Friday, February 22, 2013

Antici . . . (Say it!) . . . pation

Because I am so awesome, I have decided to explore my future path to becoming the poetry world's next big thing, its new darling, the flavor of the month if you will.  It's inevitable, so all I have to do, according to my worn out copy of The Secret, is visualize each tiny step on the way to being the poetry world's next craze, where I am certain to join the ranks of Schomburg, Zapruder, Hicok, Meitner, Beasley, Dickman (Team Michael), and ____________________.  Come along with me as I lay out the road map to the respect and adulation of which I am imminently deserving.  Be warned, however; this is my road map.  If I catch any of you plagiarizing my pathway to celebrity, I will hunt you down and destroy everything you love.

Step one:  Write a manuscript.  No matter how distasteful it might seem, one must actually produce poetry in order to receive the praise of the poetry community.  Well, this rule applies for those as of yet to be inducted into the club.  Once established as a member of The Little Darling's Society, you can pretty much write your own ticket. where this is concerned, writing as little as is necessary to publish a 'New & Selected' book every five or six years.

Said manuscript earns extra points if you are a member of any of the following subsets of demographics:  Woman, Gay, Latino/a, any combination of non-Caucasian hyphenated American, live in NYC, came to poetry after earning or simultaneously earning a non-poetry professional degree, identify as a feminist (2nd or 3rd generation preferred), own exotic animals, once worked in a non-traditional occupation or career (see the year code for the approved list of non-traditional jobs), or lives with modified behavioral patters as displayed by three distinct personality quirks.

Status:  Done.

Step two:  Find a publisher.  Because my manuscript hits all of the hot-topic issues (19th Century Agrarian Mormon Landscape Meditation), finding a publisher was not really a huge concern of mine.  My biggest worry was how I was going to let down some of the publishing companies while still making them feel good about themselves.  I mean, Copper Canyon Press, in the wake of Sam Hammill's departure tends to get their feelings hurt when one turns them down.  Knopf and Harper Collins do keep up appearances, but etiquette dictates kindness and understanding.  Some might say go the contest route, but I have two reservations.  Contests are so 2007, and bidding wars can be really nasty.  the publisher one chooses must be humble enough to be outside of the box, yet a true work horse.  After all, they are going to carry one all the way to the top.

Said press earns extra points if it has an paradoxical, or whimsical name.  My Big Fat Poetry Press, Flat Line Trajectory Press, Socialist Tractor Press, Self Immolating Monk Press, etc., etc.  You get the idea, right?

Status: Done.

Step Three: Promotion.  As attention whores, most poets will find this step the most easy to perform.  However, there are a few guidelines.  A poet must never speak about his or her own manuscript.  Instead, enlist the help of friends and former mentors to create a buzz about the poet as much as the manuscript.  Promoting the poet is important because most poets are genuinely boring.  Most poets are for lack of a better definition, sloven, one track minded bores.  If you are going to be the poetry world's next big thing, you need to stand out, be seen as unique, wear one of the secondary colors for an entire year.  Mere blurbs, blogging and Facebook just don't cut it any more.  You need to get former professors, imminent poets, and previous flavors of the month to sing your praise in blurbs, on their blogs, and on Facebook.

Said promotion will go further if you can get any of the following poets to sing your praise:  W.S. Merwin, John Ashbery, Philip Levine, Mark Doty, Maxine Kumin, Marie Howe, Dorian Laux, Marvin Bell, or Naomi Shihab Nye.

Status: Done.

Step Four:  Video Trailers.  Do them yourself or have a friend do them, but by god, they work.  Nothing says "Too Cool for School" better than  a video trailer of your book processed with scratches and sepia tone to make it look all retro.  And if one is good, then fifteen must be better.  Go hog wild.  Well, go tofu wild because a lot of poets are vegan. 

Said video trailers will have more of an impact if they are contrary while remaining true to the overall thesis of your manuscript.  How do you do that?  Two words: Trailer. Park.

Status: In the works.

Step Five: Swag.  I know swag is on its way out, but that's why you need to use it.  You need to demonstrate your non-conformist tendencies by displaying your adherence to barely out of fashion trends within the poetry community.  The best swag will of course be ironic.  Now you have a decision to make.  Do you want to express irony with your swag in a "I know swag is out of style and that's why I am so awesome by giving you swag which is silly and funny" or, do you want to express your irony by saying "I know swag is out of style and as such, I will be making a commentary on swag itself by giving you authentic and genuinely nice swag"?

Said swag should never, under any circumstances, be an expression of the poets genuine investiture regarding the emotional state of the readers.  In fact, it is considered a plus if the poet demonstrates a continual state of mild irritation regarding the reader.

Status: Done.

Step Six: Wait.  After having followed every "rule" for becoming the next big superstar of the poetry world, simply sit back and wait for greatness to be thrust upon you.  Remember the cardinal rule of this phase of the game:  Let those around you do all of the worrying and so-called heavy lifting.  Poetry is about standing on the shoulders of giants and taking all of the credit.  No poet ever gets to be canonized by being a nice guy and being genuinely in love with poetry.  It's a poet-eat-poet  world out there, and poetry has taught us anything (and it hasn't) you owe the world nothing.  It's the world who owes you everything.

Status:  About to start.

* * *

You know, I am so close on so many of these things.  Boy, this fame thing is going to be a good move for me.  I am so happy I decided to be a poet.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Every Word My Last

Just now I was reading a book of poems by the late Ken Brewer, and I stumbled upon a strange thought.  Ken passed away when this book was about to be published, dying from pancreatic cancer.  While sad, that isn't my stranger thought.  My strange thought was wondering how long he knew this was most likely going to be his last book.  I have this thought on occasion.  The first time I listened to John Coltrane's Giant Steps, I wondered if he knew his death was 11 years away, what I would be doing 11 years before I died---if I had already done that.  Probably not, but that isn't my point.

I have always had a fatalistic approach to my writing.  As a young poet I am sure that helped to write many of the dark and teen-angst filled dreck I was writing at the time, but later it still serves me.  With every writing project I complete, I literally believe for a short while what I have just completed will be the last thing I ever write.  I don't mean to think so, and I hope I am not looking at the issue from a this is my legacy perspective, but I do.  I look at what I have completed and I cannot imagine anything ever coming to me with the same sense of renewal as my last project brought along.  I cannot perceive of anything being interesting enough to ever write a poem about.  In fact, for weeks and sometimes months after, I find writing poetry distasteful, too much effort, and quite boring.

That's not the model.  I am supposed to be passionate about writing, but in the wake of completing a manuscript, my writing suffers.  Even this blog suffers.  I lose interest and I become obsessed with seeing the final product of my efforts even though I don't have the energy I am supposed to have to work on it any longer.  Many of the poets I admire are writing two or three different manuscript at once.  Others have a slower pace to writing and simply write a few poems every year.  Still others write furiously every day as if their lives depended on finishing a draft or two every day.

Here's what I am wondering:  Do we share a fatalism only to express it in a variety of ways?  A friend of mine once said, "I have written thousands of poems, and I would give them all up to write another one."  That's devotion, as are the other habits I listed above.  I wonder if my fatalism is my way of making what I write count for something more. 

Some day I will want to write more poetry, but right now I am feeling a little ambivalent about not wanting to write.  I almost feel like a traitor, a liar, and a fraud all wrapped into one because I am not writing poetry.  Having been through this several times before, I know I really won't be interested in writing poetry until I become genuinely afraid I have written my last poem.  Even then it will be a struggle to get back up on the horse.