We are all poets now

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


Stop the presses!  Alert the media!  Big news has come down.

And what’s all the fuss about?

Haven’t you heard?

New York, the all-knowing all-powerful publishing capital, somehow missed out on publishing an important literary book.

How could it happen?  Has it ever happened before?  Could it possibly ever happen again?  What does it all mean?

All right, I will now turn the sarcasm meter down a notch of two.  But dripping irony, or befuddled rage, seem two perfectly legitimate reactions not to the fact that a small press book called Tinkers was picked for the Pulitzer, but that this fact was greeted with great surprise, shock even, by the media.  Perhaps the denseness of all this was captured by an apparently un-ironically titled blog by the New York Times: The One That Got Away.   They were referring not just to the one that got away from the big New York presses, but to the one that got away from them, since they did not review it.  But one?  Please.  Try thousands.  Or maybe try this fact on: I would wager that more important, experimental, bold books that at least aim at literature are published outside of New York than from within it.

Yes, it’s true that most of us hear more about books that are published in New York, but that is largely the mechanics of the thing.  The larger presses have the larger bags of cash and the large book reviews largely (almost exclusively) review books by those large presses.  (As I pointed out in a letter to the New York Times this past January, 52 out of the 55 books they considered “notable” were from large New York presses.  A more honest description than “notable” would have been “some books we liked and just happened to review.”)

Why does any of this matter?  Maybe because some of us believe that art still matters.  Consider for a moment how most books that are published by New York presses are selected.  First they are vetted by agents, who have always, but especially in these embattled times, looked and thought mostly of dollar signs and who favor the sort of books that have made dollar signs before, not art or wild newness.  This is completely understandable, but unfortunate: already, at this early stage, most books that don’t fit some obvious mold have been weeded out.  But let’s assume that your book runs that gauntlet and then by some miracle wins a sympathetic editor, one who maybe even admits to loving your book.  In days of yore your story might be tilting toward a happy ending but, alas, these are not days of yore.  Now your poor editor, that sad and lonely champion, must take your book to a meeting of fellow editors, the board, which includes a band of insect-like creatures that crawl up from the sales and marketing offices and down from the corporate penthouse and who bring with them records of sales and sales potential.  It isn’t just that whether or not the book will sell is the pressing question, it is, if we are honest, the only question. Safety first is the motto. And why not?  The people doing the selecting have families and jobs, jobs that they might lose if they displease their corporate overlords, overlords who have never been very happy with the paltry profits that publishing brings.  Is it any wonder that New York has adopted, or has tried to adopt, the Hollywood blockbuster model?

The trouble I have with the Tinkers headlines is that they actually play into the accepted New York narrative. As if there weren’t a thousand Tinkers left on the boardroom floor.  As if there weren’t more good books not just published outside New York but likely left unpublished in a system of this sort.   And as if all great and original books can jump through the necessary hoops, held up by fundamentally (if not politically) conservative and profit-minded businessmen.  As if we are really reading the best of the best.

Since this is unpleasant to think about, we accept the larger narrative.  The books that are reviewed and sold to us must be the best books, right?  That is why the Tinkers narrative, as told by New York, is meant to suggest something reassuring not radical.  The narrative is not “Wow, I just peeked under the rug, and there are a thousand other Tinkers under there.”  No, that wouldn’t do.  Instead, the story becomes the one that got away.

* * *

But how does the artistic writer, the committed writer, the writer who wants to do great things with words, react in the face of these facts?  You can spend a whole lot of energy raging against this particular machine (as I just have) but you ain’t going to change it.  So the big and always question: what is to be done?

