Saturday, August 22, 2009

Closed submissions

I've heard a vigorous discussion of the idea of creating an invitation-only literary journal, and thus doing away with a major part of the editorial chores -- reading through the slush pile. This discussion seemed to involve mostly teachers at the college level, so my assumption is that they were talking about launching a university-based litmag.

This idea strikes me as curious in two ways. First, it's closing an already pretty tightly closed system, that of literary magazines based on college campuses. That kind of journal already has an inbuilt self-referential momentum. Students who read through slush piles are working to please professors who direct programs and publications that will shape their future careers. That would surely influence my thinking and choices, were I in their position. And it would incline me to select friends of my teachers for publication.

Of course, networks exist around all magazines. It's human nature. But the college publications have this potential to narrow their esthetic focus because of the way the system works. If you eliminate all the readers and slush piles, then you will have a laser-beam focus on the choices of two or three editors who pre-select poets for inclusion. That's interesting, more like an independent litmag. But also like a club. Curious.

The second curious thing -- this idea would possibly narrow the audience. Most readers of litmags are those who have received contributor's copies or who aspire to be in the litmag. Eliminate the latter and you might reduce sales. It's curious to me, the idea of narrowing the universe of potential readers. Poets complain that no one in our culture reads poetry. Narrowing the potential readership could help pull poetry further in the direction of obscurity. Or maybe that's already the dynamic. It's been argued that by maintaining American poetry an academic art form, based in colleges and universities, subject to the choices of editors whose livelihood and magazines do not depend on sales but on subsidy, we have created an art form that all but eliminates the general audience.

Friday, August 21, 2009

D.H. Lawrence & Love Poetry

Thinking about how you can be an overlooked, underrated poet of the past and yet have written some of the most stunning poems ever written. Lawrence isn't underrated as a novelist, but as a poet, he's not talked about much. The poetry of his that I looked into didn't impress me, so I moved on in my restless self-directed study. Recently, this poem was brought to my attention, which I think is one of the most beautiful love poems I've ever read (of course, as a rose fancier, I would be captivated by a poem that combines love and roses):

Gloire de Dijon

    WHEN she rises in the morning
    I linger to watch her;
    She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
    And the sunbeams catch her
    Glistening white on the shoulders,
    While down her sides the mellow
    Golden shadow glows as
    She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
    Sway like full-blown
    Gloire de Dijon roses.

    She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
    Glisten as silver; they crumble up
    Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
    For the sluicing of their rain-dishevelled petals.
    In the window full of sunlight
    Concentrates her golden shadow
    Fold on fold, until it glows as
    Mellow as the glory roses.

    D. H. Lawrence

Love poetry is so hard to write. If Lawrence weren't a first-rate poet, how could he have written such a beautiful love poem? I will be re-thinking his work and getting reacquainted with it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editor Hat

I'm wearing my editor hat this week for Umbrella, working on a feature and interview for an upcoming issue. At the same time, a discussion of submission protocols has popped up on a listserv of poets. Wearing both poet and editor hats -- as I am also submitting work and preparing a manuscript to submit -- has made me think about the state of litmags and the way they conduct business.

The listserv comment that sparked a discussion was on the abrupt and callous tone of a major litmag's posted guidelines. I took a look and found the predictable long, demanding rant about what this journal insists on from poets submitting, what they will not tolerate, yada-yada. Very little mention of what, if anything, the poet can expect out of this transaction.

At the same time, I received an email rejecting my poetry manuscript, one I had submitted with an entry fee, and it was addressed to a file number.

About ten minutes later, I received a personally addressed email apologizing sincerely for the glitch in sending out a notice that addressed me by number instead of name.

Now, how hard was that? My reaction to reading the guidelines was, "Submit again to you? Hell no!" My reaction to the press that rejected my ms. but took the trouble to amend a careless email with a short, personal note (no doubt generated by program, rather than hand typed), was "Sure, I'll try again, and maybe even buy one of your books!"

I will let the editors and publishers decide which is the best approach. I guess if you're selling enough books and issues, you can afford to be callous toward those who submit -- who also happen to be your buyers.

***

Welcome to my blogroll, Shannon Cain, The Literary Activist! Who got me started on this rant.

***

I repeat, in case an editor out there isn't paying attention: YOUR SUBMITTERS ARE YOUR CONSUMERS. They buy your stuff -- or don't. Offend them if you want.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Going offline to write

I took an afternoon off from the computer yesterday to revise poems the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper, sitting outdoors in a café. It amazed me to see how much more productive I was than with fingers poised above a keyboard. While I am a big fan of computing and the Internet, writing is a slow affair, at least for me. The speed of word processing is anathema to my poetic process. It cannot be attributed to a pencil-and-paper childhood, as I learned to touch-type at age ten and was fast by eleven, typing out my first novel of 100 pages on a Smith-Corona portable (that I still miss).

But poetry is a very different animal than prose. I noticed yesterday that I would put down the pen, let the pages riffle in the wind, sip my iced tea and people-watch while wrestling with my subconscious for le mot juste. Again and again. I became aware that it might take five minutes or more for a few possible words to stream through my mind, and then another five to decide which one I wanted to use. I don't usually allow myself that kind of time -- and it's esthetically unappealing to dream while staring at a screen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Made it!

Yes, this very blog finally made it to the top of Google's search on Rocket Kids. You'd be amazed how many rocket related sites used to get in above this site, so that it fell far below the first search page. So annoying. I mean, shouldn't everyone guess that Rocket Kids isn't a new toy, book, chemistry set, or kidvid? Shouldn't they have known it was a literary blog (if that isn't an oxymoron)?

In other bloghopping news, the Aroostook Review has a nice interview with Dorianne Laux, plus four of her poems -- plus three poems from my colleague and Editor-In-Chief at Umbrella, Kate Bernadette Benedict. Treats in store when you click on the links.

And yes, I have not tweeted in more than 48 hours, but now that I've discovered FriendFeed, a way to manage all you online addictions, that may soon change.