Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Life in Publishing ii

[continued from last time:] What's notable about Diaeresis's 7-chapbook list is that 6 of the total were from poets we knew and solicited (including one by my co-editor). We started with a "seed" group of 3 by 2 middling well-known poets (Hank Lazer & Cecil Giscombe) & one old friend of mine (EA Miller). But by the time the first 3 had been copied & bound, we were simply overwhelmed with manuscript submissions.

I'll be honest: I read a pretty decent amount of poetry – something like 2 or 3 slim volumes & chapbooks a week – but there're an awful lot of other things I read, as well. (I do teach things, after all, & feel an obligation to re-read before I get up & pose as some sort of expert; & I have a fairly lively fiction-, philosophy-, & theory-reading life.) And I'm simply not that great at ploughing thru manuscripts & recognizing greatness. In the event, Eric Baus's Space Between Magnets was the only ms we published that had come in over the transom, & by the time we'd finished producing Meredith Quartermain's chapbook both of us were simply overwhelmed by the volume of submissions & the demands of being "publishers."

Like everyone else, I feel some compulsion to write poems, & of course I enjoy being published – the work getting out there for someone else in the world to read. But I discovered that I didn't like being a publisher. I didn't like answering mail, sorting ms into various stacks, figuring out who'd been contacted & who hadn't, addressing envelopes & packages. And I didn't have enough of an aesthetic flair to produce a series of chapbooks that I was really proud of: I know what I like in a book, but I don't know how to achieve it on my own.

And I was reluctant to do a chapbook of my own. I wasn't sure about precisely what I'd include in such a chap, for one thing – I'd been accumulating poems for a decade and a half, & everything had a little place in my heart – & I'd internalized pobiz's market-based distaste for self-publishing (see last post) to a certain, at the time fatal, extent. I've gotten over that pretty entirely, but I've realized that at least as far as full-fledged books go, I'd rather have somebody else do it for me than do it myself. (Did I mention that I'm incurably lazy?)

So I look back at Diaeresis as a moment of education (much as my editorial work at Epoch back in the day had been), a moment that was useful and marginally productive, but that's over.*

(If I were to do it over again, I think I'd dispense with cover art & aim to produce extremely minimal, text-only packages like the various chapbooks JH Prynne has done with Equipage & Barque. In fact, I'm pretty tempted to do just that – but only with my own work: a series of "dispatches" or "visiting cards," in 12-page packets.)
Legitimacy: as per the comments to the last post, that's what it all comes down to. The legitimacy supposedly granted by external publication, and the ways in which we've internalized – especially those of us in the academic poetry industry – the legitimation procedures of the hegemonic fields in which we're forced to move.
Eric is back! And he's become a romance novel critic!?! Well. I always knew you had romance on your mind, old friend. My own temptation these days is science fiction, tho I suspect that the critical community there is a deal less welcoming than in romance fiction. Heaven knows the crap ratio in the product itself is just as high or higher. Peter O'Leary claimed once that Dune was by far the greatest sf novel ever written (dunno about that, I don't do horse races etc...); right now, probably 25 years after reading the first 4 Dune books, I'm reading the 5th, Heretics of Dune, & finding it surprisingly gripping.

*If you're reading this now & I've got your manuscript, stop holding your breath. I won't publish it. But I do apologize profusely for keeping you on tenterhooks. Drop me a line.


Amy said...

I think a book of poetry faces the same legitimacy issues as anything else that hits "the market." I mean, I'd love to start my own brewery, but how am I going to convince people MY beer is worth drinking? How can I get my friends to believe me when I tell them it's REALLY the best beer ever? Don't I need some big money backers and a PR/advertising apparatus?

Most poets who self-publish are like a home brewer who takes bottles of his beck to the county fair and wonders why they don't fly off his card table. It's an almost child-like need for OUTSIDE affirmation... the lust for the cold sword's kiss on both shoulders.

The trick to self-publishing, it seems to me, is to make it MORE legitimate: start your own journal, attach your own press, publish yourself third, after two better-known people. Voila. 99% percent of the .000001% who read poetry will go for it! :-) And you can add "publisher" to your CV, right next to "published."

Or has that already been seen through?

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