It’s not an easy answer and includes many parts.  First and foremost, keep doing good and original work.  “A man is best when he is most himself,” said Thoreau.  Of course that’s easier said than done.  It takes a while to figure out who that self is and what he or she sounds like on the page.  And, since humans are social animals, it is even harder to keep sounding like yourself if others don’t care for that self at first.  Even if you spend many years getting up every day and working on that self and that self’s voice, it may happen that one day that self is left on the boardroom floor.  Futhermore, if you are the kind of person who does these things, who spends a good deal of your day brooding and imagining, then you will become adept, not just at putting words on the page, but at beating the living shit out of yourself.  As it turns out, the same imagination that can make beautiful things is also good at growing mind weeds and, and when others tell you that what you do is no good, it is all too happy to join the chorus.

This is natural enough for a writer and self-doubt is part of the business.  But what I am going to suggest here is that now, more than ever, these voices need to be, as much as possible, quashed.  Especially if they are a mere echo of what the publishing world is telling you.  That is you need—and I need—to reject the rejecters.  Too much energy is wasted every day trying to please these masters who can’t be pleased.  You could write a great book, a shining book, and they might still turn their noses up and talk of sales.

My wife, Nina, had a great line the other day.  She was talking about the need for the artistic writer, the so-called literary writer, to accept limits: limited sales, limited attention, limited money.

“We are all poets now,” she said.

That was it!  The days when Hemingway was on par with movie stars is long gone.  Not only that, the chance of gaining traditional rewards—money, fame, the usual—through the creative and original putting of words on the page is so slim as to be ridiculous.  We are all poets now.  I repeated this to my friend, the writer Peter Trachtenberg, who later told me that, after relaying this sentence to some writer friends, they became instantly depressed.

And it is kind of depressing.  But what I have been thinking lately is that is also something else.  It is, once you come out the other side of it, kind of exhilarating.  Lately, rather than be depressed by the thought, I am feeling thrilled by it.  Thrilled and freed.  If it doesn’t really matter, if it truly isn’t possible to be heard on a large stage, why not just focus all your energy on making the thing itself as great as you possibly can?  You can’t please the masters anyway, no matter how hard you try, so why even try to please them?  And since your efforts to win favor by sounding like someone else are bound to fail, why not sound exactly like yourself?

* * *

I will end this on a note of confession.  These little things I’m writing, now called blogs, were once called “occasional essays,” and the occasion for this essay is the recent rejection of a book proposal that I spent four years working on.  In the past I have  written a lot about the coasts, about the birds that live there and the ecology of the edge, about the joys and perils of living near water, where, as A.R. Ammons put it, “firm ground is unavailable ground.”  Since I love the coast why not follow it, I asked myself a few years ago.  I decided that I would write a book about following the coasts, starting in Maine and heading to Florida, then along the gulf to New Orleans, then to California and up to Alaska.  I was excited—thrilled really—about writing a huge, Whitmanesque book about our wildly changing coastlines.  Hold on, New York said, that is not a book we want.  Not from someone like you at least.  Not from someone who has published with—gasp—University Presses.  Go back into your corner they said.  We are busy people.  We don’t have time for the likes of you.

Sounds like a sad story right?  Four years of interviewing coastal scientists and walking the Outer Banks and paddling a kayak down to South Carolina and learning all I could about the edge, where most of us live by the way, and all for naught.  But it wasn’t, or isn’t sad.  A few days after the rejection, after the initial rage had passed, after I had tried to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be singing any Whitmanesque odes, something started to happen.  I remembered something my rejecters, the masters, had said when they rejected me.  My writing was “too personal” they said.  This because along with chronicling the lives of dolphins, ospreys, mollusks, and whales, I also chronicled the lives of my newborn daughter and my self.  Too personal?  I chewed this over and soon my rage was turning into something else, something better.  I now had a growing suspicion that the masters were, as usual, dead wrong.  But the anger at them was fading because they had actually helped me: I have long known that my writing is best when it is most personal, most close to the bone, and now they had shown me that my original idea for the book was flawed.  How so?  It wasn’t personal enough!

