BlazeVOX wasn’t really Satan after all

Several months ago, I submitted my chapbook manuscript to BlazeVOX Press, among others.  Just before Labor Day, I received a response.  The email offered me an opportunity to publish my book… for a nominal donation, which would be made in the name of ‘cooperation.’  I was not alone in receiving such an offer and much better writers than me responded.

In fact, after one blogger wrote about how betrayed he felt [http://thebarking.com/2011/09/the-half-hearted-acceptance-letter/], other readers posted and reposted his post.  The one-time legitimate publishing company with an excellent reputation was going bankrupt [who knew?!].  In an effort to raise some capital, they decided to get some [not all] of their new authors to help pay for publishing costs.  Over the course of the Labor Day holiday, this caused a pretty big scandal in the small-press world.  Without rehashing old news, some felt that this was too close to self-publishing or a vanity press.  Others thought this was a practical response to a struggling market, if only the managing editor had been up front about this in the submissions page on his web site.

Before many days had gone by, BlazeVOX had rescinded all such offers to those new authors, me included.  They plan on doing some significant fundraising in New York and plan on only continuing publication as sufficient funds allow.

What stood out to me, over and over again in all those online discussions, was the general acceptance that poetry is a dying market; people just didn’t read/appreciate this art form anymore.  Small presses across the country struggle to keep doors open, a truth I can attest to as I search and search [and continue to search] for a home for my writing.

Sadly missing was any explanation as to why this is occurring.  When some explanation WAS offered, the writer seemed to imply it was because people just didn’t have the wherewithal to appreciate the complexity of this expression [I interpreted that to mean the writer didn’t think folks were smart enough to ‘get it.’]

This makes me furious.  Without dragging this out forever, I find that attitude both elitist and ridiculous.  If high-brow poetry put out by academic presses seems to be struggling to find an audience, perhaps that’s because it’s become a little irrelevant.

There’s a reason Katy Perry is popular.

She speaks to people using metaphors and language easily relatable.  If she seems shallow, it’s because we’ve lost an appreciation for the banal.

Poetry has become distanced from its audience, so far removed by esoteric modes of expression and frankly judgmental tones, that people, everyday-normal-9-5ers like me, find it tortuous to be forced to experience it.

And yet I’m a poet.  “Publish or perish” is not a mantra I have to live by.  If I wanted to donate to BlazeVOX in order to have a lovely book produced that I could distribute in my community, how was that any less legitimate as an art form, as poetry?

What I would hope is that some person from my community, some man or woman who buys groceries from the same Dillon’s as me,  might find a line or two that speaks of their own life, their own song.

Let’s Keep Writing and Doing the Dishes

I’ve wanted to write a memoir for a long time.  Much of my fiction has previously centered around true events from my life.  But I have no idea how to go about this, and I’m highly structured (in some respects—don’t laugh if you know me and have seen me dancing).  I want to have one project finished before starting a new project from scratch.  I also want to do the National Novel Writing Month in November.  So I’m pushing myself to finish up one project, even as I’m focused and thinking about another.

 Poetry, however, comes anytime she wants.

I’ve been reading Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away.  (currently a bargain book at Amazon *wink] This has been beautiful and fun.  It’s filled with prompts and exercises geared toward the ‘practice’ of writing, which would lead to the development of a theme for a memoir.  I’m loving it.  “Dishes” (18) says, “Tell me about a time you washed the dishes.  Go.  Ten Minutes.”  Here’s what I filtered out.

 Washing Dishes

 The smell of burnt grease and citrus
tang, scalding water and crusted
food; I loved washing dishes in my

 mother’s domain, the security of
busily humming away to the secret
stash of songs on my walkman, the

 setting right to wrong, the order
made from chaos, the holy rendering
of what was right to the silverware

 drawer, all the spoons carefully
cradled, the forks tine down. If I
played my music loud enough, I

 could ignore my parents in the other
room, their quiet conversation under
the hum of the television crime

 show siren. I pretended I did not
know it was me they discussed, all
my evils and wrongs. I straightened

 the knives, blades turned carefully
right, scrubbed pans clean of grime.

Want to Get Published? Write Something Good.

While it certainly is no secret, I usually don’t mention that I have an MFA in creative writing.  I’m not embarrassed or even particularly modest.  I just find that people then expect that I am an expert on writing—when I have NO IDEA what I’m DOING.  Don’t misunderstand.  I get the basics.  And I can even discuss critical theory with relative ease (gee, isn’t that an exciting coffee topic?)  But I didn’t discover any magic, no hidden secrets of the trade, no certain paths to success.

In fact, I can only remember two clear points of wisdom passed on to me from my advisor.

1.  Want to get published? Write something good.

            2.  Want to be a writer? Don’t be a teacher.

The first came after I asked questions about the publishing world, like how did I know the publisher was reputable, etc.  He then told me that there were plenty of books on the market for that sort of thing, and then he reiterated his original point: Want to get published? Write something good.

I’ve somewhat made peace with that.  I also recognize that “good” is a relative term.  There is a market for just about anything.  If I’ve really absorbed what works in that market, then I might actually publish in that space.

It’s the second that I truly struggle to understand.  I’ve been a member of the National Writing Project, a group of collaborative teachers and writers.  I do believe that being both a writer AND a teacher are possible, but I also realize that energy is a finite commodity.  The beginning of the school year always knocks me left of sideways.  Here in the third solid week of instruction, I am still falling asleep in my easy-chair by 4:00pm.   When he said, Don’t be a teacher, he really meant that doing both is nearly impossible.  I could be less of a teacher, show lots of movies, do hand-outs all day, try to save my energy.

But I really can’t do that.  Just as I am intrinsically a writer, constantly trying to absorb experiences so that I can write about them later… I am also a teacher, thriving on the challenge of new minds, enjoying their enthusiasm, desperately caring that they receive a skill that might empower their futures.  Somehow, someway, I have to find the wellspring of energy so that I can do all the things I WANT to do each day, and all the things I NEED to do as well.