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Of course I am game. Any opportunity to find something else to write about in this blog thing is a huge help to me. I am not so sure about many of your terms of reference. You do say that we are on quite opposite sides on many things. That is interesting to me, but it is not obvious to me that this is the case. You speak of “our communities” and your “peers” (who, I suspect, you are distinguishing from my peers). I am fascinated by this, also, since I don’t think I have any confidence in the declaration of what my community looks like. I am curious about how you do define your community. Do you know all the people in your community? Do they look alike, think alike, smell alike? Finally, I would love to have some talking point to get us going in this dialogue. You too are experiencing that sensation of talking words out into the sky and not being sure if anyone is really listening. Nick tells us that people are reading the blogs. But even as we write as if expect dialogue, we don’t always get immediate responses, so this direct address thing may work for a while.
Today, something we had exchanged some comments on a few weeks ago, came to mind when I heard some interesting and good news. My friend a colleague, novelist Ben Greer told me that his first book of poems will be published this summer. This is exciting because Ben is not a young man, and he has established himself as a novelist over the years. But a few years ago, he came by my office with a few poems. I really liked them and told him as much. They were smart, formally daring and engaging. He had already committed to writing verse and was generating poem after poem. Soon he was sending out these poems to journals and getting them picked dup by journals. Eventually the collection was picked up by this small press. He sent them the manuscript and they took it. No first book contest, no book award, and no MFA connection. The press is not a main stream press—not a Penguin, not a Norton, not a Farrar Straus Giroux.
Tonight I was able to tell my MFA students the story of how this book got published and it was a story about committing to the craft and committing to the task of getting work out there in the old conventional way.
So to whose community does Ben belong? Can we fairly call this a community?
Do people shift from community to community—or worlds to worlds? Kenneth, you said we live in quite different worlds. In your world, Walcott is pretentious for saying that he faces the blank page with terror. So does Walcott live in my world and not your world?
A few days ago I heard of an MFA student in a quite prestigious MFA program who has determined that the only sensible publishing house for poetry is Farrar, Straus Giroux. He only reads poetry published by this press. Work published by any other press is not deserving of his attention. He has taken to visiting the offices of the publishing house. He does not talk to anyone or harass people in the building. He just likes hanging around the building. He says he is practicing for the time when he will be published by them and he just wants to make sure he knows his way around.
This is full conviction. He is putting it all on the line. Surely if he does not get published by FSG, will he not see his entire life as a failure for as long as he lives? And by creating such a limited criteria for success is he not more likely than not to be unsuccessful? I assume, Kenneth, that this cat would belong to my world. Yet I think he is kind of nuts and I don’t really think I would know what to do with such a person. Why does he not belong to your world?
I am hoping that defining these different worlds will not be the theme of this blog dialogue, but I suspect it will be. I am more interested in looking at the narratives of our blives and seeing how they have shaped the way we look at the world and the way we engage this poetic world.
So, Kenneth, I look to you to provoke me unto good blogging.