Mark your calendars: Friday, July 16 at 7 p.m. is the launch party for Floodstage: An Anthology of St. Louis Poets (Walrus Publishing, $18), at Left Bank Books downtown, 321 North 10th Street, St. Louis. Editor and well-known full-time poet Matt Freeman talks about assembling this landmark anthology of 55 area poets -- it took two and a half years:
Who came up with the idea of this anthology, and how did you become its editor?
Even before I knew very many St. Louis poets, I thought an anthology might be a really neat thing to do for the city. I was lucky to meet Lisa Miller at a friend's workshop, and she mentioned she had just started a new publishing house. I pitched her the idea and we were underway.
What was the best moment while you put this anthology together?
Trite though it is, my best moment during this project came only recently when Lisa emailed me the cover of the book. I had a strange sensation of pride. And I'm still astonished that it came together.
What was the toughest thing about this project?
The toughest thing has been that since completing the editing, I've met so many wonderful poets who really should've been included. I'm sorry for that.
What were the criteria for the poets you included?
I decided to select the group of poets from all the acquaintances I've made hitting the scene pretty hard for a couple of years. The criteria only came into play as I selected the poems for inclusion, and got to come forth with my own voice. I am sorry that a few poets out there seemed to resist sending me some poems!
Why should people buy this anthology?
Anyone interested in St. Louis culture and anyone who has a lot of pride in our city ought to consider buying the book. Maybe parents of budding poets; maybe the poets for whom this is their first publication ought to tell friends about it, maybe social workers; maybe avant-garde painters too.
Anything else you want to add?
I've just had a good time here in St Louis. I'm glad for all my brilliant friends. I've been delivered and surprised in a variety of fashions.
Kim Lozano writes, "When I started writing, I decided that I needed to be able to shut my door against the children (the sweet little darlings) and have a little place of my own. So I cleared out an old chair and table out of my bedroom and moved in a desk and bookshelves. On that upper left-hand shelf, beside the Bud Light bottle with the birthday candle on top, is a framed copy of my first rejection letter.
On coolish days, I like to sit on my porch in one of my new, comfy yellow chairs ($25 each at Target) beside my peacock, Flannery."
It's bad luck to be superstitious, but yesterday I impulsively saw a "reader" -- I didn't know or care what sort --who was on duty at Mystic Valley. I bought a half-hour of a psychic's time. Of course I asked her about writing.
She said I had grown comfortable in my small pond and it no longer fit me, reminded me that my original dream was much grander, and that I should face forward, enlarge my life, move physically if possible, apply for employment out of state or at the very least submit works to publications on the coasts. I said, some of those I can and will do. She said nonfiction was the way for me to go. I said, I can do that.
She did not consult the Tarot deck I saw on the table. I said, Please pull a random card for me. She did, and it was the Queen of Pentacles, a very good card for a mature, ambitious woman. Felt better. And that's how I coped with my questions, fears and doubts that day.
A few years back I was terrifically anti-writing-contest. My basic desire is to write well, not to compete.
But times have changed. Publication is no longer the top criterion and recommendation. Today, winning and trumpeting prizes is how one establishes or re-establishes credibility with strangers, editors, and those who hire. Before 2006, my last cash-bearing poetry prize came in 1987; the last for prose in 1994. Nice awards, but literature now is a culture of prizes -- it feels like a blizzard out there, as you well know -- and many good young writers are now in the mix, so that old awards could make me seem like a has-been on resumes or in author bios.
Considering how many prizes there are, and the things that win them, for the best writerly mental health the appellation "award-winning" is best seen as decorative, or, more precisely, cosmetic. One's work can be beautiful without it.
Why are there so many good creative writers these days? Having recently read some litmags -- the Spoon River Poetry Review, Rattle, the new issue of Natural Bridge -- and some collections of poetry and nonfiction, I'm awed. Today in the U.S. there is more good writing by more good writers than ever.
One can reply "Leisure," pointing out that a great many people (but not all who want to, not by a long shot) may now pursue what was formerly an elite activity. Along those lines of practical reasons you'd have to include "literacy" and "education" and "freedom of speech."
