On Humility & Ambition

Know poetry? See, for example, The New Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (Lewis Turco). Know atrophy and dearth.

Contributions? Literary magazines remind us of our elections: we get what we deserve. Self-appointed appraisers, screeners (a.k.a. readers/editors), eager fledglings, go-getters…they convene and cast their recommendations. Thumbs up (yea), thumbs down (nay). Big deal. All the right reasons—sometimes all the wrong.

Do I write for the approval?

Want more? We have an editor’s market, an endless supply, and little incentive to give writers a chance. Such overabundance of submissions makes it far easier to say no than to request a revision or clarification. A bit closer: few editors from these small magazines seemingly have the ability (or the patience and generosity) to detect something slightly off, something that lacks refinement. A rare confession: “I read it myself and I’m afraid I could not quite get a grip on it.”

I wonder what exactly they are capable of—beyond the form rejection or brief acceptance. “Time of no reply.” The absence of dialogue and overall lack of interest would astonish the most casual observer (and dispirit those situated outside the innermost circle). Except no one wants to be called out. Not enough time and effort devoted to becoming critical, discerning—masterly readers. They got what they wanted.

We have our specs.

“One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves.”

Still in print: The Old Testament.

Nowadays craft takes a beating. An easy target, craft is not the culprit. Rather, rage for the innovative and crossing genres (so much for novelty). What instruction? All that matters for a writer: What I am drawn to / What I can’t avoid. The study of craft becomes problematic only when equated with formula, the dry application of technique. Nothing to do with promotion and that first book. The question remains that of merging, of bracing vision with craft. But one must have something to say.

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