But I'm battling some poetry world displacement and have therefore been browsing conferences, residencies, retreats, contests, calls for submissions, etc., and I just gotta say, somebody somewhere is making some serious poetry coin.
And listen. I'm an editor. I've been a publisher. I don't buy into (ha) the starving artist thing. We all deserve to be paid for our important work of creating and distributing art blah blah.
Everything I'm saying or am about to say has been said. Even said by me. I'm not even interested in arguing, which is a departure for me because, for the most part, I really like arguing.
But I have to know: For those of you who, like me, just spent your lunch break moving money from one account so there's enough in another account, the one that auto-pays your car insurance, how do you justify a writing life?
Of course, we can write in a vacuum. We don't have to spend to write. But to "be a writer," in the modern sense -- to share your work, to attempt to have it published, to participate in a literary community, even solely online -- is not free. We can't be writers in a vacuum. If nothing else, the big contests, with cash prizes and (albeit transparent) promises of notoriety, and the luxuriou$ retreats dangle before us like carnival prizes if we visit any of the major writers' sites.
Poetry, like anything else, is so pay-to-play now that it makes me physically ill. That's not hyperbole. I mean, who is winning the big contests? It's no stretch, or even a provocative statement, to say, "Well, obviously, people who can afford $30 reading fees." Because statistically, they aren't just lucking into a big win after a one-time $30 throw-down. How many times do you think the latest Black Lawrence Press or Alice James Books contest winner sent their mss out? Five times ($150)? Ten ($300)? 20 ($600)?
You know what I'd rather spend $30/$150/$300/$600 on?
Just about anything.
Because it isn't that I'm incapable of budgeting, or thoroughly researching markets to make sure my $30-$600+ is as well-spent as humanly possible.
It's that every single time I click Paypal, I get nauseous. Which means that every time I'm excited enough about something I've written that I'll try sending it out to be read and considered by a writer I probably admire, that excitement becomes inextricably associated with nausea. Which means, "being a writer" is making me sick. Which means one of the things I most value about and nurture in myself is actually having an adverse effect on me, is making me complicit in things I fundamentally loathe about society.
How do you write poems railing against consumerism and then pay $30-$600+ to have someone reject them and include that little pre-addressed "oh but please don't forget to subscribe/renew/donate without your generosity we couldn't keep publishing the best poetry in the world that you aren't writing" envelope.
No really. Can someone tell me?
And if you're about to say anything along the lines of, "Don't write for anyone but yourself," I actually will get sick.
My poems are not a crossword puzzle. Just because no one pays me to write poems does not make my poem-writing a hobby, and just because I want others to read my work does not make me arrogant, and it shouldn't make me poor.
Tell ya what, poetry world. Stop charging me fees to send my work out and I'll buy what you do end up publishing. And maybe someday, you'll publish me. Fair enough?
For what it's worth ($30 for every press mentioned?), here's a list of presses with open reading periods, compiled by Tom Holmes at The Line Break. Some will charge fees, some won't. Good luck.
Couple minutes of lunch break left, better go pay my student loan bill. I have enough to do that because I didn't send my new manuscript out three times.