The last few weeks have been joyous ones.  The book had always seemed too stiff and stilted for me.  Even the title, Walking the Edge, was kind of dorky.  I’m thinking now that I might call it Learning to Surf,  after an essay I wrote, and that as well as being about this country’s attempts to live along an uncertain coast, it will be about my own.   But that isn’t the point.  The point is that I’m in it now, joyously swimming inside it, turning what was stiff into the personal and immediate, using all the science I gathered, which I’d briefly thought a waste of time, for my own artistic means, moving things around, synapses crackling and connecting, jumping from place to place.  Which, I’ve got to tell you, is a blast.  I’ve never had a champagne party at a book launch in New York so I don’t know what it’s like, but there’s no way it can be more fun than this. The eventual book may or may not sell, but it sure feels good now.  Which gives me hope.  I no longer serve the masters.  They can crush the dreams of publication, they can deny you a chance to be heard.  But they can’t crush this.  And this, this is a joy.

So fuck ‘em, I say.  We are all poets now.

P.S. Here’s a related cartoon.  But it should carry this label: Warning: Not to be viewed by young writers.

  1. Michael Kitson writes:

    Forgive me for adding my two cents worth but what about calling it
    Learning to Coast

  2. Donigan Merritt writes:

    I see these comments are dated four months ago, but I just came across this from a link on another site. This is probably classified as piling-on, but I’ll offer anyway.

    I have an MFA from Iowa (81), and since the early 80s have published 8 novels, to widely varying degrees of commercial success. Every novel I’ve published had the contract’s “next book” option exercised, including the most recent. I’ve been published by small, medium, and massive houses — from Coward,McCann (before it was absorbed into Putnam’s) to Bantam (3 books), and eventually to a fine home with a classy small press.

    The classy small press published my last two novels. They had an option for the next one, and picked it up, paying the advance and starting the process.

    Then, because they didn’t have enough money to compete in the big time marketing and distribution chain, they cut a deal with Random House — becoming, I suppose, number 35 or 40 of Random House’s imprints, or is it Bertelsmans imprints? One day my agent calls me to say that Random House wants my classy small price to cancel the contract — I can keep the money … how nice of them. Reason, my Book Scan numbers for the last novel were not up to par in the Random House scheme of things. The marketing and sales departments (noting that editorial loved it) advised against publishing it based on such low Book Scan numbers.

    So they broke the contract, I kept the money, and we’re starting from scratch.

    Point being, if a person with a successful publishing track record has this happen, is there hope for any writer that Hollywood wouldn’t drool over?

    The answer is … how many of your guessed correctly? None, is the right answer.

    I blog now. At least a few people read what I write there.

    • Bill writes:

      It’s hard not to think things are falling apart… For my part, I’m still making books while trying to see beyond the book, too. Reminds me a little of the music industry collapse, and the fact that many musicians have had to go back on the road, do it all face-to-face, or find internet solutions to getting their work heard and even seen. Neil Young has a great low-budget video out there now, for example. Some readers–that’s all we need…

    • Dave writes:


      Thanks for joining this discussion. Sometimes I feel I’m in strange position, teaching people to go into this world that is changing/dying by the minute. But at least they are a part of a world of people who love books and writing. And if they ask about things like Bookscan, I tell them, honestly, that they are in a better position than I am. At least they have not yet been tagged and tracked and so the marketers can imagine away (if they can imagine at all.) Dave

  3. Stephen Trimble writes:

    If we are all poets now, we had better be willing to courageously accept the consequences: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-lundberg/writer-killed-over-a-poem_b_576817.html

  4. Howdy, gentlemen (gentlepersons)–

    I saw this thread cited in the Times’s “Paper Cuts” blog last night, and felt compelled to toss in my two cents once more, though, given the length of the entry, maybe it should be “my twenty cents.”

