To continue from Part one: Friday evening (February 28) I attended the slam poetry competition. I enjoy this event every year because the participants are always young, unbridled, aggressive, and in-your-face. No subject seems off limits, but sex and race appear to be favorite themes, with more than liberal sprinklings of profanity. The girls (they all seem to be very young to me) refer to their vaginas a lot and defy you to be shocked. The rhythm and creativity never ceases to amaze me, and I remember asking a famous American poet several years ago what he thought of slam poetry and he gave me a look of utter disdain. Well, there’s room for everything, I suppose, and I confess to enjoying this form of verbal exercise much more than the typical dry, detached literary offerings found in our present upper class lit mags around the United States. Bottom line: it’s fun and I’m glad it’s around.
It dawns on me that I know exactly one person at this conference. When I attend workshop after workshop in which we are told that we must network as writers–must, must, must–I feel I am falling down on the job. How can anybody know I’m publishing anything if I don’t KNOW anybody? How can I use word of mouth when I don’t move my mouth? Briefly I contemplate setting myself on fire in the middle of the conference hall so people will notice me. But they’re all so busy getting to their next presentation (or snatching some food) that they’re not likely even to look. I’m running out of ideas . . .
Saturday morning I attend a workshop entitled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Subtext.” Now, if ever there was a subject that could bore one to sleep, this is certainly the one. I am surprised, therefore, when the presenters are well-prepared, dynamic, and energetic. They begin by giving a definition of “subtext,” but I fail to write it down and now I can’t remember it. Okay, so I’m lousy at marketing and I’m also a lousy student. So, what else is new? At some point, however, I stand and ask the question dear to my heart: most literary journals seem to be plot phobic, feeling that characterization is more important, and plot leads into genre work. Being a plot-oriented writer, this upsets me a great deal, and I suspect it is the reason I get so many rejection slips (remember: this blog is entitled Reading, Writing, and Rejection Slips). As lit mag editors, what do they think of that? Well, they all agree that an equal balance of plot and character are most desirable for a good story.
Well, thank God that that.
On the other hand, does the so-called “literary establishment” agree with them? Another question: why am I bored shitless with the plotless offerings constantly being foisted upon us in the university print literary journals? No, methinks the “establishment,” whoever they are, are genuinely afraid of plot. There’s some snobbery going on here. Oh, by the way, that’s Sylvia Plath up there. Sort of a grim picture, n’est pas?
I have a lengthy chat with the one person I know here, lamenting that he’s the only person I know, making me look very bad at marketing. He pats me on the back reassuringly and says, “Don’t worry about it, Henry. You’re not a very good writer either.”
Well, that puts things in perspective. Takes a load off my mind too . . .
My final workshop of the day and of the conference for me is entitled “The Business of Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century.” Mm, boy, is THIS ONE interesting. Let’s see, shall I start out with the good news or the bad news? Is there any good news? Well, yes, everyone on the panel believes that people will still be reading fifty years from now and books will still be around, but not in the abundance we presently experience. They keep referring to the Big Five in the publishing world and their mammoth budgets (Random House, etc.), with one of the panel shaking his head and saying, “I don’t know how they keep afloat.” Then there’s the second tier, smaller budgets but still hanging in there, Grove-Atlantic being one of them. Then there’s “everybody else.” It seems like the small publisher may be the future of publishing because they don’t pay their writers anything.
So that’s it! The future of writing is suddenly clear! Don’t pay the writers a damn thing and the publishing world will stay solvent! That, ladies and gentlemen, seems to be where we are heading. If I had any intention of becoming rich from the fabulous novel I am presently writing, this delusion has been shattered. Maybe I should switch vocations altogether and become a nightclub crooner. Worked for Frank Sinatra, didn’t it?
To be is to do: Aristotle.
To do is to be: Sartre.
Do be do be do: Sinatra.
Well, okay, I had a great time at the convention. I arrived knowing one person and I left knowing . . . um . . . one person. I gave away seven of my books (“Remembrances of Wars Past,” and “I Never Met a Paranoid Schizophrenic I Didn’t Like”) and told the people to email me if they liked them. Haven’t heard from anyone yet. Woody Allen once said that he has been in psychoanalysis for fifteen years and has definitely accomplished one thing: he’s been in psychoanalysis for fifteen years. Very well, then, I have been to three AWP conferences and have definitely accomplished one thing: I’ve been to three AWP conferences.
Am I accomplishing anything at these things? Well, I’m not sure. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know if I ever find out . . .