Friday, March 12, 2004

Bad poetry

A friend sent me an email suggesting that I should collect my poems. Last night, while feeling down (the best state for poetry appreciation), I went through the roughly 150 I had on my hard drive. I liked about 130 of them and pasted them all into one big file. I am thinking of doing a "publish on demand" book where copies are only printed (and sent to) people who order them online. So it is halfway like vanity publishing. And halfway not. My friend responded that the idea was a good one, and said some more very encouraging things about my poetry. I thank her for inspiring me. I replied in this harsh and loving way:

First of all, I think you deeply for your sincere praise.

As for sharing my poems with your friends and family, the very important qualifier in your email is "...who enjoy poetry." See, for the vast majority of people, showing them your poems is unwelcome. Most people, and Americans in particular, don't like poetry, don't want anything to do with it, and don't even spend time avoiding it. Any more than you spend time thinking: "I'd rather not drink sewage."

Handing them your poems is an imposition. You have inflicted something on them. You've made them uncomfortable. It is, in fact, in my judgment, rude. This is why I recoiled in horror at the idea of you spreading my poems among your friends and family. I acknowledge that you have included the qualifier, "...who enjoy poetry." But I think that even most of those people don't really enjoy poetry.

I have had poetry published in various non-famous places over the years. All the way from the XXXXXXXX Poetry Review in the 1980s to XXXXXXXXX in the 1990s.

I have not focused on self-publishing, I have never self-published in any significant way. I did include one (1) of my own poems in my zine when it was alive. But my policy was to refrain from publishing my own stuff. Most people assumed that my zine would be full of my stuff. But what would be the point of that?

I remember one guy, a boy really, inadequately filling a grown man's life, who sniffed at the zine, asked about the writers, asked about whether you could subscribe, and then said "This is vanity publishing." He was paying me $750 to write advertising copy, so I let that comment pass. But the writers always got free copies of the zine and did not have to pay a thing. So, not vanity publishing.

But in America there are two things most people want to know, when they find out you have been published: (1) Does it make you famous? (2) Are you making money from it, and how much? What these two question boil down to are: Does this make you better than me, or can I view your 'art' as the antics of a pathetic loser? They think it has to be a Hollywood blockbuster or it ain't jack. These people almost never ask to see the piece that was published. And they often ask you to tell them what it was 'about.' But if you could tell someone what a poem was about, you wouldn't have to write it.

Very, very few people care about the poem for what is in it, because very, very few people have the receptors. Especially few Americans. I love Americans. But I know that they don't like poetry.

I sound very bitter don't I? Actually, no. This long rant was just to help explain the basis for my policy of not trying to promote my poetry, and certainly not to friends. Except those few who I already know are poets themselves. This is not a poetic country, and these are not poetic times, and I have adjusted to that and accepted it.

The reason I responded to your idea that I should make a collection of my poems was that I might being dying, and I wanted my poems to at least be available to some rare, few, people (maybe my kids), who might want to flip through them. Also, the suggestion made me curious to review my own stuff, which has been sitting in the computer for years and years now. I was pleased by what I saw. But I am the writer. So what would I know?

As far as "a major publishing house" goes, well, first I would like to star in a movie underneath Uma Thurman. Not to make fun of you, but poetry is not a money-maker, and very little poetry is published annually, and that goes to famous, well-connected people. So thanks for the encouragement, but, I won't be joining the slop pile.

Well, I just subjected you to a long and probably bitter-sounding rant. What I want to emphasize, and leave you with, is that I really, REALLY appreciate that you said such nice things about my poetry, and I am honored that you think so well of it.
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