This Is the Line

This is the line that marks the space between what this journal used to be, and what it will be in the future.

When I started blogging about the relationship between poetry and editing, I had two goals:  1) to demystify the role of an editor within the broader literary landscape, and 2) to become a more vocal part of that landscape.

I think I’ve done a good job with the first goal — if you scroll back through this blog, there are dozens of posts that reveal my perspective from this side of the desk, and that I think do so with an honesty and clarity that have made them worth sharing.  I have strong feelings about what my role as an editor should be, and what poetry fundamentally is, what it offers us as human beings, and I’ve enjoyed writing on those subjects.

When it comes to the second goal, though, I’ve been a total failure.  I’m not really a part of the literary community — when I go to conferences I feel entirely out of place among other editors, up on panels, or even  in the audience listening to intellectual discussions of the latest trends in genre or tributes to poets I should admire but can’t bare to read.  I don’t care who wins the Pulitzer Prize this year, or what G. Tod Slone said, or which book contests are rigged, or what’s happening on the staff of Paris Review, or what comes of Ted Genoways, as much as I admire his work.

Those are the things I don’t care about, and never have.  The only reason I wrote about them was because they were things I thought I should care about; if I want Rattle to become an influential enterprise, which is one the tasks I’ve been given, I should become a part of the literary community — even if my part in the pantomime is just the groaning, indignant  outsider, I still have to join in the dance, don’t I?  I can’t participate on a social level, because I hate socializing.  So maybe I’ll blog — that was the thought.

And maybe it wasn’t a bad thought.  But the fact is, no matter how much I try to care, I just can’t make myself.  And it shows.  In sloppy, indifferent, rudderless prose.  And so my futile attempts at participation remain ineffective — maybe even counterproductive.

On top of that, I published a book with a small press, which made me feel obligated to work at promoting the book in reciprocation for their confidence and investment in me.  So in the middle of posts where I pretend to care about the latest literary happenings, I had to swallow my vomit and try to talk about American Fractal in a way that would keep it alive, on life-support, for as long as possible.  You publish a poetry book and it inevitably dies; I didn’t want to let that happen before it had earned its time on earth.

But I hate promoting the flotsam of my fiddling almost as much as I hate the idea of a literary community I’m thrust inside.  So, like my posts about Ted Genoways or Cider Press or whatever it’s called, the best I could muster was half-hearted, pointless babble.  In a way, I admire the people who are passionate about the cliques and gimmicks of becoming a successful poet — Red Hen, Rattle, American Fractal deserve all the promotion they can get.  It’s just not me; I’m not good at it, and I hate myself while trying.

So I’ve accomplished my first goal, and I’m giving up on the second.  As such, there’s no longer any purpose for this blog in its old form, hodgepodge mess that it was.  It’s over.

I’m going back to basics.  I only find myself an editor by accident; I tripped while running through a love of writing and fell face-first into this cubicle.  I used to have a blog, under a handle, where I posted poems and stories and photography, and took none of it seriously.  That was fun.  Then I started publishing poems, and had to worry about losing First Rights by posting them online, so I hesitated, then withheld.  Then a job, then a book, then the thought of the next book, and somewhere what was fun turned into work.

Fuck that.  Now that I’ve published a book — and not just any book, but a book that I’m proud of — I can see clearly how inconsequential the whole thing is.  How wrong the entire structure of the system has become.  Publishing a respectable book of poetry is not the goal of poetry.  There’s writing, there’s reading, and there’s being read.  Those things matter.  Imprints and barcodes and serial rights do not.

As a writer, I’m bowing out of the literary system.  Everything I write will be posted here, whether it be rough draft, or revision, or final copy.  If you want to read, read, if you want to comment, comment.  If you want to go away, go away.

If other magazines don’t want to publish what I’ve written because it’s appeared on here, so be it.  When I want to gather some of it up into a coherent collection, that’s what I’ll do.  If no press wants to publish that book, then I’ll self-publish.

I suppose this is my manifesto.  Not much of a manifesto, but it exists as negation.  I’ve felt this way for a long time — it’s the reason I haven’t submitted a single poem to any magazine in three or four years.

