Tag Archives: Workshops

Submittable

“Literacy does not involve knowing the meanings of words, or learning grammar, or reading books.”

                                         –Wendell Berry, Preface: The Joy of Sales Resistance

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“It did nothing for me.”

“I do not accept this excited rhetoric about what texts ‘actually do,’ which is replacing the older, soberer emphasis on what they say. I regard the methodology of ‘stop and go’ as a parody of genuine scientific investigation of the workings of the human brain, providing a spurious justification for what the critic himself arbitrarily chooses to ‘do’ to, and with, the text. A better way, to my mind, of slowing down the reading process and awakening attention to the nuances of language in the hands of great masters is to read aloud, to oneself, to one’s friends, or in a group, or to listen to a good reader.”

                                                                                            –Helen Gardner

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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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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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“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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What Was Lost

I open by alluding to the work of Herbert Morris, unfairly overlooked amid triumphant commercialism, disposable art…shameless, unabashed self-promotion. Taxing intelligence, quietly insisting: reader required, no idle spectator—

          The body knows deceptions long and lucid.

The masters have gone, banished from healthy curriculum. The loss is bitterly quantifiable. Emerson: “In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret.”

The simple act of having written, of piecing together a few lines of verse—in no way necessitates publication. Though why listen to anybody else? Everyone a priest, everyone a poet. Why bother with Horace (echoed by Robert Frost and several others), advocating a lengthy period of total sequestration? Poems must settle on their own. And that takes time.

Like the relentless cicada, generously provided a protective bone, spared its own deafening crescendo…today’s poets (I cringe evoking that designation) dash onto the stage, impervious to criticism.

The work itself…subdued by the incredible demand for notice—desperate push for publicity. Next in line, poet laureate of the cul-de-sac…where longevity takes the prize, rewarding senescence over quality of thought and masterful composition.

I ask fair reading.

But it makes perfect sense, as the deluge continues to overwhelm, that advertisement steals the primary focus of today’s writer, with increasing effort devoted to marketing. “Vanity of vanities…”

Joseph Epstein, ca. 1995: “To provide only a single depressing statistic, I read somewhere that there are currently 26,000 registered poets in the United States. Where, it will be asked, do they register? With the Associated Writing Programs, I gather, which are chiefly made up of teachers of writing, who are even now busy producing still more poets, who will go on to teach yet more poets, who will…so that in twenty years’ time we will have 52,000 registered poets. Degas, more than a century ago, remarked: ‘We must discourage the arts.’ Sometimes that doesn’t seem a bad idea.”

Prediction fulfilled (and likely exceeded)—that’s an annual buffet of 1,000 poets per week. Revolting even to the most determined glutton.

There’s little I can admire in much contemporary poetry.

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Precedent

“The true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and no other task is of any consequence.”

                                 –Cyril Connolly

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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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