    As pleased as I am to be cited even second-hand in “Paper Cuts,” I have to amplify my remarks to David Gessner. Yes, it’s depressing to be reminded of your irrelevance as an artist, even more depressing to be confronted with the irrelevance of your art. But, really, I don’t see how writers can expect people to read our novels or short stories or literary memoirs when they’re not even reading newspapers. The latter have, for two centuries, served as America’s conduit of fundamental and essential narratives, presented in language that was at least theoretically accessible to any educated citizen. Not even fully educated: one of the first lessons I remember learning in my public grade school on the Upper West Side was how to fold the New York Times.

    I’d argue that writers have been marginalized for the same reason that news reporters are being marginalized—not because our work is too recondite or dessicated but because a sizable number of Americans can no longer follow even the simplest story—say, the story of the weapons of mass destruction that justified the invasion of Iraq or the one about the wounded combat vets warehoused in a derelict, mold-infested ward of Walter Reed or the story of how hedge funds and investment banks, abetted by members of the political class, gutted the global economy the way junkies might gut a mattress they suspect has a whole lot of money stuffed inside.

    Putting aside why Americans can’t follow those stories, the relevant question is how we—journalists, writers, and, yes, poets, too—can restore narrative to its old primacy. Human beings have been telling stories for a long time, and our species’ need for narrative strikes me as falling only slightly behind our needs for food, shelter, and sex. So I don’t think the need is going to go away. Nor do I think it can be indefinitely satisfied by the bellowing incitements of cable news shows and AM talk radio or by tweets and Facebook posts or America’s Top Idol. So we have to keep telling stories, telling them more eloquently and inventively and humorously. And, of course, more truthfully (with the understanding that truth isn’t the same thing as fact, and that it is as likely to be found in David Foster Wallace as Hampton Sides; you can find it in Eileen Myles, too).

    As a teacher of creative writing, I often ask myself how my work will serve the young people in my classes. I tell them that if their studies teach them anything, it should be how to tell a true story from a false one. And since for the rest of their lives they are likely to be exposed to false stories, battered with them, bombarded with them, stuffed and basted with the meretricious, being able to recognize a true story will not be without value.

  5. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  6. Wendy Babiak writes:

    I love it! I’m a poet with my first book coming out. Yes, there’s an exhilarating freedom in surrendering to the fact that no one gives a shit about what you’re doing. Enjoy!

  7. shawna writes:

    Welcome to the fringe. There’s lots of room here.

    • Donnaldson writes:

      A place with good conversation where the sun’s always past the yardarm! I feel like I’ve found the Caribbean’s warm white sand and aquamarine waters right at my keyboard. Way better than Calgon…Bill & Dave, you guys are the best…

      And you go, Dave! Fuck ‘em. And forgive ‘em, too, for most of them know not even what they’re looking for much less what they’re missing.

      I wrote for film for seven years – or really I should say I wrote, ostensibly, for film because nothing ever actually got made, despite dozens of meetings, some in Bel Air over breakfast with guys eating egg white omelets, wheat-free toast and chicory coffee (I mean…why bother?) while explaining that they now want the bedroom drama to be a romantic thriller, or the romantic thriller now to target the young adult audience (who’ll pay to see a movie again and again and again with or without vampires, apparently)… Anyway, I learned something about balancing one’s convictions, voice and process with the whims of the proverbial ‘They’ who strut (naked?) back and forth wielding light swords. But, alas, I’ve had to learn it again (along with other worthy lessons) since I’ve been drawn to write fiction. It’s hard. You have to be porous, let in the world. And the point is to connect, isn’t it? With someone, anyone, out there. I think that I know now, though, that I’m in it (the fiction writing, that is) for the journey, which is a good thing since half the time I don’t know where I’m headed! And I have to figure out how to protect that part that’s just now (though I’m not exactly a spring chicken) finding its wobbly legs.

      Meanwhile, you’re skiing on beaches! So great. Can’t wait to read Learning to Surf.

  8. Art Is Not A Market Segment writes:

    The hegemony of insularity signs its own death warrant!

