LET'S BE HONEST... Over the last week or so, the poetry blogosphere has been ripe with folk griping about the "cultural elite" in the poetry world. If you are a poet with a blog, know too many poets, ever had a friend/acquaintance select your work for publication, edit a lit mag or operate a small press -- you are part of the cultural elite and you should be ashamed of yourself. Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel and its press, was taken to task for using her "wealth" to publish all her friends. All of this elicits a big whatever from me. Let's be honest about this: friends are going to publish friends. It's been happening since the beginning of time and will continue. Dana Goodyear will probably have another four or five poems in The New Yorker when all is said and done. My advice: make more friends.

If an editor decides to publish a friend or acquaintance's work, it shouldn't be poetry as pity fuck. I hope that an editor I know, or who I've met in blogland, would never publish me out of some feeling of obligation. If the work is not up to snuff, don't publish it. I've been friends with Tania Rochelle, the poetry editor of The Chattahoochee Review, for a number of years, and she hasn't published anything of mine. Nor has Dan Veach, editor of Atlanta Review, despite the fact that I sit on the community board of Poetry Atlanta, which created the journal. Am I bitter about this? I could be, but I'm not. Both Tania and Dan have specific ideas of what they want a poem to be, and mine just don't fall into that category. Real friends won't publish you out of pity; they'll tell you to write better shit and get back to them. Having read the majority of No Tell Press' books, I can safely say that Reb isn't publishing subpar work. She's a tough cookie who knows what she likes and if she doesn't, she'll reject it. I have the emails to prove it. No Tell is publishing challenging work by good poets. Period. And if they happen to be Reb's friends, good for her. We should all be so lucky.

In another instance, the wonderful poet Peter Pereira selected some of my poems for an upcoming edition of In Posse Review. It's no secret (since we both blasted it across our blogs and via emails to anyone who might be coming to AWP), that I booked Peter as a featured poet at my Poetry at Portfolio Center series while he was in town for AWP. Peter had selected my poems before we ever actually met, and I know he would have rejected my work if it wasn't strong enough. You do put some of your integrity on the line by who you choose to publish, so I'm honored that Peter thought my work was worthy.

Here's another admission: Most of the work I've had published in zines and journals over the last two years has been solicited. I know, I know...the horror. Some of it has been from editors I know, some from editors I've never met who read my work elsewhere. I guess I really am part of the cultural elite now -- I don't even have to submit my work anymore. But I do. I still enter a contest every now and then and I was recently rejected by Poetry. Guess I haven't quite worked my way to the top of the elite food chain just yet.

Post AWP, there has also been a call for different kind of conference...something for those who work outside academia or operate indie or micro presses and online zines. I wholly support this. AWP is academic-based, which is fine, but there are so many independent presses and mags not affiliated with education these days, there should be room for a conference where issues of funding, publishing, publicity, etc. could be hashed out on a smaller scale. The final count of folks at AWP in Atlanta was 5,400. That's about 2,400 too many for me. I've been spoiled by the Austin Poetry Festival, which attracts a thousand or so folks and it's laid back atmosphere of readings, slams and workshops. Lulled into elitism again. Sigh.

Over the weekend I was talking to a good poet friend of mine and we got into a debate about a well-known poet accused of publishing his/her friends, or allowing it to happen over a number of years. My friend said the poet in question was a great poet and a very nice person, which I don't doubt. My beef is that this person took money for contests, then tried to pretend there wasn't an agenda already laid out for a friend (or friend of a friend) to receive publication. Just be upfront about it, for fucks sake. Don't take a poor poets $25 entry fee so you can raise enough dough to publish your friend's book. That's just theft. Hold an open reading period, get some grants, or invest your own money. Better yet, spend hardly any money and do print-on-demand publishing and make the poet get off his/her ass and do some publicity. Stop worrying about being a "careerist" and get your poetry to readers.

When you get right down to it, the whole debate over publishing friends and elitism in poetry is another storm in a teacup. I've said it before, but poetry is the niche-est of niche markets. Some poets are never going to feel like they are getting the attention they think they deserve. So they'll just tear down someone else to make themselves feel better and try to pass blame for their own lack of moxie. Less bitching, more writing.

Oh, and to add insult to those I've probably already insulted, I'm a guest blogger over at VRZHU Press' fab site today (and take note of the two new collections forthcoming from this exciting new indie press). I've written of my secret love for Yoko Ono and reviewed her new album, Yes, I'm A Witch. Thanks, Dan, for asking me to contribute. My elitism knows no bounds.

Comments

Justin Evans said…
Collin:

Peter accepted one of my poems into In Posse Review---all because Dean is my father's third cousin. We did a little geneology and yup: Dean and I are related.

