Thursday, March 08, 2012

yet another session with the "legitimacy" goblin..

I was thinking again today about the po-biz ickiness I've been feeling the past week or so, which has nothing to do with the actual work I'm writing (or publishing for that matter) but maybe more about prevailing ideas that I see tossed around in other peoples blogs and facebooks regarding the age old "legitimacy" goblin. Today, it got another jolt with the Html Giant piece on the NEA / Blazevox issue (basically since some authors kick a percentage in to subsidize their books with the press, them, and any Blazevox titles do not help meet the published books minimum for applying for the grant.) I tend to be of the opinion that the work itself is going to be the primary determiner of "legitimacy*, ie if it's great work, no matter how it's brought into the world, it will be read and made "legitimate" as such. Why in the writing world does helping fund your ventures make one thing less "art" than something else, when it doesn't really anywhere else--the film world, the music world, the art world?

I think what irked me is that, all things about a given work being equal, something you helped subsidize would not be "counted" in such a situation, yet something published by, say a friend's press, or a lover's press, or your best friend from your MFA program's press would be "counted". Not that there is anything really wrong with that, or self-publishing (obviously, I do it all the time), but it seems like the party line is award-granting/official po-biz position is that the only way to get a book legitimately into print is the over the transom or contest model (or at least something that SEEMS like it). Also well and good, but less and less likely to happen in these days of dwindling publication funds and pricey open reading periods. Good books come into the world in all sorts of different ways, and privelging one way over others is sort of ridiculous. Yes, it's very easy & tempting to self-publish a not-so-great book (but also not-so-great books get published by presses all the time.) The question of whether you can get someone to read it and develop an interest in your work, if you can build an audience, that's a whole other thing. (Of course, people are obviously interested in what I might call bad poetry and someone else might call genius. You never know.)

Admittedly, I've been lucky a couple times in the so-called "legitimate" way. I had no prior connection to some presses that have published/will publish my work (Ghost Road, Black Lawrence, NMP), but in a couple other cases I probably benefitted by knowing the people choosing manuscripts (at least as a former contributor and/or blog aquaintance--like Susanna Gardner at Dusie who I sent in the bird museum becuase I knew she shared my love of Victoriana). Everything else, I've pretty much put out there myself. I can't say my "legitimately" published books are any better than my "illegitimate" ones.

My opinions on this occasionally get me into trouble when it somes to some conversations about this, particularly in academic circles, certain panels where I've disagreed with other writers on this point. Mostly people just get really uncomfortable when I talk about it. Some just look sort of scared, like I'm in danger of upsetting the fragile poetry eco-system and sending everything to hell in a handbasket.

I always struggle with this sort of thing when deciding the fate of certain projects. When Ghost Road dumped girl show back in my lap after having it under contract for almost 3 years, I thought maybe I might just publish it as a Lulu book or make it into chap since it was, at that point, sort of older work.(at which point someone actually told me I shouldn't since, if I put it out under the rubrick of dgp, people would take the press less seriously--I guess she missed the fact that over the years I've issued several little chaps of my own amongst the other titles..) I sent it to Black Lawrence, who ended up taking it, but when they did, I was already thinking of just making it a chapbook somewhere down the line. I'm happy they took it, and no doubt their readership will spread it wider abouts than just me and dgp... but it really would have been okay if they hadn't. I would have eventually just put it out myself. I sort of published havoc instead of submitting it anywhere, because I don't have anything really new to sell at readings or promote at the moment. I would like to get the james franco series in't a journal as an e-chap, but it that doesn't work, I'll probably maybe make a little book, or maybe, make my own e-chap somehow and just link it off my website or here at the blog. Ditto with beautiful sinister.

I struggle sometimes with the desire to spread my work across more outlets in general and my control freaky desire to just issue and control everything myself, but once in a while, that "legitimacy" thing comes up and I realize some people probably see me as lesser a poet because I do release my own stuff on occasion. I start to wonder I should send stuff out to other presses, but then wonder if I'm only doing that because I'm afraid of the alternative. That while I feel like it's a system that needs to be torn down, I still feel beholden to it. It sucks. Everyone wants to be seen as "legitimate" I guess, important, worth reading. It sends you into this self-doubt spiral. Other people sometimes make it better or worse. It becomes this messy knot of contradiction. It's made even more complicated by the disprepancies between the art and writing worlds I exist in. No one bats an eyelash if I produce an artists book or zine with my visual art, but many writers I know would quickly dismiss a slender chapbook of poems for the mere fact it doesn't have someone else's name stamped on its spine.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

I definitely agree with everything you are saying here, Kristy!