Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I'm a bit confused. . .

by other blogs I've read recently that seem to belittle everything I'm trying to do as a poet right now. I never imagined that wanting to publish one's poems in a journal would be a controversial issue, but apparently it is. I understand the principal beind the idea that entering first-book-contests is a bit shady, but I never thought of it as a mark of shame, which is how Ron Silliman characterizes it in his most recent blog. Is it realistic to think that one can be "successful" as a poet without playing the game? I supose it's all about how you define success, and the bottom line is that others will judge you by whay you define as success. Right now, my goal is to publish my manuscript, probably by means of a contest if possible, but I am definitely open to a more "community" oriented mode, if I can find one or one presents itself. I want people to read my poetry, and not just on my blog, which means that I need to publish it in journals. To me, success is sharing my poetry with others, seeing how the world responds to it, and building off of that (to a certain extent). In order to enter a community, one must build their own community or be accepted by another, and while being in a community is a ideal place to be, it's not always so easy to find one, especially one that offers the opportunity to publish and help one's poems BE SEEN. BE read. I don't write poetry in a vacuum. Surely I will be called arrogant for wanting to be read, but I don't care. I write to be read, and success to me is being read.

On the other hand, I would not be the poet I am today without the community I have found here in Chicago. Friends like Simone Muench, Mary Biddinger, Anna Marie Craighead-Kintis, Brandy Homan, Jackie White and new web-friend, Scott Glassman, have inspired me and shaped not only what I write but what I do (where I submit, how I construct syllabi, which book contests might actually read my manuscript before throwing it in the recycle heap). I am amazed on a daily basis by how much people will go out of their way to help me, to guide me, to share with me the difficult lessons they've learned and help me avoid the pain, or just to make the blow less painful when it comes. It is because of this community that I have truly taken ownership of my poetry, come to believe in it, come to actually like the majority of my poems as well as the new direction(s) my poetry is moving. Does this make me arrogant? That it's taken me 15 years of poetry writing to finally believe in myself and believe that I should be being published seems to me an OK place to be. It's the belief that my poetry has something to offer my readers, that I have come here, to this place poetry, to share this.

I feel like I've lost grasp of the "reality" of the situation. Curtis Faville makes a good point in the comments on Ron's blog when he says: "The contest system is designed to provide a means by which, One) Taste can be used to control the structure of literary hierarchies, in their various forms; and Two) Professional discrimination can be made public, enabling literary careers, jobs, and reputations. It is demonstrably NOT about disseminating good writing, or husbanding in avant-garde technique, or furthering "communities" (Ron's favorite pet)". It takes only looking at how boring and mainstream most of the prizewinning books are (aside from a few, of course, like Saturnalia, Alice James, Helicon Nine, Slope Editions)-- nothing innovative or interesting at all going on. Just the same poem, over and over again. No envelope pushing, no paradigm shifting. But where does that leave poets like me and many of my friends (Erika Bernheim comes to mind, an astonishing and amazing poet) who are trying to do something different. . .which more than not is construed as being "too intellectual" even though we're just trying to EXPLORE? Trying to NOT write that same, dry, lyric ego-jacked crap? Any ideas?

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself." Walt Whitman. At least I can be comforted by that.


Justin Evans said...

I had to respond to this before heading out.

Sillman is certainly in his rights to express his opinion, and I agree with the Yale Younger Poets Series, in that there have been several years where the winning poet has been groomed and selected long before the contest. However, there are great first book contests like the Hayden Carruth Award from Copper Canyon Press which is completely legit and has a wide reader base because it is CCP.

Publishing should not be the end goal of the writer, but it is still an important part of the writer's life. Dave Lee always has said, "It's not what you have written, it is what you are writing." I take that to mean you should care more about the work than the accolades. I think so long as you are conentrating on the poetry, and your desire to publish is kept in perspective, and not the consuming factor of your life in poetry, you should be fine. I also think it's a question only the poet can answer.

I wil write more when I get back.

Scott Glassman said...

My major qualm about contests is that they cost dinero, and SO MANY people enter them. I don't feel like I'd be picked either-- Foetry, while overstating the situation, I admit has made me a bit wary of some of the bigger ones. I'm setting out my strategy this way: gather up my credits and go straight to different presses, which is I'm sure, as competitive a process, but one less expensive and one where I might feel less powerless in the whole thing.

I might do maybe one or two contests, sort of like putting my money on a hardway bet in craps (which I played this past weekend in A.C.).

Silliman was DEFINITELY dissing contests though, stopping just short of saying they are garbage machines. His community bias is clear as he talks so much about tight friendships and bonds between poets, Schools (he loves that term), and Scenes as formative and critical. On that note, I'm personally so freakin' grateful for our collaborative effort (and a little jealous of your rich, supportive community in Chicago). But I think that any way you can get into print is ultimately worthwhile. Ted Kooser had to self-publish a lot of his stuff and now he sits with the Pulitzer. I mean, why suffer in anonymity on principle? The real hurdle, which you have already conquered, is believing in yourself.

poetzie said...

Upon re-reading my entry (now many hours later) my tone is more bitter than I intend it to be. I am genuinely confused (with maybe a sprinkle of bitterness here and there). I'm definitely feeling a strong "damned if you do, damned if you don't" kind of vibe right now, and the frustration is probably the source of what seems to be bitterness. Mostly I'm thankful for what I have, and rightfully should be. I suppose a confusioon tantrum is healthy every once in a while :)

Scott Glassman said...

hmmm, your post didn't seem that bitter. I liked it because it helped put Ron's comments into a better perspective for me. There are so many sides to this po-biz it's dizzying, and sometimes I find it really easy to get caught up in the rhetoric, which Ron is clearly all about.

Virtual Rabbi said...

We all want to be published. Nearly all the publishing success I have had through the years has been through friends who knew me, liked my work and were in a position to choose to publish it. I stopped writing at a certain point for several years. Now I am mostly 'without community' and my submissions are returned even though I know my newer work is better. As Reznikoff said, "First there is the need..." I need to do this work, so I do it.

Ben Pincus, MFA
perishing in Rocckland County, NY

I caught this thread through Foetry and Ron Silliman's blog.
I always remember his book Crow with the wonderful poem:

what high lurking hornets buick the moose

Robin said...

You make a number of good points here. I was especially pleased with your observation about poets belittling one another in the blogs because that has bothered me too. I have wondered if it is a primarily masculine thing, a joisting contest of sorts, and I'd be curious to know your thoughts on that.