Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Publishing Too Much

Initally, I thought I was happy for him. Last year, through his Facebook account, I even congratulated Poet O on winning a contest for his fourth poetry book. I really did think I was happy. From his blog, he seems like a nice man with children. Then a few days later, I saw on his status update, that he was sending more poems out for publication.

This infuriated me. I wrote him an impulsive email asking him if he felt like he was putting out too much of his own writing in world. To me, he felt greedy.

I tried to frame my question as if it was posed to him out of curiosity. But it wasn’t. He needed to defend himself, I felt. And I needed to be the one to make him do it.

I never checked back to see if he posted an answer.


Now my father is a born-again Christian. He was a meter reader for his whole life. When I sent him my poetry book, he said, “Next time you write something can you just put the words in normal paragraphs like everyone else.”

It seemed like a reasonable request.

Two years later I sent him the memoir. “Why did you write this?” he said, “Did you really think people were dying to know the man behind something called ‘Blind Date with Cavafy?’”


In this current economy, poets are suffering. In already oversaturated book contests, often bogus to begin with, you can’t help but notice how many wonderful poets aren’t getting their manuscripts into the world. Out of fear of sounding biased, I won’t mention a local writer, I’m going to write about one of his poems soon. But I will say Matthew Hittinger and Eduardo Corral are two favorite. That said, I don’t want to meet either Corral or Hittinger in real life. Next to their poems, they can’t be anything more than pleasantly dull. And Hittinger needs some new photos. Once again, these don’t compliment him. Smile a little, dammit.

No doubt Poet O has a list of writers he loves. No doubt he champions emerging and new writers. Shouldn’t he refrain from entering these contests, and allow others have a greater chance at publication, love?


Recently a best friend found her first book into print. It took too long. No doubt she will start having big things happen. I’m jealous. She’s one of the most talented poets I know.

This jealously makes me think I should write and publish another book. I have two. What I can’t make up for quality, I may make up in quantity. That is, if I move fast enough.

At the same time, she’s having a second child. She’ll never write as much as she’d like. Even if she does, she’ll never feel like she has. This makes me happy.


A best friend is HIV-impacted. He’s been sick and looks pretty shitty. “As bad as I look,” he said the other day, “I could still get someone hotter to fuck me quicker than you.”

It was accurate.

Then he said, “You know a lot about books. Who should I read?”

I mentioned an author, and he looked him up on “This guy has six books,” my friend said, “What one do I read?”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know. There was too much to choose from.


It bothers me the way people criticize Joyce Carol Oates as too prolific as a writer. What does that mean? Who's too say how much you should publish?

I'm pro-choice. It's a woman's right to choose.

And more importantly, isn't every single story, fiction, essay, and even word you possess the ultimate act of generosity? You're offering everyone all your drafts without qualification. You're saying: Here's where I messed up. Here's where I'm redeemed?


Is having more than one or two books to someone like Steven D. Schroeder PoBiz? Is that where he would locate the have/have-nots? Does he deem someone like John Gallaher who lately seems to be competing with Oates for more book publications (and is winning) a representative face of PoBiz? Or is someone like Jack Gilbert who produces a book every ice age Po-Biz? Gilbert must be pretty connected if he can hide for so long, appear just enough to win every award, and then disappear no doubt cashing in his checks on trips to Disney World. And Gallaher does possess a tenure-track job (most of us lack), edits one of the few truly eclectic journals, posts a lot of happy photos with other key poets on his blog, which is enviably popular.

This isn't to say either one of them doesn't deserve what they have received. But still. (I own books by both of them. Even though they're not gay. I'm open-minded. And frugal. I own one by each.)

Outside of their poems, Gallaher and Gilbert seem reasonable, a bit glib. (They both would, I suspect, be cagey and self-effacing and slightly disingenuous about their own relationship to that often unexplainable entity PoBiz, which I don't think exists.) Is that calm (sometimes glibness) a characteristic of PoBiz? Is ultimately, ironically PoBiz just that? Can PoBiz be defined as being at rest, in contemplation, that sense everything is good, the world in place, and poetry is about pleasure, not necessarily instant gratification: publication.


  1. It's true--people always say I should smile more.
    But all my smiles wind up on the cutting room floor.

  2. Actually, you would like to meet Eduardo. You'd give him a big hug, and you'd be like, flesh is better than cyberspace.

    And Roland Barthes is very upset that you linked maternity and book production. He called me on the dream phone. He was kind of pissed, but I don't speak french, so who knows what he said.

  3. Jason,

    I do know that Barthes said.

    This is the truth: Barthes didn't tell me what was up. But he said, "I want you to listen in on the dream phone while I talk to Jason. I won't tell him you're there. Just listen."

    And I did. After you both hung up, he said to me, "I wanted you to hear that. I wanted to prepare you for the fact that Jason will correct you on your obtuseness. He'll forgive you, I think. And so will I."

  4. You should check Poet O's answers because Poet O may have a reasoned response.

  5. Hi,

    Thanks for directly me to Poet O's response. I can totally relate to his process.

    The only way, ultimately, I can determine whether or not, and in what way, I need to revise is through sending the piece out in the public realm. Perhaps the immediate, potential threat of humiliation does it to me.

    That's one of the many reasons I started this blog: I needed an adrendaline rush, and see how unformed certain of my ideas are.

    I like Poet O. He is a good guy, and has tact, unlike me. :)

  6. Now I really want to know who poet O is. But as for poet JG, it's true, I've had a ton of luck over the past few years. Before that, I was a decade of so in the desert, hence all the lines on my face. Poems made huge piles on my desk. I have quite a backlog.

    Seriously, it freaks me out. Some of these poems are over a decade old, just sitting there. What are we suppsoed to do with all this stuff?