    The avant-garde becomes the derriere-garde (canon)! Art happens in spite of approved “connections” and chi-chi-shit!

    Come down off your high-horse, Manhattan! You are irrelevant in the Age of Decentralized Digital Distribution!

    Manhattan Est Insula!

    we love you appalachia get up

  9. eli Hastings writes:

    I’m falling in love with Gessner all over again. This is, of course, incredibly well articulated and wildly important. Don’t ever start pulling punches, even if Random House gives you a contract for a book of essays about literary indignation and disappointment.

    In all seriousness, it lifts my heart. I’m sure you’re aware of how successful you are as author and literary “figure” to many of us, so to hear that you feel as dissed as you do is very instructive. We need more than “that (little press) is perfectly respectable.” We need the message that you put out that “that (little press) is much more honorable and ultimately preferable and certainly more prestigious.”

    Bravo. Miss ya.


  10. Bill writes:

    I’m All Poet Now
    (A sonnet to be read aloud at cocktail hour)

    Funny but so many of the greatest books
    of our day and all time have been published
    by the beeg pooblishers, some in New York, it’s
    true, but London, Rio, Chapel Hill, even Boston (!),
    where they’ve had two good Sox wins the last
    couple of nights… and come to think of it, maybe
    it is like baseball—millions of little leaguers, hundreds
    of thousands high-school ball, mid five-figures college, but only
    eight hundred major leaguers. Eight hundred slots, that’s all.
    Or beer. What if we were making beer? The skunky junk would flunk.
    The hoppy, heady stuff is always going to be boutique, while alas the Lite
    will have no trouble getting pub-lushed. If we’re all poets, I want to be Billy Collins.
    Just because we work real long, also rant and crave,
    Doesn’t mean we prosy types are entitled to be published, Dave.

  11. Hi, Dave,

    In fairness to the NYTBR, there was a time when it could make a half-serious claim to reviewing the books that mattered– that is, providing those books had been published by trade presses. But in the last three years the Times Book Review has been whittled down by something like a third, and that’s still better than what’s happened to other book sections,which were simply tossed overboard, like the fattest person on a sinking rowboat, It rarely did the rowboat much good. What the Times does now is purely symbolic. Once a week it designates two or three books to stand in for the corpus of new literature, or perhaps the corpse of literature. The fact that the Times has deigned to recognize them is supposed to reassure us that serious works of fiction and nonfiction– and even the occasional volume of poetry– are being produced in this country.

    The trade publishers are the victims of the same technological and cultural shift that has decimated newspapers and magazines, except their misfortunes have been heightened by cowardice and stupidity. They won’t take a modest flyer on your book (or, for that matter, on mine), but they’ll pour millions of dollars into the new novel by Audrey Niffenegger because her last one was a surprise bestseller, ignoring the fact that you can only get one surprise bestseller per author and the mathematical unlikehood of turning a profit on a book for which they’ve already shelled out millions.

    I do find marginalization liberating in many ways. But some folks say homelessness is.

  12. tim parrish writes:

    Guess I was a poet and didn’t know it. Rip em up, David! Let’s all gather by a warm fire of NYTBRs and have a real drink. Or nine.

  13. amelia writes:

    ughh. i wish this had exhilarated me but alas, I’m not there yet. I just want them–whoever they are–to publish my novel.

    however, good for youuu, David. If *they* don’t publish it, I hope to be as resilient.

    • Bill writes:

      Oh, Amelia. My novel The Smallest Color, draft number 957, was rejected over 40 times for several years before it finally got picked up by Counterpoint, where it was published well, for a very small advance. Then a large Hollywood option, dumb luck, then publication (and a tour!) in Australia/New Zealand, wow. It wasn’t big time by any means, but very satisfying in the end… here and there an email still from someone who’s found it in a library. Dave and I have both been published by both large and small presses, varying results. I love a university press. I love a boutique press. I love a big press, too. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. Which is moot, of course, if they won’t publish you! Best advice, not that you asked for any advice, is to keep loving your novel (possibly by revising it in response to deep comments by friends and pros alike) and keep it out there. Meanwhile, crucial, work on the next project, whatever that might be.

