Tag Archives: Publishers

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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Cursory Reading

Lord Byron: “There are more poets (soi-disant) than ever there were, and proportionally less poetry.”

Similarly, there are more editors (soi-disant) than ever there were, and proportionally less editing.

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Incorporated

It’s a shame—but not surprising—how closely literary magazines parallel the corporate world. Their dedicated staff may claim immunity, falsely subscribing to a romantic notion of purpose. But with colleges and universities willingly and eagerly adhering to market standards, triumph of the commercial…

Let’s compare. The first two responses below are from literary magazines, the third from a potential employer—a company.

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Thank you for your submission to —————— . Though we appreciate your time and work, we regret to inform you that it is not a right fit for our journal. Please consider submitting to us in the future.

Sincerely,

The Editors

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Dear Nathan,

Thank you for sending us —————— . We appreciated the chance to read it. Unfortunately, your piece is not quite right for us. Consider submitting to us again, though!

Thanks again. Best of luck with this!

Sincerely,

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Dear Nathan E.,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking the time recently to speak with us regarding our need for a ——————.  We enjoyed speaking with you and appreciated your patience throughout our search process.

While we were very impressed with your qualifications, we were faced with a difficult decision, and I regret to inform you that we finally selected another candidate who we believe more closely matches what we are looking for in the position.

However, we will be glad to keep your resume [sic] on file should we become aware of any other appropriate positions in the near future. I would also encourage you to visit our website as new positions become available.

Thank you again for your interest and good luck in all your future endeavors!

Best Regards,

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First off, there’s simply nothing tragic about having my work excluded from a literary magazine—any literary magazine. So let’s cut out the word “unfortunately.”

I regret to inform you that we have never been, and likely never will be, on a first name basis. Don’t patronize me.

I’m not so naïve, or desperate, to believe my work has any value to these readers. Hardly encouraging, especially given the likelihood that those very same words were doled out to any number of other contributors. Why should I consider sending additional work of mine—upon receiving such a safe, sterile, uncommitted response? I’m no glutton for puerile mishandling of my work.

I don’t submit, I offer.

Edmund Wilson: “It is astonishing to observe, in America, in spite of our floods of literary journalism, to what extent the literary atmosphere is a non-conductor of criticism. What actually happens, in our literary world, is that each leader or group of leaders is allowed to intimidate his disciples, either ignoring all the other leaders or taking cognizance of their existence only by distant and contemptuous sneers.”

For “leaders” substitute entrenched writers (i.e., established writers) and so-called editors at various literary magazines who, despite their prominence, remain largely unworthy of emulation.

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More, More, More

“In reality the duty of a writer – the revolutionary duty, if you like – is that of writing well.”

                                               –Gabriel García Márquez

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“A poet who can’t make the language sing doesn’t start.”

                                                   –Clive James

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Unearned Increment

Ours is a shameful time of no reply (to borrow from Nick Drake). Feel free to send along your compliments, a copy of your newly published book—and enjoy no response whatsoever. Little interest in dialogue and discussion. Minimum gratitude.

What’s the return?

I find both terms unpalatable: emerging/established. Emerging best applies to some newfound disease, established evokes a colonial undertaking.

For those who have—

The established ones, warm and dry in their makeshift office, salaried, sealed off, critically acclaimed, amicably awarded…perhaps they do recognize that fundamentally we no longer have a literary scene. Instead, a literary market: cutthroat, opportunistic—where one slip will undo all they’ve been clinging to. They can’t be bothered.

“There are great poets who rage in the margins, like William Blake, and poets unknown in their own lifetime, like Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Alexander Pope’s was a public genius, like Ben Jonson’s or Lord Byron’s or Oscar Wilde’s. These figures were news, as no living writer of authentic eminence is today, though we have geniuses of publicity, which is not quite what I mean by a “public genius” (Bloom).

I’m done competing.

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Your Witness

On Rejection & Resistance

Unwanted, fine. “I am not at all mortified, when sometimes I see my Works thrown aside by Men of no Taste nor Learning. There is a kind of Heaviness and Ignorance that hangs upon the Minds of ordinary Men, which is too thick for Knowledge to break through. Their Souls are not to be enlightened.”