There is a place for publishing in my current view, but there is not a place for withholding within publishing.  The job of an editor is to be a poetic sieve — to filter out the one poem in a thousand that the most people will want to read twice, and then present it as nicely and to as many readers as possible.   As an editor, I’m going to work hard to keep on doing that.

As a writer, I’m going to write. That’s what this blog is for. The detritus of my day, turned into play.

11 thoughts on “This Is the Line

  1. “There is a place for publishing in my current view, but there is not a place for withholding within publishing.”

    So is Rattle now accepting work that has appeared previously online?

  2. Thanks, Patti — now we’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes for me to actually write something new…it was a trickle before the baby was born and not a drop in the three months since.

    W5 — check the guidelines, under Rights and Rules. Rattle’s explicitly allowed poems from personal blogs and message boards for years. We want to be the first magazine to publish your poem, but that’s it. I’ve always felt literary journals should embrace interconnections, rather than stifle them.

  3. Tim, for what it’s worth, I believe it was my trying to make myself a “part of the literary community” (read: make myself a somebody) which contributed to my own dry spell. When I began to see that I didn’t fit in, and in many ways probably never would, it had a profound effect on me. It took years to get past that, and at last I see clouds on the horizon. So far there have only been a few sprinkles, but I look forward to dancing in the rain again. I hope you soon get soaked, too, and I anticipate seeing to your soggy footprints all over these pages.

  4. How bizarre that I just blogged about something similar: how much I hate submitting. But everything you’ve said is also in my mind: feeling like an outsider and complete disinterest in many of the discussions weaving around the poetry community.

    However, it makes me think: if you (an editor of an excellent journal and with one book under your belt) feel like an outsider, and I feel this way, and all the people who commented on my post (via facebook) also suffer from this sense of futility, who are the people on the inside? Perhaps it’s the cultural insistence on success that is the problem married to a serious lack of readers of poetry. Perhaps the sense of being an outsider is internal. Perhaps it’s all relative. Honestly, I still can’t believe how many people feel this way; enough to make up an entirely new community.

  5. Tim,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I find it very thoughtful, and thought-provoking.

    As I’ve said before, I really like Rattle, and have enjoyed your blog as an inside-the-journal perspective. And though you contend you are very much outside-the-industry, in many ways, I think we all are. As they say, when the rewards are crumbs, the fight gets vicious. All of us scratching to get published, to get read, to get noticed and nodded and petted.

    And even those who are acknowledged, via publication, as you have been, may be quick to dismiss the rewards, as you have: “Now that I’ve published a book — and not just any book, but a book that I’m proud of — I can see clearly how inconsequential the whole thing is.”

    And so, it MUST be about the process: the joy of writing, of creating, of making something matter.

    I do hope you’ll keep sharing your thoughts, your works, your ideas with us.

  6. Well I think my sense of what’s “inside” is derived entirely from the AWP Conferences I’ve been to, which play out in the same ways I imagine things like Breadloaf and Idlewild, though I’ve never been to those. That massive crowd that hangs out at the bar talking about whatever it is they talk about. Every year I give fitting in a shot, and every year I just feel awkward and bored. Maybe half the people there feel awkward and bored, too, but it’s clear there’s another half that absolutely loves it. Similarly, there are bloggers who really get into the community, reposting and commenting on things amongst themselves.

    A lot of might just have to do with how anti-social I really am.

    But I also think the majority of poets don’t fit into those cliques, or any cliques, and that poetry is just something they do because they love doing it, and writing gives a little thrill, and reading gives a little thrill, and publishing gives a little thrill, and all of that’s good. But then you see the very vocal and outgoing contingent of social poets, and inevitably feel you’re missing out on something.

    The only thing that’s different for me is that, because it’s my job, I feel like I should try to be a part of it. But the point here is just that I can’t; it’s not in my nature, and I’m not going to bother anymore.

  7. I look forward to following the new/old direction your blog is taking, Tim. I have tremendous respect for all you’ve done to date, and can’t wait to see where it takes you next.

    Best of luck with the journey!

Leave a Reply