  14. Hillary Wentworth writes:

    Reject the rejecters! Fight the good fight! David, this was such a refreshing and exhilerating read for where I am right now. I’m sure your book will be “the other one that got away”–not to mention luminous and hilarious. Go for it, brutha!

  15. Write on, brothers.

  16. Sumanth Prabhaker writes:

    I wish these were days of yore.

  17. I think this article may be one of the most important articles for those outside of the writing community to understand. There’s such a perpetuated myth that “great books will ALWAYS get published by mega-presses in NY and ALWAYS be bestsellers” that people feel like any book not recommended by The Great & Powerful Oprah must not be worth it’s salt. Obviously, some of us know better, but it’s damned sad watching talented, visionary, artistic works languish in obscurity while “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” shoots to the top of the bestseller’s list. But, such is life I suppose.

    I suppose if all was fair and appropriate, we’d be bored with life and never get to write/read such wonderful manifestos as this.

    “Fuck ’em” indeed, David. I’ll join your army.

  18. geo logo writes:

    This is sad but true. I relate deeply to it all, and as one who started a writing career in broadcasting and eventually, advertising, I’m particularly sensitive to the word “commercial.” When I began writing fiction I thought it was the kiss of death, that it meant you were a sell-out. I wrote commercials all day–back in the pre-digital era–and when I wrote my own stuff the last thing I wanted to be was commercial. I took pride in my stories getting published in small mags and university presses. I was filled with so much pride and hope that I quit my job and went freelance, to concentrate on writing and compartmentalize advertising, which was always a means to an end anyway. I went on to publish a dozen or so stories over the next five years, which were part of a collection. Naturally I thought the collection would be published — after all, nearly all of the stories were, right?

    Not so fast, young fella. I was told by several agents that while they found the stories funny, that I shouldn’t waste my time with short stories because even an established author doesn’t sell more than 10,000 copies of a collection. They said to write a novel, so I did. This one came close, too. But the agents didn’t know where “to put it on the shelf.” They didn’t know what genre it fit into. To be honest, I didn’t either. It never crossed my mind. I wrote what was in my heart, and I slaved over it for years. I finally gave up on it and wrote another novel. This one was even worse, as I got mired in bitterness from all sorts of stimuli, publishing and otherwise, and basically kicked my protagonist around for 300 pages. Not a fun read. The agents did not like this one, either.

    Disheartened, and nearly 10 years into it, I quit writing fiction and got a full-time job in advertising again. I got married, bought a house, and basically forgot about writing except for banging out the occasional story when I found the energy. I spent three years refining an animation pilot, tried to pitch it, had a few encouraging meetings, but when the economy tanked no one wanted an animated property. It was too expensive. Why pay for that when you can do film a bunch of jarheads running around the Jersey Shore in yet another reality TV atrocity? I also wrote a few screenplays with a partner, but those languished as well. Then, a great and horrendous thing happened.

    A friend of mine who had been James Patterson’s business partner in advertising at J. Walter Thompson began working with Patterson as his chief marketing officer. The ad agency he worked with, which I had coincidentally taken a job at, did all of Patterson’s book promotion–television, print, and radio. With my background as a “real” writer, would I like to get involved? He promised that Patterson would look at my work if I did a good job.

    I did not know Patterson at all, as I read the classics and literary fiction exclusively. (And some Manson studies of course.) I generally hate genre fiction — who gives a shit about vampires and detectives?–but I figured I could pick up a few tricks from this oh-so-successful publishing machine. I was wrong. Well, sort of.

