Small Demon
Nov 302008
 

I’ve had poems accepted lately by the Southern Poetry Review and the Tampa Review. The poems coming out in† SPR are in my maximalist mode whereas the ones TR accepted are minimalist. In any case, I was beginning to wonder if I still had any chops because — after a long spell of not sending work out — I began about eighteen months ago to get back into publication mode. The response was lots of nice notes on rejection slips.

I have always written to publish. Even in high school when I had my first poems in the school magazine, then in a local literary journal, Consumption, I wrote with the intention to publish. A few years later, working as a bartender at the Blue Moon tavern in Seattle — the place where Roethke had gotten loaded with Dylan Thomas when Thomas came to town — I really only became a member of the tribe when Roethke’s student David Wagoner began accepting my poems for Poetry Northwest. Art is always tribal, social.

Publication is the final separation & I have always written to separate things from myself. First, to make an idea or feeling cohere, then to make it stand on its own, & finally to set it adrift. I don’t keep track of my old manuscripts & there are poems I’ve published & completely forgotten. I keep sort of a list for academic purposes, but I’m not very industrious about it. It’s not that I intentionally destroy records — my little study if stuffed to overflowing with old bits & pieces of my writing, but you wouldn’t call it an archive so much as a mess.

Even for students, publication — in the sense of making public, is important. I only encourage an occasional student to send work out (I teach only undergrads), but I make the point that bringing their writing to workshop is a form of publication. I tell them I don’t think a poem is finished until it has been read by at least one other person. Actually, I’d modify this a bit — the intention to have the poem read is what counts. Clearly, Emily Dickinson’s posthumously published poems were finished when she sewed them into fascicles. In any case, an entirely private poem, like an entirely private language, is impossible.

  7 Responses to “Publishing”

  1. For years my writing turned me inward – it was a survival tactic as a child, I think, to make worlds where none were proffered – and it has been a long journey for me to turn my writing outward. It feels different, writing for a presumed reader. It makes me want to be more clear; I assume fewer givens at the outset of a piece. It feels more genuiune, and it feels more generous. (And, most certainly not incidently, it led to my first acceptances.)

    “An entirely private poem, like an entirely private language, is impossible.” I’ll have to keep thinking about this.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, Joseph- what you are saying relates well to my experience as a painter. While there is nothing so powerful or important for an artist as, to quote Painter Guy Anderson, “….doing the work…” it is also true there is a real alchemy to placing one’s work where others can see it. Only then, one lives with the fact others are seeintg, experiencing it….and while their response is often unknown, somehow the whole equation changes.

  3. Jeffree, in some ways, the audience keeps one honest — though of course we can make the mistake of pandering to an audience, which I guess is the flip side of this.

    By the way, I think doing the work — sketching or writing in one’s journal — in private, for one’s self alone, can be a useful prelude to going public — preparation. And private working might be useful to individuals who do not aspire to art. The processes of art can be healing, I think, even if they do not produce finished work. But artists, as such, are interested in the finished, public, work.

  4. You’ve struck at the heart of a misperception I frequently find myself confronting. Quite often when I reveal that I am a poet, I am asked if I find writing to be therapeutic, comforting, etc. On some level, of course, I do. But poetry, as you so eloquently stated, cannot be a private endeavor.

    A poem must be both the writer’s and the reader’s before it has accomplished its purpose. If a piece fails to reach this symbiosis, I am afraid it must reside in some other world than that of poetry.

  5. Nice post. Once a poem has gone public, it becomes something else, with its own life-generating energy.
    Through the years I’ve often been amazed at how much a poem possessed the possibility for change (for me) the moment it went public — whether it be in a workshop, read aloud, or published.

  6. WRITING TO PUBLISH

    That wing of poetry
    the dramatic arts of publication

    that there is a part of us
    always working to limit us

    who argues vainly against
    the things he loves

    (thatís a question
    that one him

    amazing in the depth
    of his self-congratulation

    I keep trying to capture
    his attention

    if only to tell him
    to get back to work.

  7. talking about poetrymaking reminds me of my neighbor mindy the one who works at safeway
    on outer mission near nancy keane’s 3300 bar as
    she walks old squat and small arthritic mickey
    waiting for him as he limps across the driveway
    as i watch hoping no driver fails to notice his
    old white low form as it moves still onward

    reminding me of william empson’s LET IT GO poem
    of just 6 lines said to be the last he wrote
    before stopping many years before he died:

    “It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
    The more things happen to you the more you
    cant
    Tell or remember even what they were.

    The contradictions cover such a range.
    The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
    You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.”

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