Sunday, August 29, 2010

What I'm Reading: Face the Fear, P & W Sept/Oct 2010

81º ~ overcast, muggy, breezy, seems like a brewing storm, but we're on the low chance of getting one, others will be more lucky

I've just been reading through the new issue of Poets & Writers and enjoyed Rachel Kadish's essay "Face the Fear: A Rallying Cry for Writers" so much that I wanted to post about it here.

The essay begins with a reiteration of what Virginia Woolf writes in Chapter 3 of A Room of One's Own: "It [the world] does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them."  In Woolf's essay, she is pointing out that in the face of this denial of the arts by the world, women have it even harder as they are denied not just in art but in gender.  Kadish puts a 21st century spin on this.  The world still doesn't demand that writers write; however, the new weight on our shoulders is an economic slide and a publishing industry in flux as technologies advance and recede. 

So, Kadish sets out to give us a pep talk, and let me state here that I tend to laugh a bit when I read these kind of pep talks, as many of them are written by prose writers who might be more used to receiving monetary gains from their writing.  As a poet, I expect little to no financial reward, and have thus built a life of writing around a separate career that provides my paycheck (teaching).  I do commiserate with those fiction and non-fiction writers out there who have seen a diminishing of the once mythic publisher's advance or even the receiving of several hundred dollars from a journal.

All that being said, I found Kadish's essay to be on point through and through and laced with enough humor to keep me going along for the ride.

When Kadish writes, "To be a writer in any culture, but perhaps especially this one, is to defend one's way of seeing the world against those who are suspicious of complexity and prefer to leave dark corners of the human psyche unexplored..." I am reaffirmed.  While not a political poet, I do believe that writing is a political act at the heart of it, something that endangers writers around the world, and I am blessed to live in a democracy that might ignore my work but will not imprison me for.

Later Kadish again affirms something that I too believe.  In writing about which authors succeed at having a long career in letters, she sates, "The people who keep writing are the ones who keep writing.  Talent is a prerequisite, yes; but ten or fifteen years out, the ones who are still at it are the ones who didn't stop.  There's no magic to it, only sheer bloody-minded stubbornness."  Stubbornness I've got to spare, just ask my family!  I try to teach my students the lesson of persistence, and I practice that lesson by submitting to journals over and over again, even in the face of rejection.  Now, I'm enacting that stubbornness with the second book as well. 

In response to a publishing world that feels as if its gone amuck, Kadish advocates, "Write freer.  If no one is paying anyway, shouldn't we write what we want rather than what we think will sell?"  Here's one of the times that I had a little poet-as-pauper pride.  Maybe I'm not a novelist b/c I can't figure out the trends, and it does seem that the world of the novel, even with the many, many sub-genres, is all about trends.  Maybe the poetry world is too and I'm dense to that as well!

I'll leave you to read the rest on your own if you're interested, in your copy or at the library.  


Kells said...


Great post! I just recd that issue and will read the article tonight. I do believe in stubbornness very much and yes, we need to write what we need to write--not what sells and since poetry doesn't anyway, we might as well follow our own interests and what excites us.

I too also have other jobs and haven't yet been able to live solely off my poetry, but I'm not necessarily sure that is a bad thing. Though it would be really nice!

Thanks for this, I appreciate your thoughts.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Ah, Kelli, the day the poetry pays the bills would be an interesting day to say the least.

Thanks for stopping by!