Here Are Two Things You Could Be Reading
I’m busily packing and organizing and generally shrinking my life into a backpack. But, if you’re bored out there, two things you might like:
1. Spencer Gordon’s essay on Nick Thran’s new book, Earworm, in this issue of the Maple Tree Lit Supplement, is a great example of top-level writing about creative matters. It manages to use the same sort of moody, pop-culturally inflected, intellectualism of the book within its discussion of the book. The piece references Mike Lista’s review in the Post and noted ex-VoxPop roommate Jeff’s mention at OBTO. The three pieces are fine to excellent as independents, though I worry that as a trio they sound a touch like a review of hot new bands from a 1993 issue of NME. Lots of talk of cult support and insider knowledge and hipster identifiers, almost as much as the talk of the poems themselves. As a big fan of the book, I don’t want to see it get a “fad” label, you know? And how many of those bands from NME were still being listened to in 1994? Really, really, good poetry books by people who are around 30 are so rare, compared to really good musical albums by the same demographic, that I want to protect that flame long enough to share it with untapped readers for a long time, I don’t want it’s reaction to have the sonorous, and quickly-forgotten, quality of fireworks.
But Spencer’s piece doesn’t do that, and neither did Jeff’s or Mike’s (these things take more than one writer), and I have faith that good poetry can burn fast AND burn long. His review is a thoughtful, exceptionally well-constructed piece of prose for which the author was paid, I believe, thirty bucks.
2. Russell Smith’s column in the Globe today is all about how you’re not a real writer unless you make your thirty bucks and if you don’t hold out for that $1.50-an-hour rate you’re doing a disservice to the older guard among us and are basically a scab. I’ve had this argument with a lot of different people over the years and my position, typically centralist and uninteresting, is this: I don’t feel like my occasional propensity to write public content for free (as I’m doing right now as I type this, and as I’ve done more regularly in the past) undercuts my ability to land the occasional paid gig, because the work I put out for free is a fundamentally different product than the work I get paid for. The latter is written to an editorial standard separate from my own nature and preferences, and the former is unedited, or at best only edited by the original creator.
Obviously, this distinction doesn’t hold water where Smith gets into talking about HuffPo and whatnot, but I would still want to ask, where is the paid market that matches the tone and reach of that unpaid one, that has been shuttered by being undercut by the bloggers? Any comparison between HuffPo and failed magazines I can think of demands a highly selective memory when recalling the magazine’s editorial composition. I wouldn’t want to work for HuffPo because I couldn’t imagine being that bored on purpose. If the rationale offered for doing so is a careerist one, that’s fine, but I’m not a journalist so I don’t feel compelled to put myself through anything in the interest of career. In fact, my major foothold as a writer is as a poet, and being a poet is (by definitions economic, sociological, intellectual, and cultural) the exact opposite of having a career. Maybe this is why my reaction to this whole debate above is to yawn at its mutual preciousness.