    Patterson’s work was abominable, as I’m sure everyone here knows all too well. I was disgusted at every puerile word. It was like one huge cliche that went on and on. Unbelievable characters. Idiotic implausible plots. Inane dialogue. Chewing gum for primitive minds. I mean, I used to see people on the N train reading his books and their lips would be moving. I’ll stop there or risk sitting here all night. You get the picture.

    I lasted about six months working on this stuff, and thank god it wasn’t my only account. But it was enlightening in a very bizarre way. It reaffirmed my faith in art. Seeing someone whose only purpose was to generate money put it all in perspective. And being in the room where I heard the cynical, lowest common denominator marketing strategies was as disturbing as it was fascinating. I was sickened to the core and eventually quit to return to freelancing and my writing.

    I don’t have fantasies about glitzy readings, steely-eyed author photos, or glowing reviews by Michiko Kakutani anymore. Or being the literary equivalent of Keith Moon like one of my early idols, T.C. Boyle. In fact, I hardly care. I know I can get a book published, but even if I do, will it change my life? I’d be happy, sure, but what would really be different? I will have satisfied a goal, nothing more. In fact, I’d be more relieved than happy. And it would probably be anticlimactic, anyway. Most things usually are.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I, too, am a poet now. Thanks for the great article. I’m happy I found this site.


    • Dave writes:


      Thanks for the honest and bracing reply. Everything rung true except perhaps the conclusion. Not to say you weren’t telling the truth. It just sounds like you still might have, if not a book, a big creative project in you. Or to put it another way, you can lull these things to sleep for a while but they are hard to kill. Or yet another: you may not be out of the creative woods yet.

      Look forward to conversing over virtual drinks, DG

      • geo logo writes:

        Thanks for the encouragement Dave. I appreciate it. I do have a few projects left in me, don’t worry. Just trying to keep things in perspective. Expectations breed resentments and if I’m guilty of anything, it’s expecting things. (I’ve had lots of smoke blown up you know where from overly effusive industry types). I look forward to reading more thought-provoking posts here.


  19. John Jack writes:

    Huzzah! for the quickening of passion for a creative work. It’s a heady natural joy, one that makes writing worth all the heartache.

    I agree that a more personal approach is a valuable, proactive response to a rejector’s saying a work is too personal–tone it down, my backside, tune it up–for two reasons. More specificity of people in place emotionally appeals more universally for audiences away from a topic area due to the participation mystique of unfamiliar if not exotic persons and secondary setting places, and appeals more deeply for audiences in a topic area who are curious to know their own backyards from unfamiliar if not exotic perspectives. Second, literature’s redeeming grace in an increasingly technologically connected-personally disconnected global community is its power to provide a potent, intimate, individual escape experience that no other entertaiment medium can.

    Weren’t all authors at one time known as poets? Aristotle calls all creative writers poets in _Poetics_, regardless of genre. Freytag in _Technique of the Drama_ pretty much marginalizes “author” as an irrelevant distinction from that of “poet.”

    What is it about the publishing marketplace that promotes mediocrity, uniformity, and condemnaton, yet creative heresies rise above the crop of throw-it-out-any way-anyway-and-see-if-it-sticks-submission approach? Six million book-length manuscripts in the publishing submission pipeline at any given time, at least twenty million short works in the digest pipeline–most all of them trying in some way to be like what’s gone before without the necessary essential sparks of originality. It’s kind of busy out there, so the system attempts to mechanize the process to make it more predictable and profitable. It’s an impossible task, regardless. Cleopatra was the queen of ‘de Nile. I nominate her for matron goddess of the rejection-denial business.

    Those Big Sister publishers have gotten all caught up in marketplace predictabliity, haven’t they? Art is naturally unpredictable. Commerce is the bane of art, not to mention technology corrupts culture per Ray Bradbury in _Farenheit 451_, plus a deeper message not yet examined in literary review circles. The Majority Rules rule causes a tyrrany of uniformity for all. A majority of readers seem to want to be told what to read by a few so-called literary review critics–rejectionists–who would rather put the pall of their own damaged personalities over a work of art than understand the work of art.

