Friday, August 04, 2006

Relapse Threatened; De-publication; Poets' Pecking Order

I went down to 1 kilorat yesterday. In my mind I tossed suspect reasons for the dip. First, there was Kathleen with two days of emotonal instability which could have led to a depression (she is a unipolar major recurrent depressive). Then there was my friend Ralph's visit where we were used as a cheap motel and he didn't even stay long enough to fish with me. When he's with his second wife he's more often task oriented rather than process oriented. What's strange thereby is that despite a Subaru station wagon stuffed to the gills, including 50 cubic feet of stuff on the roof covered in a blue tarp, they lacked warm clothes and State Park reservations. The inconsistency of humans is a constant amusement.

When they left the next morning I wanted to accompany them to town but there was "no room." My ride must have been taken up by a back-up cooler. I love Ralph, so this is only another example of mistaken expectations. I was hoping he'd hang with me, talk about things, maybe go fishing. Instead he had a hair up his ass to go to Patrick's Point far north of here. What it's attraction is I don't know, but there were only four primitive campsites left there, which means they would have to schlep all their shit far from their car.

I encouraged him to get into the "process" of vacation and forget about the goals. Where a vacation leads you is where you need to go, in my experience, and it's futile to struggle against all the variables that a vacation entails. Often the best vacations are just puttering around the house and garden with no schedule to fulfill. Haven't we all had ambitious vacations from which we returned not rested but exhausted?

Obviously, to the untrained mind, either Kathleen's sadness or my disappointment with Ralph could have fueled depression. But this is entirely erroneous. As I thought about it I realized I'd missed my Prozac for two days. Yes, Virginia, my brain is that sensitive. For serious depressives, always, always, always think about your medication compliance before you go off half-cocked on some irrelevant life experience. This disease is not necessarily related to any life experiences; it is endogenous. One shrink I had explained to me that even if I was asymptomatic the disease goes on. Hard lesson to learn, but I nailed it yesterday after reflection and took the missing meds.

We are more biochemical than not. No one really knows exactly what these medications do to the brain, though theories abound. The simple neurotramitter model of manipulating serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine is a terrible oversimplification. Nevertheless we use these medications because they work. Whatever a shrink tells you, it's more art than science.


Last night I began to go through my old links to publications for the first time in a coon's age. And as I suspected, fully 75% of e-zines that published me did not maintain archives, which effectivey depublishes all those poems and frees them for submission again. (I'll put a couple of old links that still work below instead of afflicting my audience with a poem here.)

The evanescent nature of the Net was revealed in this task. Supposedly there's a giant storage facility in the State of Washington that preserves everything, but I have severe doubts about that. That's too much information for anything to hold.

A poet's greatest ambition is to conquer time, to be read by future generations. How that is determined is a mystery and difficult to predict, but one thing is certain: the more exposure you have in your lifetime, the better your chance of having your work transcend time.

BTW, I would put more photos in my blog but it won't upload images from my computer right now. Anyone else having the same problem?

Very few poets will be remembered beyond their lifetimes. Billy Collins will likely be forgotten because he lacks memorable quotes in his semi-conversational method. But I could be wrong. I mention him only because he reigns in poetry as the most popular and prolific contemporary American poet. In comparison I'm a gnat on his windshield. And I could be wrong about his future reputation, naturally.

Now for two linka to magazines that have not yet depublished my work:

3rd Muse

Samsara Quarterly

Thank you, 3rd Muse and Samsara.


I like one theologian's definition of humility (James Packer): "A sober sense of self-place."

Depression changes you. I see how very far I must go to secure some poetic reputation, because I see myself more clearly now: I'm not the most gifted poet around, but I work very hard at it. I'm a nut for revisions. I agonize over line breaks. I try to cut out everything that doesn't advance the poem without losing the spontanaeity of the first draft.

I'm in the third tier of poets. First there are the big, big names like John Ashbery, Mark Strand, Phillip Levine, Rita Dove and the like. Then there is the second tier waiting in the wings, folks like Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonnizio. After the second tier comes poets like me, who publish mainly in less prestigious small press journals, to which almost all e-zines belong, and can't get a decent press to publish a book (I lucked out with my first and only book). Finally, in the fourth tier, are poets who are lucky to get a publication in the small press journals, or primarily spoken word poets, a type that belongs to another whole culture of poetry slams. Lastly comes the largest group, the fifth tier poet wannabes, who spend their life at boards or in workshops but lack the native talent to succeed.

If one limits considerations to the Net, I suppose for a net poet I'm in the first tier, but that doesn't play in the Peoria of the larger world.

The poets who have really benefited from the Net are those who have used it as a platform to introduce themselves, then parlayed that into a mailing list, blog, and larger reputation. If they're lucky they can follow this up with publications in the good journals, then a non-vanity press book, and finally seminars and retreats and guest teaching positions. Sounds good, doesn't it? But think of all the travel. And think about what it must do to an artist to have to teach his craft repeatedly to unpromising students. "With every gift there comes a curse." --Springsteen

People say don't worry about the visitor count here, but I've become a bit obsessive about it. The only thing I noticed was that when I blogged about the Rat Man I got the largest number visitors. But I'm here to write, not to manipulate traffic.

Mood Meter: 0.5 kilorats.

