Saturday, June 12, 2010

Napalm Health Spa Report 2010

Five poems in Napalm Health Spa Report 2010, Jim Cohn's excellent long-running annual. One of the poems is about 18 years old. I have lots of unpublished poems I like that I just never found a home for, or set aside unfinished because there was something in them I couldn't get right. My only loose rule is, "Is this a poem I could write now?" For the voice & craft, not necessarily the content. Last year I published a poem from the '80s about a former girlfriend's 12 year old niece now married with a child. I happened to come across it in a file folder, read it, & realized exactly what was wrong with it, required a very simple revision. That must be a common thing, artists getting ahead of themselves, & finding themselves in unfamiliar places, haven't learned how handle the creative situation yet, & later it's no problem at all. Also learn where not to go, where one doesn't have the aptitude. I have those kinds of poems, & have published some of them because they're fun to read even though they ultimately fall flat. More difficult for painters & sculptors, expensive to use up materials for a failed work.

My impulse to write poems as a matter of habit petered out in the '90s. A few reasons. I wasn't successful enough as a public poet, locally, wasn't "in demand" for readings, & didn't enjoy doing them much anyway, although they 're the foundation for becoming known, how you make connections. Radio was using a lot of my creative energy. I began feeling some strong limitations of talent. & short prose was more comfortable for daily writing, & I had outlets for it that didn't require waiting a year between creation & appearance in print. Not needing to generate many poems, to push them into existence, I became less concerned with consistency. Now I describe it as learning to toss a knuckleball. Of course, I'd always been throwing them. A handful of poets, including Jim Cohn, had liked that about them all along. Visual artists liked them. & professional prose writers liked them. I made "serious" poems but maybe I wasn't a "serious" enough poet for other poets in Jersey.

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"I had outlets for it that didn't require waiting a year between creation & appearance to push them into existence." This is why I stopped writing short stories for print publications. I once submitted a story to, I think, Zoetrope magazine. A year later, I got a response, with the subject line, "No, but." They liked my submission, wouldn't print it, but wanted to see more stuff, so they gave me a subject line I was supposed to use to get stuff read. And I'm thinking, I'm having a life here, I'm supposed to wait untold months for you to DECIDE if I can appear in your magazine that no one anywhere buys or reads? I once read an interview with an editor at some "major" quarterly like Mid-American Review or something. He said they had a subscriber base of maybe 2500 subscribers (mostly agents who threw them out unread, and libraries) and received something like 12000 submissions a year.
A young editor from a local weekly newspaper heard me on WFMU taking about seeing an Elvis impersonator at the post office, for a new stamp. He'd been there, too. So I just began writing about that kind of stuff, & had a local newspaper column whenever I had something to submit. I wasn't paid, but I wasn't paid for poems, either, except in copies. Later, a higher up at the paper's publisher overruled my local editor & refused to submit any of my columns to the Jersey Press Association annual competition because I wasn't "paid." I was outraged. I was convinced I would win a category - & make the paper & editor look good. I said, "I'll give you ten bucks & you can just hand it back to me."
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