clutching at straws –

18 May

It’s been awhile since I sent anything as a submission. Sure I sent a batch to the New Yorker, Ploughshare, and a couple of other cunt rags. I knew before I got the note that I wouldn’t make it in. But ego keeps me pushing. Once a year I also submit to Arsenic Lobster and once a year I get rejected. Submitting to this journal is a bellwether of sorts. For me at least. If I get accepted to Arsenic Lobster I promise to put a bullet through the back of my head and, barring that, I will quit taking drugs. Okay, the bullet may be more realistic but you understand my sarcasm don’t you?

In all honesty I do have a begrudging respect for magazines such as the New Yorker, Ploughshares, et al. In my opinion they are sadly out of touch with current poetry. Sure that sounds like whining from a rejected poet but it remains true. Their pages are filled with the heartless, often gutless ramblings of migrant MFA writers churned out from institutions of so-called higher learning. The miasma of sameness is clearly brought on by the cyclical nature of getting an MFA, publishing crap, getting hired as an instructor in a MFA program, and teaching crap.

Many of you know I have an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. No small feat, I must say. That program is filled with wonderful writers and brilliant instructors, many of whom fall far from the same-same tree. Their selection to be instructors is not based in brilliance on the part of those hiring, rather the uniqueness of the program. Will all the graduates become great and amazing writers? Sure, but whether or not they get published or produced in their respective fields will remain a question. Writers are not often valued for their originality, rather they are consumed for their commercial potential. Some may say John Grisham is a fine writer. Some might even say that of me, although less likely. People read Grisham because each story has the same structure, same expectations, same predictability. It is a formula. And publishers love a formula that works because it will sell books. Ultimately there is nothing wrong with that. Selling books and making money is the goal of any publisher, but there is also a certain responsibility.

Poetry books do not sell for two reasons. One, we are taught throughout our academic endeavors that poetry is boring or old school or something less than positive. Sure, a merry few will discover the reality of poetry and its burgeoning viability, but most will not. Our teachers do not understand poetry as they were not taught poetry at University. It’s a fucking shame. Poetry should not be a part of a class, rather it should be the class. Poetry should be taught at a very early age. In my experience 2nd graders pick up on poetry very quickly. Most of the picture books they read are based on poetic writing structure. It’s an easy transition. The study of poetry throughout an academic career will increase the abilities of a writer in other genres. Poetry is the foundation of all writing. We have forgotten that. When a student gets to 11th or 12th grade and has to read Milton or Shakespeare in a Lit class they are already pre-programmed to hate it. Modern culture continues to “dumb” us down. Remember, it is easier to keep a less educated mass under the thumb of totalitarianism than it is an educated one. Had I received a continuous education in poetry, even as part of a class, I would have not recoiled from Shakespeare or any other dead poet. I might even be a nicer person, but that is unlikely.

The second reason poetry does not sell is the Internet.

With a simple Google search anyone can find poetry on the Internet. It is as ubiquitous as pornography. And often just as bad. I have ranted on this before but leave it at this: For every poem of excellence, there are 10,000 that outright suck. Yeah, I said it. If you want to make it big in poetry you might as well bite that bullet I mentioned earlier. It’s a fools game.

Recently I got accepted to a new journal, Clutching at Straws. As always I am humbled that anyone would want to publish my work. I often find that amusing. On their website you will find dozens of other poets that are far better than I. Of course, the journal is free to review. If you had to pay, no one would look. This rant isn’t blast at Clutching at Straws or their editors. The argument about whether or not poetry will sell is over. It won’t, at least not on a large scale. There are plenty of mid-level publishers that put out work by MFA graduates and they will sell as part of a curriculum or the shrinking poetry audience. I had a book come out recently on a small press. The last time I checked I sold twenty-six copies, of which I bought twenty. I am not complaining, not at all. I sold twenty-six books! For me that is fucking brilliant and I am pleased. But if our children had grown up with poetry as a part of daily academic life I might have sold twenty-eight, maybe thirty. You never know.

Check out Clutching at Straws here and look me up here.

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One Response to “clutching at straws –”

  1. misener August 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    Dude, you nailed why I names the zine Clutching at Straws in the first place. Sorry to read this, like, two years late. I’m happy somebody figured it all out.

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