Literary culture fart-smelling redux.


Even though I mea culpa-d myself to the hilt in order to talk about the hermetic nature of writing-about-writing, even though I confessed to reading as many posts on pro/anti-MFA, Virginia Quarterly Review postmortems, and any number of wretched poetryland faux controversies of the week, it does seem a lot of the online response to my earlier post has to do with my being a hypocrite about it all.

That’s cool.

I do wish the more general point had been more clear: that when writers write about writing, so often that then becomes the main point of the conversation, and that conversation not only gets boring and desiccated, it’s also a sign that no one but writers will be reading it.

It’s sort of like how our trade-ish magazines–The Writer’s Chronicle, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest–run the same stories every two years.  With titles like “How to Turn Your Poem Into an Essay” or “The Craft of Being Honest in Memoir” or “Literary Agents: What Do They Think of You?”  These articles are necessary to run in many ways, the subjects evergreen for the aspiring writer, but after awhile you might not need to read them every time they surface.

At the same time, as I said before, everyone writing these pieces and debating the finer points of inside-baseball poetry/writing/publising-land aren’t idiots.  Far from it.  I want to read what people have to say, especially people whose work I like and appreciate.  But it’s hard to make one’s way through the muddle, and that muddle seems to me to be a lot of us smelling our own farts.  Or hand-wringing.  Or chest-thumping.

One response particularly annoyed me, not because it said I was an idiot–which is fine–but it said that this group blog is bad or somehow useless or doesn’t talk about serious literary matters enough.  I disagree.  I can only speak for myself, but blogging in this space has been a way for me to share things I encounter online from all my interests, from Dusty Springfield to wacko two-line poems to what I call “red meat” literary stuff.  I think the conversation among writers should be widened, more than a little bit, and more connections made.

I do admire when other places do just that. We’re not the only ones.  Boing Boing and E-Verse have done it for years, mixing up what people call high- and lowbrow, literary and non-literary. The Rumpus, HTML Giant do that now, as well as Big Other.

And it was there on Big Other, for example, where Greg Gerke writes about how we are excessively supportive of our fellow writer’s efforts. I think that post raises important questions, as did the Justin Taylor post that inspired it.

But I have to keep asking: Is that the best that we can do?  I’ve seen these posts before in different iterations over the years. Is this, like, our current equivalent of a Writer’s Digest article on breaking into publishing that’s recycled every two years?


4 Replies to “Literary culture fart-smelling redux.”

  1. I read one of the reply blog posts that you’re referring to and nearly laughed at how obviously butt-hurt the author was. I also freaking LOVED the condemnation of random, entertaining shenanigans.

    “Stop having fun this instance!”

    When a response is reduced to passive-aggressive jabs and variations of “I know what you are but what am I,” it becomes clear the author doesn’t have an argument so much as a persecution complex.

    For me, this blog has been an eye-opener. In the same way that comedians are able to make an audience laugh and shove some truth and insight in their mouths while they’re open, this blog also provides posts containing passive entertainment and pop culture references whilst simultaneously exposing an audience that might not otherwise seek it out to some thoughtful and provocative examinations of writing. More importantly, it exposes them to actual writing itself that they may not otherwise discover.

    And after all, shouldn’t that be the point? I mean, Jesus Christ, it even got me to go to a poetry reading. ME! A PHILISTINE WHO USED TO TALK OPENLY ABOUT HOW MUCH HE HATED POETS! TRUE STORY IN CAPITAL LETTERS!

    So yeah. I hate to dismiss the author of the aforementioned post with a comically exaggerated eyeroll and cries of “give me a fucking break.” But, seriously, give me a fucking break.

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