Tag Archives: Literary Magazines

“Society is a very culpable entity, and has to answer for the manufacture of many unwholesome commodities, from bad pickles to bad poetry.”

                                                                                    –George Eliot

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Confessional

I don’t write to be liked, I don’t write for acceptance. Countering a steady diet of rejection, I remind myself of this:

“It is not surprising therefore that the most representative literature of our times is light, easy literature, which, without any sense of shame, sets out to be—as its primary and almost exclusive objective—entertaining. But let’s be clear: I am not in any way condemning the authors of this entertainment literature because, notwithstanding the levity of their texts, they include some really talented writers. If today it is rare to see literary adventures as daring as those of Joyce, Woolf, Rilke or Borges, it is not just down to the writers. For the culture in which we live does not favour, but rather discourages, the indefatigable efforts that produce works that require of the readers an intellectual concentration almost as great as that of their writers. Today’s readers require easy books that entertain them and this demand creates a pressure that becomes a powerful incentive to writers.”

This, from Mario Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture, a highly sobering, indispensable discourse on the current state of arts and letters.

Though why not aim high? And especially having read Joyce, Woolf, Rilke, Borges—why not aspire to join their ranks? To match what you admire?

So much talent today, effectively homogeneous: “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

Believe. Go alone. They’re hardly critics, if all they express is opinion. A critical response must, at the least, situate the work in question. Reviewers—but who cares, except the vastly impressionable consumer?

Last word, Truman Capote: “…I’ll give you fifty dollars if you produced a writer who can honestly say he was ever helped by the prissy carpings and condescensions of reviewers.”

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No Comment

“I don’t believe that a reviewer or a critic can really criticize well unless he can praise well. I always liked that about Randall Jarrell. He praised well. James Agee praises well. You’ve got to be able to like the right things to be enabled to dislike the wrong things.”

                                                                                 –James Dickey

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Liberty/License

“…Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.

Let me preach again for one moment: I mean that what you have felt and thought will by itself invent a new style so that when people talk about style they are always a little astonished at the newness of it, because they think that is only style that they are talking about, when what they are talking about is the attempt to express a new idea with such force that it will have the originality of the thought. It is an awfully lonesome business….

Nothing any good isn’t hard….”

                                                                          –F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Go Set a Poet

“The first discipline is the realization that there is a discipline—that all art begins and ends with discipline, that any art is first and foremost a craft. We have gone far enough on the road to self-indulgence now to know that. The man who announces to the world that he is going to ‘do his thing’ is like the amateur on the high-diving platform who flings himself into the void shouting at the judges that he is going to do whatever comes naturally. He will land on his ass. Naturally. You’d think, to listen to the loudspeakers that surround us, that no man had ever tried to ‘do his thing’ before. Every poet worth reading has, but those really worth reading have understood that to do your thing you have to learn first what your thing is and second how to go about doing it. The first is learned by the difficult labor of living, the second by the endless discipline of writing and rewriting and rerewriting. There are no shortcuts. Young writers a while back, misreading Bill Williams, decided to ignore the fact that poems are made of words as sounds as well as of words as signs—decided not to learn the art of words as sounds, not to be bothered with it. They were not interested in poems. They were interested in doing their thing. They did—and that was that.”

                                                            –Archibald MacLeish

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Alignment

“I said that a writer was a man who had antennae; if he really knew what he was, he would be very humble. He would recognize himself as a man who was possessed of a certain faculty which he was destined to use for the service of others. He has nothing to be proud of, his name means nothing, his ego is nil, he’s only an instrument in a long procession.”

                                                                                           –Henry Miller

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Advocate and Ally

“An appreciation of words is so rare that every body naturally thinks he possesses it, and this universal sentiment results in the misuse of a material whose beauty enriches the loving student beyond the dreams of avarice. Musicians know the value of chords; painters know the value of colors; writers are often so blind to the value of words that they are content with a bare expression of their thoughts, disdaining the ‘labor of the file,’ and confident that the phrase first seized is for them the phrase of inspiration. They exaggerate the importance of what they have to say, lacking which we should be none the poorer, and underrate the importance of saying it in such fashion that we may welcome its very moderate significance. It is in the habitual and summary recognition of the laws of language that scholarship delights, says Mr. Pater; and while the impatient thinker, eager only to impart his views, regards these laws as a restriction, the true artist finds in them an opportunity, and rejoices, as Goethe rejoiced, to work within conditions and limits.”

