This is the part that scares me. If it scares you too, you may belong to my tribe. The tribe of incomprehensible blankness. Oh, I don’t mean blankness of mind, I mean that which is probably worse – blankness of spirit.
Allow me to explain. I have lived a million miles of landmines and have come to expect that the rest of world has too. Probably worse. So I feel that everything I might have to say has been said by people more worthy of their suffering. I’ve been hungry but I haven’t starved. I’ve lived under bridges but it was my choice. I went for many long periods without love, but it was of my own volition.
These days it seems there’s a thousand-fold bout of suffering that my own trials – as if they might be ants trying to leap atop in one bound a boulder – cannot possibly match – and to which their effort cannot possibly compare. Every day, it’s more: kid killed by cop, gun-hungry cop afraid of kid, bang bang, leaders afraid of truth, lies the new baseline.
To whom or for what to I have to complain? I’m outside the grid, an ex-pat who goes cold-turkey from the news every few months just to escape the madness. Now we approach an election. Okay, we’re always near an election. But this time, things have gotten way beyond rational. Now we’re talking fear. And not just any fear, but fear of everybody and everything. Mexican workers, Muslim worshippers, dead voters, Chinese hackers, even encrypted cell phones.
There’s no end to this madness. In fact, it must escalate to even hope that it can stay relevant and keep pinging the radar of the average attention span. We live in an era of intense competition for information; calm facts are buried in the avalanche. Most people are afraid of the other who they see as coming to take their hard-earned gains.
This is of course exactly what most leaders want. To lead, most leaders need an enemy. It keeps people focused on what’s important. It’s not what you’re for, it’s what you’re against that counts. When an enemy runs out of steam, when the image of one organization or one individual starts to inspire a ho-hum fatigued response in the populace who has seen the endless images of these enemies, a new enemy must be created.
The only way out of this cycle is to jump off the bandwagon that keeps endlessly circling, to start making decisions about what is right and what is wrong for yourselves. Ask if something makes sense on its own, or if it only makes sense in a certain light. When truth is no longer considered important to those who would claim to circulate it, it is up to rest of us to publically shame the lies – and to demand in their place the unvarnished truth from which we can make informed decisions.
Came across a poetry discussion group the other day where somebody said “Scattering your work among freebie e-zines is not going to impress anyone who counts in the publishing world.” Well, gotta say, statements like that are so annoying (to me anyway — your mileage may vary). (a) Who says who “counts”? My god, there’s enough wannabe gate-keepers in the poetry world, now we’re got gate-keepers to the gate-keepers. And (b) who cares if it doesn't impress somebody on a list that somebody else claims are the important people.
Like it or not, the publishing world is changing. Some of it for the good, other parts not so much so. But it’s time to stop worshiping “the gods”. Many people have made their way quite nicely without them. There’s no need to hang onto the old herd mentality thinking.
That’s not to say that there aren't respectable, established journals with good work. Of course there are. And I support celebration of culture heritage. Read the established mags, support them, submit to them. But they’re not the only game in town. Dismissive attitudes towards startups who aren't sufficiently “worthy” don’t serve innovation or freshness. It’s a form of cultural fossilism.
I’m tired of the mind set that studies your resume with the intensity of an anthropologist and makes a decision on your work based upon your standing with others.
Think I’m kidding? Look in the last few issues of any of the so-called major journals and you're likely to find a mediocre piece by a VIP. They took the name of the person over the work. They were either blinded by the blaze of the return address or were simply afraid to reject it. (that doesn't mean that the VIP doesn't have great work, yes they do, but that's another matter)
Sure, I operate an independent publication. I’m an outsider. So I’m biased. And when I read a submission that has a cover letter, I always skip over it, at least at first. I’m not that into your track record, I just want to read the work.
When you rely on others to tell you what is valuable, you’re helping to perpetuate more of the same old. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it can be comforting and useful – but don’t make it a habit or a “must-do” rule of publication. Whether poet or editor, you’re likely to miss out on a great deal.
It sort of dawned on me recently what it is I don’t like about Facebook, or social media in general. For a long time, I’ve had this sort of inarticulate feeling that I didn’t bother to think about, a sense of looking through a window fogged by the cold into a large house with hundreds of parties going on simultaneously. I can hear but not follow the music; each party has their own sound system blaring as trumpets and tubas compete with screeching guitars and monotonous thumping trance beats to try and capture the fickle electorate of the dance floor.