    Yet it is art, literary arts in particular, that most fosters thinking for one’s own best behalf. Yep, reading, writing, and literature study for the sake of learning to think for one’s self is the unstated purpose of liberal arts study that society benefits from, because there’s no empirically wrong or right answers, only credible, evidentiary understandings. The unstated but essential rubric of literature study and creative writing: Take a stand, make a credible point, and susbstantiate it. The very message behind Vonnegut’s _Breakfast of Champions_, think for yourself, or, to your detriment, others will. Veritably the breakfast of champions.

    You know, the original literary agents were copyright pirates. They’d gather outside a bookmaker’s shop waiting at the front of the line for a new release, buy up copies to send to other agents and bookmakers, sell them for a ten or twenty percent markup to competing bookmakers–sometimes to competitors right next door–and ships’ pursers, who in turn sold them to literary agent counterparts at ports of call across the globe. In about the time it took an authorized bookmaker to make and sell a few thousand copies of a popular book, hundreds of thousands if not millions of unathorized copies had been made and sold abroad.

    • Dave writes:

      Who are you John Jack? That is one of the early mysteries of this site. Whoever you are, you certainly merit your own cartoon head! As soon as the technology is up and running, consider yourself drawn. DG

      • John Jack writes:

        I prefer to maintain my secret identity out of privacy concerns. The Internet phenomena of blogging is just beginning to fully emerge in all its glories and fiascoes, groupthink popularity pageantries, and proxy realities, but I’ve been involved for a decade in one or another public or private, in-person or online writing discussion venues, dozens actually. I’ve been a frequent victim of uncalled-for harrasment and abuse. Once bitten; twice shy. So I’ll preserve my privacy as much as I’m able, please.

        However, for you Mr. Gessner, a hint. I graduated in 2007 from The Distinguished Southren University where you mentor. I was a student in your fall 2005 209 workshop and fall 2005 207 workshop with your wife. I wore a camoflauge green ball cap every day, all day, except for commencement.

        Since graduation and as a welcome consequence of what you and others there at DSU guided me toward, I’ve continued independently studying literature, writing, and publishing. College was a good leg up for getting into the thick of things, but I’ve gone on into some rarified air regarding narratology and developmental editing.

        Seymour Chatman and Michael Toolan, linguististic poeticists, have been my most recent studies of creative writing and literature. They get pretty heavily into method of delivery–discourse.

        Study has become more than a passionate hobby or vocational pursuit for me. It’s an intellectually stimulating solace in the cold comforts of self-imposed exile here at the woe-be-gone edge of the Down East South world. From study, I’ve crossed the Rubicon and seen into the abyss. It is a glorious view of creation. Now if I can only assimilate what I’ve learned into a meaningful work of entertaining art…

        The most singular contribution you made to my poet’s progress is how you make Herculean efforts to seek out virtues in the nascent creations you encounter, and rigorously avoid commentary on the vices. It’s an example I carry in my heart and try to emulate, because there’s more to learn from appreciating beauty than from fault-finding for fault-finding’s sake. I heartily thank you for that.

  20. Randy Ricks writes:

    This is so true, so sad, so poignant. But, ultimately, by Gessner saying “fuck ’em” and celebrating the fact that “we’re all poets now” and relishing in the realization that what he does best–personal writing–doesn’t sell–somehow he comes out the other side a total winner, refusing to be beat down by today’s “safe” “sell-out” publishing environment that doesn’t reward real creativity and risk-taking much of the time. He’s made lemonade from the lemons and challenged us all to do so, too.

    It’s exactly how Ricky Nelson must have felt about the music industry almost four decades ago when he wrote his seminal classic “Garden Party” in 1972. And I quote:

    “But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
    You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”

    Keep writing from the heart, David. If you love it, chances are your fans will love it.
    “Fuck ’em” is right!