Thine in Truth and Art,



  1. Well.. when I was in Europe, I was getting into the third and second tier.. LOL But here... I am so far below third tier. LOL

    I just write, write, write.. I am turning into a writing whore. ;-) Oh.. and I am top tier in the Vasculitis writing circles. (grin)

    You must be getting better if you can reason what is causing your downspiral.. Good catch.

  2. I like your description of tiers of poets, and can honestly say that when I finally accepted my "place" as a third-tier poet last year (although I didn't call it that, but I like your description), I felt so free. I began writing again and quit worrying about publishing at all. Maybe I'll publish again at some point, but I'm done with it for now. Have a few things that were accepted but have yet to come out (after a year I'm still waiting, thankyouverymuch), and am even considering one of those "vanity" books. To hell with it; it's the only way I'm gonna see a book with my name on it!

    Third tier ain't a bad place to be, I don't think. For right now. In a year or so, maybe it won't be enough. But currently, I'm content with it.

    Yuor blog always generates such interesting thoughts.

  3. Online magazines & journals that do not maintain an archive are weak links in the writing chain. That policy can damage the credibility of Internet in the writing world.

    Print journals go out of business or their issues go out of print --
    and we understand that loss of access and history. But, the fact, as you point out, of the seemingly endless storehouse (which certainly must have limitations) -- an author's work should not go out of print.

    Any online journal that allows this to happen is treating the web/writing world in a second-rate manner. That shouldn't be the case.

    CE, your accepted and published work online should always be available. Anything less should be unacceptable for any online venue. Editors should do everything possible to maintain archives -- the new library.

    Online sources for poetry -- as well as online writing -- should only focus on the best. An archive shows care and consideration for both writer and reader. -- and let me add for literary history.

    Your idea of the poetry tiers is an interesting point.

    Collins, on many levels is a mystery. I used to believe that the world's enigma was Arthur's grave. I was wrong. It's Billy Collins.

  4. Such thoughtful responses.

    Cyn--so funny, preeminent poet of vasculitis! Am I then the preeminent poet of manic-depression?

    Twitches--third tier rules!

    Sam, all e-zines start with the ambition to accumulate archives, publish a print version or anthology and a host of other notions. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." I knew several editors well who had published me and and one day they and their e-zines simply disappeared off the face of the net. Poof! Gone.

    One of the great losses was G.K. Nelson's Savoy, a class publication. He had some problems with his daughter, so I gathered, and began to sour about the narcissism of artists, and poof! No Savoy, no archives. I wrote a regular column for them, just as I did for Deeply Shallow, and later, eclectica. The former two were depublished long ago.

    Maybe my claim to fame is depublication, though I think Janet Buck, Robert James Berry and some others might give me a run for my money.

    Melic is backed up thrice, I might add.

    p.s. No comment on Collins. I want to kiss ass all the way up the poetic stepladder to enter the second tier.

  5. I'm also third tier. The step up to second tier is a yawning chasm. Luck probably has a lot to do with crossing it, although being ruthless and nasty with the right people, kissing ass to the right people, and being with the right people at the right time may also be factors. And writing, either well, or what publishers want.

    I don't think Billy Collins will be a remembered as one of the finest poets of our age. One or two of his poems might be anthologised eg. that 13 line sonnet. But other than that, we'll forget about him. I can say that because I'm British and don't need to be nice to him.

  6. Rob, you're right about moving to the second tier. How one gets there I'm not sure, but I have decided to try.

    I've been solicited by Dorianne Laux and more recently by Frank Wilson (serendipitously, book review editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer.) I got $100 for one sonnet there, eclipsing any previous payment for a poem.

    My brush with Creeley and a friendship with Alfred Corn make up the remainder of my brush with poetic celebrities.

    On the net two editors told me that their issues featuring yours truly eclipsed all the traffic from previous issues. That should count for something. ;-)

    Like all things in life, progress to the second tier requires persistence and single-mindedness. I have both qualities but my mistake has been putting my finger in too many pies--music, medicine, criticism, editing, teaching, childrearing and three marriages.

    "If thy eye be single it will be full of light."

    Let's make a pact to try for second tier and if one of us succeeds, let him try to pull the other up. I mean this for every poet who posts here. Let's make cooperation and encouragement real. Jealousy is the essence of narcissism.

  7. ce...

    i believe i am in the 6th or 7th tier (like Dante's circles?) -- a poet who writes forever but has lost the ambition (or whatever) to even attempt to publish.

  8. Anonymous9:17 AM PDT

    I was turned away from the eight tier by a dour-looking door-keep who insisted I stop writing with my brain. I thought about it for awhile and opted against his suggestion.


  9. hey! remember when what's-his-name's lap dog called me a "minor net poet"??? (Joan and Mike)

    It was a definate compliment!

    Haven't heard much of them in ages- met some people in DC and we discovered we had mutual bad experiences.

    Third tier rules the whole frigging roof-


  10. I was the dour-looking doorkeep.

    Shann, I'm going to get off my ass and submit like crazy. I'm going to go for it. Now or never.
    I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it! People like me.*

    *from the movie, Stuart Smalley Tries to Become Poet Laureate

    Gotta sign off and talk to my sponsors.


Please share your opinion!

Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!