It's the only explanation I can come up with for my poem being accepted. It's all about the networking. I'd also have to admit I was accepted because I am a Mormon. How else would you explain my ability to decode the following clues from a geneological deconstructive point view?

I mean, who else could decipher these clues:

Dean's last name is Evans.
My last name is Evans.
Dean grew up in Utah.
I grew up in Utah.

"Hmmmmmmmm. I guess that means you will have to use nepotism in my favor at some time in the future, Peter. we're practically in-laws."
Collin said…
I always knew you were an elitist bitch, Justin, and for that you should be ashamed. Or spanked. ;-)
im glad i stick to sleeping with wealthy international businessmen.
Reb said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reb said…
I only sleep with wealthy international businessmen. How do you think I acquired all that cultural capital?
Collin, you crack me up: "storm in a teacup..." I am totally going to have to steal that one the next time someone's making drama around me.

Anyway, not much I can say more than I agree. When I founded and edited the journal ante up (all gone now :( ) and when I was editor at mamazine.com (both poetry) I solicited my friends for sure - they were poets I knew whose worked was good and I liked. After the first few issues, I opened it up more and more, once the example of style and quality was set. And still: I continued to solicit from my friends.

and ps: I don't know anyone who hasn't been rejected from Poetry. There was an issue a few months back in which the rejected Franz Wright wrote angry letters to Poetry and Poetry angry ones back talking about why they didn't publish him. They are annoying: they didn't publish him because they wanted to prove a point that "just because you are a famous, award-winning poet doesn't mean we'll publish you." Talk about elitist...
rae said…
You're great, Collin. This post made my day.

- Rach
Justin Evans said…
Collin:

I need to reconsider all of this.

After much thought, I realize the real reason Peter accepted one of my poems is because I told him several months ago that having his first book via a trade for my chapbook (and cash to make up the difference), I would be buying his second book. He was in my debt. I guilted him into selecting one of my poems.
Anonymous said…
I hope you're tradmarking Poetry as Pity Fuck. Thats funny. I bet a lot of poets hate it when you call them on their shit.

GAV
Collin said…
I doubt you could guilt Peter into anything. Perhaps you just wrote something he really liked, but since you're related and all, you're still an elitist. There's no escaping it now.

Hate is such a strong word, Gav. Maybe intensely dislike.
Peter said…
Hahaha
Thx, Collin.
This was so funny! And spot on.

A poetry journal named "Pity Fuck?" Hehehehe. Now there's an idea I could get behind. ~grin~
Peter said…
PS: Justin. Are you Mormon? Uh, oh. I'm in trouble now. *wink*
Robert said…
Any friend that can reject your poems is the real deal. And those that take your poems based on your name instead of the work does more harm than good - to you and to poetry. I'm still a fan of blind-judging to eliminate both sides of that equation sometimes, but poetry has always been about a continuity of thought among thinking people, called poets, and that means the Pounds and Elliots of our time are still going to feed off each other and promote each other's work. As it should be.
Robert said…
Someday I'll figure out how to get my subject and verb to agree. Meanwhile, those that does harm bewares!
Justin Evans said…
Peter:

Yes, I am Mormon, but I don't let it bother me.

Collin:

Does my being Mormon mean I don't get my spanking?
Andrew Shields said…
I was curious about PWADJ's comment about Franz Wright's letters to Poetry. I remembered them as having been in a "Humor" issue, as part of their parodies of letters to the editor.

So I looked them up. I was wrong; they were in the May 2005 issue. But the editors did not say what PWADJ remembers them as having said. They wrote: "We include [these letters] for three reasons. First, we thought it might be interesting and worthwhile for our readers to get a behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process and the occasional fallout from that. Second, the letters underscore the point that, just as in Harriet Monroe's day, Poetry treats all manuscripts equally, including those from Pulitzer Prize winners. And finally, well, we just coudln't resist."

That's all "they" said about the letters. PWADJ's paraphrase and misquotation are not fair.
so what did ever happen to baby jane?
Collin said…
Andrew...yes, PWADJ paraphrased, and while the response from Poetry was not "angry" it was definitely catty as hell. "And finally, well, we just couldn't resist." That's a bitchslap back at Wright, but who the hell writes a journals (esp. someone of his stature) to complain because they didn't take his work. Both sides are a bit petty...like much of the po'biz today.

Montgomery...I think she lives in Florida.
Robin said…
This shit cracks me up. I blogged about this a bit last week. Some of those leading the charge for an "alternative" to AWP are nothing if not among the so-called "poetry elite" (definition: "Anyone else who's taking attention away from me and the shining genius of my work").

