for them.
As I flipped through the brochure, I felt caught between worlds..not the baby poet, not even the grad student I was 10 or so years ago, but not quite the seasoned poets who were listed as faculty with details on publications and awards and such. Maybe it's an academic thing,,I have an MFA but do not teach, so while I have just as many books and publications, I lack a certain cache, A certain sparkle. Sometimes I call some people the "fancy poets" who do things like residencies and win NEA Fellowships--many of whom are also amazing, but I feel always like the interloper who somehow wrote a lot of poems but secretly, with no one really knowing. I also know fancy poets who actually write very little and seem lucky enough to still be fancy. I've published books with fancy presses, even on a fancy award at least once, Even occasionally I wind up in a fancy journal by luck or timing or someone seeking me out. But still the feelings of being an outsider. And maybe this is good, to be on the outside of things--to have been always the rallying cry for decentering the lit culture and dismantling the academic poetry industrial complex. To have fought for certain types of legitimacy as I sat on blog comment threads and even real-life panels where people looked at me with a certain disdain for saying you needed to do things like self-publish and start presses and not be anyone's bitch, least of all legitimacy's.
Sometimes I feel like I came through a long journey or a war against my younger poet self and out the other side. It's not bad, and actually sort of freeing, but a weird place to exist-neither here nor there. My first years as a poet in Chicago were surrounded largely by the open mic set. we had readings and made our ownchapbooks and legitimacy be damned. Granted most people were only there to read their own stuff, but there was an energy, even when the poetry as bad Later, academia seemed to be holding onto it tight fisted and sort of pale as people talked about "top-tier journals" and "a-list publications" and "send to THIS press, not THAT one" it all made me sort of nauseous. I think its true that many people leave academia and never write again, either becuase they loose interest or get busy with real life, or find something lacking. I've seen many of them move on happily with lives doing other things and enjoying them immensely. Most days, no one I know in real life knows I write poems or would want to read them. So the cool part is the stakes are never high enough to make a ripple..so I get to write about weird stuff. Also like I'm getting away with something.
The press is similar, and I used to laugh when people seemed amazed that I had the audacity to start a chapbook series, some negatively so, My tenure as a sort of gatekeeper has of course, made me less awe-inspired of other gatekeepers. In the end, we all publish what we love. I could say it's "important" and it is, but not in the way that some editors would have you believe straddled atop their cultural capital. That's true whether your reading for the New Yorker or a little operation like dgp. It's a person, or in some cases people, who have tastes (or similar tastes) and something sparks. It's important to get the work out there, but not always important simply because you put it out there.
But I hope the baby poets come to realize all this sooner than later, because the road is much less bumpy on the other side...