                                                                                 –Agnes Repplier

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Residual

It’s hard, when daily you’re forced to witness the works you treasure, to which you’ve devoted patience and breath, abused and devalued most by those who should be staunch advocates and defenders. I lean on Guy Davenport: “All of this points to our having a society that reads badly and communicates execrably about what we read.” We get what we deserve. We force-feed our children “pleasant, undemanding reading” and do everything to make sure that it positively stays down. Dare to object. Flannery O’Connor’s observation remains spot on: “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.” That’s To Kill a Mockingbird, incapable of aging—of aging well. “Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century.” How is that possible?

“The case against intellect is founded upon a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice, and the ‘purely’ theoretical mind is so much disesteemed. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism.” That’s Richard Hofstadter decades before our great awakening, bolstered by the internet. “I will refuse.”

I lean on my friend and former mentor, Douglas Smith: “Writing and reading always swim together.”

Because an age may fail to recognize genius, or erringly (and stubbornly) approves some lesser talent—is hardly the determining factor: Shakespeare remains foremost…peerless, eminent, unrivaled. To those convinced all writing is equal (as all painting, music, etc.), and that judgment is arbitrary and wholly idiosyncratic (personal/subjective)—there’s really nothing much I can say.

 

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Semplice

“In almost every relationship with his fellowmen the artist will encounter a preponderance of shallowness, conceit, envy, jealousy, profit-seeking, treachery, and dumb resistance.”

                                                        –Jacques Barzun

“Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul.”

                                                           –Emerson

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“Nothing for me.”

Thank you for sending us “—————————.” As writers, we understand how much work goes into creating and submitting your pieces. Unfortunately, this work does not fit in with the current issue on which we are working. We appreciate you taking the time to send to us, and we do hope that you’ll try us again.

It’s a business, that’s all. Pursuing publication in literary magazines takes a seasoned callus, a quick snicker for the form rejection concluding all correspondence with various selecting committees (editors…no—unless editing equals arranging, as a florist assembles disparate flowers in a slender vase). Peremptory form rejections enforce, as a common factor, power over. The imbalance always favors the selectors, never the writer. I’m not inclined to submit—I offer.

“As writers…” So they admire the sustained effort, long hours immersed in solitude, dead ends and sacrifice. Then why the dismissive form rejection? When I invest my work with hours, days, weeks, months, a year or more—and for an essay well short of a thousand words…the return is a pre-conceived, timid template with minimal investment from the respondent. And yet—I’m required to craft a witty cover letter, outlining personality and endeavor. I’m required to notify them immediately should I need to withdraw my work. I’m required, I’m required.

“As writers…” The implication: they’re better qualified, especially attuned to style and nuance, and more sensitive to subtlety and complexity than, say, a common reader. The correlation is hardly absolute. Flashback: the fine crop of graduate students commenting on my work lacked refined reading skills and sharp judgment, fondly rejecting outright anything that “did nothing for me.” They were prime for teaching, with swift recollection of names, dates, titles, first lines. Perfect for appeasing little inquiries.

I ask fair reading. I’ve stumped for that before. For those positioning themselves “as writers,” why no acknowledgment of mechanism or craft, which my work necessarily employs? Ah, I outpace myself. First they must know the devices.

“As writers…” Apparently in their vast reading this selection committee failed to register the lean etymology of the verb send. Heavily transitive, it has little force minus a direct object. Intransitive, send has scant leeway in its employment: e.g., “send out for pizza,” “send for an updated catalog.” Someone who can’t construct a simple sentence will grasp my writing? It’s a losing prospect. How easy to misread draught for drought… 

Abandon all hope, ye who submit here. All hope of adequate response, timely decision, engaged reading, professional conduct. No offense—I began writing years before many of these readers ever took a breath outside the womb. I eagerly submit to masterful writing. I’d much rather converse with Balzac, Dickinson, Defoe, Austen, Beckett, Shakespeare et al.

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