Despite the noise, I can hear a few voices, but they’re mostly repeating other people’s words as everything is endlessly reposted, mostly without even the an interpretive comment. It’s as if nobody has an original thought any more.
If we could somehow wave a wand and remove the inanity from social media, it wouldn’t cease to exist, but it would shrink considerably, very considerably. I suppose it might resemble a hot air balloon that ran out of hot air and lay collapsed and flaccid on the desert floor.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but these days that saying has been devalued. You can’t enter the social media sphere without encountering post after post of some saying or quote that someone felt had to be placed inside a rectangular block of JPEG pixels. I realize this practice is a gambit for attention, but it seems as if the puritanical has overrun common sense to the point that even words aren’t allowed to be naked. Furthermore, the social media equivalent of a Hallmark greeting card is still a Hallmark greeting card. It may provide a brief warm fuzzy, but it provokes little contemplation, as triteness will, and besides, it is quickly lost (to be replaced by another) in the grinding machine of a news feed that must change every 30 seconds.
Fecebook is like high school. Within the circle of your acquaintances, there’s a small group of top cool kids. No matter what they say, no matter how shallow or unimportant, all the not-so-cool kids follow them around licking the so-called cool words like a dog will lick an ice cream cone. Of course, the not-so-cool kids want to become the cool kids and I’m sure some of them do eventually. The cycle repeats.
I guess I’ve never had much use for it, although I admit that ever since actual high school, a part of me wants to, badly actually, at least sometimes. But another part of me – the stronger part, the part of me that values originally and individualism, the part of me that wants to move away from the stale feel-good that everybody seems to need these days in order to shield themselves from the world – this part of me won’t let me lick the cone.
I know a lot of wonderful people, but I’ve come to the wonder of them in person. Or at least through individual one-on-one correspondence. The very broadcast nature of Facebook rules out the one-on-one. Except for personalized messages, people don’t care what you or I think, as an individual. They only care that somebody – anybody – acknowledges their existence. Social media has become a world where everybody shouts into canyons, hoping to hear a trace of the echo.
Over the years, I’ve attended many poetry workshops, and usually enjoyed them to one degree or another. But little by little, they began to be less helpful. Too many times, the workshop leader attempted to steer the participants into the direction that worked for him or her. They were good poets but not good instructors. For instance, one iconic poet [no point in naming names] said: read the piece you brought to share, but “leave out the bad parts.” Another: “My book costs more than it says because I’m going to sign it.”
Attitudes like this don’t work well with me. I frequently have different ideas and am not afraid to voice them to the teachers, iconic as they may be. Not in an argumentative way, but to present other ways of looking at things, and mostly for the other participants. But some instructors don’t take very well to that, as if we aren’t allowed to have ideas of our own.
The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. Khalil Gibran
I've been in many group settings and am willing to listen to what others have to say, but I change my work based on the reaction of others infrequently. Sometimes what somebody says seems like a good idea, but I tend to think of these things as more of a reaction than a criticism. My most common reply is simply “Thank you for your feedback.”
I believe that we are all our own best critic. We know what we want to say – and perhaps more importantly – how we want to say it. It’s not generally the way someone else would want to say it, but that’s part of the point. On a bit of an amusing note, I once had someone pounce with glee over my word order because it wasn’t grammatically correct. Seemed odd since he had been with the weekly group for a long time and would have known by then that I do these things on purpose.
When I have my editor hat on, or I am participating in a group session, I frequently see work as too unlabored. That is, it seems that words have been selected to serve, but only to serve. There’s nothing wrong with that per se and at times it’s quite effective. However, I like to choose my words – or more precisely: my word combinations – with precision. There’s always a certain quirkiness, nuance and musicality that I want to convey. I appreciate it greatly when others do so also.
Mostly, when it comes to workshops and critiques, I’m a loner. I have enough life experience and exposure to a variety of writing and cultures that I feel good about being my own critic. I’m more interested in staying true to my vision than following the path of others. There’s like-minded souls among my friends and I’m very thankful for that. With them, it’s okay to share work before it gets published. And because they are good and generous people that I trust, I do take their comments under advisement.