My job—my vocation—is to read increasingly, to write: “Try to praise the mutilated world.” Not for the sycophant’s gushing embrace and cheap exaltation. “You must be prepared to work always without applause.”

Clearly, without alteration shocking and heretical, our days are numbered. Warmth, sunlight, budding green—it may not appear that drought continuously predominates.

I register distress, tasked with protesting “my own daily sorrow of being flooded by unsolicited bad verse.” Where do we stop?

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.”

“Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from thinking they are writers.” Their proper aim: learning how to read judiciously, how to apply voice.

“It is absurd to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound—that he will never get over it. That is to say, permanence in poetry, as in love, is perceived instantly. It hasn’t to await the test of time. The proof of a poem is not that we have never forgotten it, but we knew at sight we never could forget it.”

A Vision

In the factory I heard the gulls cry;

The wind distressed me as it came.

Burning of machines in a single eye

Leaves mind a fragment of hammers and hurt noise—

Who shall enter the bodies of workers, the dream

Electric; who touch the spent souls; what voice

Like God’s shall come in midnight at the lamps

To hurtle this darkness of stiff limbs out

To the stars, break love open on the steel ramps,

Raise flowers in pained cylinders, so that

Complaining engines shall no more be heard

And all, all be human in the first cry of a bird?

(Sources, in order of appearance: Addison, Zagajewski, Hemingway, Bloom, Wilde, Stegner, Frost, Selig)

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“Less than fifteen per cent of the people do any original thinking on any subject. The greatest torture in the world for most people is to think.”

                                                                –Luther Burbank

Bridges

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Consumed

Aspiring writer? I have my suspicions, especially when those words come from an adult.

Enough. Writing is the most difficult work I know.

Ben Jonson: “For a man to write well, there are required three necessaries: to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style.”

Rilke, easily quoted, but the question must be honestly, ruthlessly assessed: “There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?”

I know, along with Flannery O’Connor, “that few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well. They are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a ‘killing.’ They are interested in being a writer, not in writing.”

Whitman, also easily quoted: “To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.” But I question how seriously he’s taken.

Tess Gallagher: “When you start reading in a certain way, that’s already the beginning of your writing. You’re learning what you admire and you’re learning to love other writers. The love of other writers is an important first step. To be a voracious, loving reader.”

We aren’t suffering a shortage of writers—but a dearth of expert readers. Aspire to be stellar in your reading, unmatched in your discretion. Everyone’s a writer, only when the writing’s left behind.

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There’s easy money to be made, playing it safe, writing for personal gain, conducting feel-good workshops, hosting family-friendly readings. This, from Peter Watson’s The Age of Atheists, which clearly extends to the arts and higher education:

“One well-publicized finding is that although the developed Western nations have become better off in a financial and material sense, they are not any happier than they were decades ago. In fact, in The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard to Be Happy (2010), Michael Foley argues that modern life has made things worse, ‘deepening our cravings and at the same time heightening our delusions of importance as individuals. Not only are we rabid in our unsustainable demands for gourmet living, eternal youth, fame and a hundred varieties of sex, we have been encouraged—by a post-1970s ‘rights’ culture that has created a zero-tolerance sensitivity to any perceived inequality, slight or grievance—into believing that to want something is to deserve it.’ Moreover, ‘the things we have are devalued by the things we want next’—another consequence of capitalism.”

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Equals

On the insulting notion that everyone’s a poet:

Sir, These are delicate matters; we all desire

To be told that we’ve the true poetic fire.

But once, to one whose name I shall not mention,

I said, regarding some verse of his invention,

That gentlemen should rigorously control

That itch to write which often afflicts the soul;

That one should curb the heady inclination

To publicize one’s little avocation;

And that in showing off one’s works of art

One often plays a very clownish part.

                  –The Misanthrope (translated by Richard Wilbur)

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Gunpowder

“A lot of manuscripts that come in, you wonder by what outrageous fantasy the author believes that this should be pressed into print.”

                                                                     –Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Gunpowder

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