The business about "rebels" opposed to "stodgy AWP" is extra-funny to me. AWP left MLA because it was so unfriendly to actual writers (as opposed to critics/theorists). Some folks lard the work with theoretical preconceptions up front and then make a stick-puppet and call it a "poem" and think they're heeding Pound's call to "make it new." But the so-called poem itself is DOA.

If poets think AWP is "too academic," they should have a taste of MLA in between Christmas and New Year's in one of those cold Northern cities. (Pack your black clothes and Dieter-glasses so you can blend in!!!!)


And yes, many people publish "their friends." And many people don't. Publishing is just a numbers game. As you well know, you can always choose to captain your own ship and bypass the whole mess, for relatively little up-front cost and with equally-powerful promotion and distribution tools.

Rejection and acceptance has nothing to do with fame in the end. It has to do with knowing where your work will fit in, whether the work itself stands on its own two legs, and/or whether or not you should do your own thing! Those are calls that only the individual poet can answer. The more a poet knows about his or her craft (and mind), the less all this silly clique stuff matters.

Write, read, don't believe the hype. Don't say OR, say AND. Read at AWP AND away from AWP. Write in the larger community AND write in the university. Don't cut yourself off from ANY opportunities to follow poetry.

That's my 2 cents.
Collin said…
Some excellent points, Robin, but I still firmly believe an indie publisher/lit mag conference would be very helpful. AWP may not be MLA but it skews academic. I don't think that's bad at all...I'm sure I'll be attending AWP again in the future. However, something on a smaller scale for the indie crowd with more nuts and bolts types of workshops on starting a micro or indie press etc. would be quite helpful. It doesn't have to necessarily be an alternative to AWP, just something more focused on that segment of the poetry community.
Andrew:

Just popped in again and saw your note - yes, I *boldly* paraphrased where no PWADJ has paraphrased before - my "impression" of this sentence:

"Second, the letters underscore the point that, just as in Harriet Monroe's day, Poetry treats all manuscripts equally, including those from Pulitzer Prize winners."

was that Poetry was proud to make a point that they could (and would) reject a much-loved prize winner. Which I find...I guess annoying.

And absolutely, Collin, re: petty. I was secretly ashamed that Franz kept writing back and I almost thought he was serious. It made me like "Vineyard" a little less...
Maybe if Poetry rejected more of what it takes and accepted more of what it lets drift away... it would be what Monroe started. At least then, the issues showed vision.

Any who-- this is a great, great series of comments, Collin.
Robin said…
Sure, Collin-- I'm not saying there shouldn't be another conference. I am saying that it's pretty much a straw man to say that AWP is somehow biased against "alternative" poetry.

Playing devil's advocate: most of this "alternative" stuff looks to me like refried Postmodernism, Surrealism, Dada, and Modernism--which at this point are not alternatives to anything except the next new thing, whatever that is. Not bad--just not "alternative," if by that we mean "cutting edge." And yes, this is the same argument that is made (with great hostility and contempt) against contemporary poets writing in form.

Too much black/white, either/or mentality. Too much confusing technique/approach with moral imperative.

What precisely is the *alternative* being presented? Alternative to what *specifically about* AWP? That's the part I genuinely don't get... he'p me out here!

I'm an advocate of poetry and of innovation, not of self-righteous tribalism (and I have said the same thing about certain formalist cliques, too). What is the innovation that AWP has stifled?
Robin said…
Oh, BTW... there was an indie mag conference in New Orleans the past couple of years before Katrina... maybe it's still happening? Surely there is one/are some.

If the point is about *publishing,* then I can see why some folks might want to do that. OTOH, why not just get an exhibitor's table at AWP? If the expense is prohibitive (which for many indies, I'm sure it is), then why not grab someplace like a community center or state park, put tables up in the main hall, and camp/stay cheaply nearby? That could be a really good time...
Collin said…
I don't think anyone is saying AWP has stifled innovation. What has been suggested is something on a smaller, less expensive scale. I tried to do a little cost analysis for someone coming from out of state for AWP. A room at the Hilton starts at at more than $100 per night, so there's nearly $500 right there. With airfare, food, registration fees, etc. we're talking about anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 to attend AWP from out of state. I'm guessing that universities foot the bill (or part of it) for some participants, but the folks doing the indie stuff pay all of it out of pocket.

Beyond the cost, I would personally like to see some workshops on panels on starting an indie/micro press, more readings from the authors involved, some panels on blogging/MySpace, publicity, print-on-demand, getting funds for readings, etc. The real nuts and bolts stuff you're not going to see at AWP. And I'd also like to see it a bit more relaxed and not so overbooked with events that you can actually go to stuff and not miss 20 other things.

I haven't really researched if there is something similar to this already happening. I've just heard from other poets who are in support of such an event. Perhaps someone will get the ball rolling. I'd certainly attend.

Popular Posts