Fear and loathing on the publication trail

I greet my new Poets & Writers magazine in the mail with a mixture of pleasure and anguish, excitement and dread. There are always interesting articles, interviews, tidbits, sometimes things that give me ideas for writing or submitting or PR. But then there are the page after page of winners who are not me, all of whom look attractive in their photos and whose poems sound profound and trenchant, whose book titles I wish I’d thought of. Then there are all the MFA programs that sound fabulous that I can’t afford now that I’ve already gotten an MFA, which taught me enough to know what I don’t know such that an MFA would be useful. And all those faculty of those MFA programs of whom I’ve never heard, even though they all likely have impressive publications listings, because after all see all those previous pages of winners for all those contests and book awards. I might as well just crawl right under a rock and leave my notebook outside in the rain. And I’m going to do that too. Just as soon as I’ve read this one article. And maybe sent a poem or two to this one publication. Just in case. But this makes me think about the complex attitude the arts has toward ambition. One is supposed to have ambition for one’s work, but ambition for one’s, in a writer’s case, publication record seems to be considered crass. Only one faculty member in my MFA program frankly discussed seeking publication. Everyone else delicately eschewed the topic. In this month’s P&W there are two wonderful articles about the peculiar passions that drive a writer of poetry. And then I turn the page and read about a million dollar deal for a novel by an unknown writer. What am I to do with this? I was at an area art show recently where local painters were charging $400 for pleasant little paintings. When I hear my painter friends talk about swapping paintings with each other, and ask if someone will swap a painting for a poem, or, heck, a whole book of poems, they just laugh. As if my years of toil over the poems is not in the same league as theirs over their canvas, because mine go through a printing press (or however books get published these days). Although I don’t write my poems or create my videopoems intending them to be the start of a conversation, ultimately they are an expression, and, as a member of a species that thrives in community, I invite a response, even if I never hear it. So publication in some form or another is a natural desire in order to begin that interaction. And if I can get a $100 for my work, well, shouldn’t I try? Shouldn’t I actively want that kind of compensation and affirmation? Or is it screwy — and a testament more to the toxic affects of capitalism than a natural desire for readers for my writing — to think that a monetary response to my output is affirmation? Oh, whatever. Mama needs a new pair o’ shoes.

One thought on “Fear and loathing on the publication trail

  1. Oh boy – I got my copy, too and actually leave IT out in the rain…more or less on purpose. I worked at Great Camp Sagamore recently and Bill Smith, Adirondack storyteller, was on as the evening’s entertainment. He carves these wonderful hiking staffs out of poplar with interesting little old mountain man faces on them and bear tracks. He charges $60. I asked him how much time he spends on each one. He described in detail the labor he puts in over some days or a week or two. I told him: “I took eight years to write my novel and they cost $25 a piece.”
    He just smiled.


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