The New Poetry Order
Every few weeks or so random poets will ask me to suggest presses to send their manuscripts. I try to think of suitable publishers, refer them to places like Press Press Press where they can peruse the latest titles from a number of small presses they may be unfamiliar with. I understand the frustration of "breaking in," many presses are not open to unsolicited submissions or charge considerable reading or contest fees. As I stated here a number of times, presses do this because they don't sell enough books and have to come up with additional ways to generate income. Go back to August 2008 on this blog if you missed my discussion on this subject. I understand why contests exist -- but I think they're a really poor solution to this problem. A few people took my statements to be attacks on them as poets and human beings, somehow identifying themselves personally with the contest system that I criticized. I found this bizarre and disconcerting -- almost as if certain people were part of a group identifying as "contest poets" and considered my criticisms on a system to be attacks on their identities or lifestyles or . . . To be honest, I'm not really sure because it came across that so much of this response was something totally different projected on what I said. It was impossible to have a discussion that didn't result in a lot of rage sent back my way. I'm a not interested in delving into that abyss, I don't have the psychological training. If you love contests or just think they're the right thing for you, go on with your bad self. I have NO problem with you.
I send people to places like Press Press Press with the suggestion that they check out these books (i.e. support the presses, authors and poetry in general) before they approach publishers. I'm pretty sure most people ignore this suggestion -- I get the very strong sense that what they want is for me to give or act like a directory or offer some sort of inside scoop on publishers -- publishers few are interested in until they themselves have a manuscript they're looking for a home.
Well here's the inside scoop: Small and micropress publishers are 1) POETS, 2) PEOPLE, busy people with a lot going on trying to figure out how to promote and support poetry. They're not this mythical "them" hoarding all the precious cultural capital -- they're very similar to the poets they're publishing. They have time and financial constraints too. If you think it's been tough to break in before, it's gonna get a lot tougher. Presses that rely on donations, grants and fundraising will likely see a good bit of that dry up. Presses that rely heavily on personal funds, well, that's doubly so. Whatever you want to call it, deep recession, depression, strong fundamentals, -- there's unemployment, serious housing issues, a stock market in the tank . . . paper prices are going up, royalties are going down, book sales dropping even lower -- I don't have much financial training, but I see this as the beginning of a trend that's going to last for at least a few years, maybe longer. Expect to see small presses close shop, go on hiatus or dramatically reduce the number of titles published each year. In No Tell Books' case, I have two more books under contract and when those are out I'll do my own book -- and after that? I don't know, ask me next year. But whatever you ask me, do not ask if I can consider your manuscript -- I CANNOT.
For those poets who are not married to a particular way of doings things, i.e. Legitimacy's Bitch -- it's time for more of us to start using that creativity we possess towards getting our work out there -- in ways that don't rely on the already strapped poets who've been carrying so many others for so long. There will be a re-balancing of responsibility, it's coming down the line whether we like it or not. We can participate voluntarily or have it forced upon us. It's really up to each and everyone one of us. Time for our inner artists to wake the fuck up.