But, from a spiritual angle, the swell of creative writing is perfectly parallel to the swell of lies and con games invented by those who use life and language and imagination not to enlighten us but to make us smaller, needier, more complacent, and more anxious. Creative writing is a form of resistance. The more lies we are told, the more we are urged to be ignorant -- and that's not natural -- the more we resist. Simple. And, writers: GOOD JOB!!!
A new catherinerankovic.com website is being built and, good news for anyone who missed it, this blog will be restarted around January 1. I am having it designed by a team in Santa Monica which intends to surprise me. See you soon,
The story of this picture: These are the Guilty Pleasures authors, the Doves, my writing group from 2000 to 2007. We got a book accepted in 2002 and published in spring 2003. In August of 2002 we had a group author photo taken. We fooled around with all sorts of different "guilty pleasures" props (tiaras, etc.) and were inexperienced enough to choose as our jacket photo a more serious one than this, but this remains my favorite. The original is indeed in black and white -- remember, I think all book-jacket photos should be black and white! Left to right: Patti Smith Jackson, Jane Holwerda, me, Cathy Luh, Holly Silva, Karen Hammer, Sue Caba and Laurie Vincent.Thank you for having read this blog over the past three and a half years. This is the final post. Every visit you made, every comment, has been an honor for me. These days there's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, e-Books, multiple jobs (no one has only one job anymore) and so much more to fragment our time and attention. I'm freeing up more writing and publishing time for you and for me. Remember, be confident, and take care of yourself, because....
. . .you are fate's finest instrument.
One Halloween when I was in grad school, I borrowed a suit and tie, glued on a mustache and went about disguised as a man. What fun that evening was! What power I felt! What confidence! So different to feel sure that the whole street was mine, instead of feeling that muggers and harassers owned it. The whole world was mine! (Because of the double takes I got, I know I looked at least somewhat like a man.) Told people I was George. (Who else remembers George, from the Nancy Drew books? I do! Who remembers that when George Orwell (pseudonym)'s school chums saw his obit, they said, "Eric Blair? He was George Orwell?") For one evening, parts of my psyche that are usually undercover got a chance to play the field.I'm trying to rationalize my use of two pseudonyms. I research, revise, polish to a sheen the work that appears under these names -- but "what certain people will think" does matter should the work be linked to me. Others' power to judge, to grant and withhold, is a fact, and I would be stupid to flout it just to be reckless or "be myself." Yet I like writing and publishing these things and don't feel like stopping. It could be said that a pseudonym means I'm cowardly -- or that it cleverly gives my entire array of traits and impulses a chance to play the whole field.
For the past seven weeks I've been reviewing online horoscopes twice a week and posting reviews -- 20 of them now -- that have been read over 2,000 times. I'm an astrology student from way back, and one day started doing this both to write and to perform a public service. I exposed two fake astrologers and dug up the truth for two others, honest and sincere people who had no idea how their work was being exploited. Laugh, but it's no joke: Astrology is big business, and specifically it's a writing business. There are astrology sweatshops where young writers -- the job description solicits recent college grads -- churn out horoscopes according to style sheets. It sounds like the porn factory a schoolmate spent a summer working in, where he was required to write a certain number of sexual acts per page.Doing this work I'm amazed all over again by how much we depend on the written word for our opinions and personal guidance as well as our education and entertainment. The Internet has made us more dependent on the written word, not less. What we hear on TV, or from politicians, or read on the side of a cereal box, is all scripted. ("Talking heads" go on camera having studied written lists of "talking points"; their ideal is to get us to believe there are no writers behind them at all.) Somebody selected and wrote every word you see. Who says writers are a tiny, powerless minority? How were we ever made to believe that? The sum total of our power just bowls me over.
Every writer should tour a bookstore in the company of a manager. Did this yesterday for a class. The manager had 24 years' experience in the business. Bookstore facts:
- A new book's lifespan on the displays "up front" is seven to 21 days. The book then moves to "the stacks" or regular shelving.
- A new book's lifespan in the stacks is 90 days.
- After 90 days the bookstore and publisher begin the process of returning the unsold books to the publisher for credit.
- The bookstore's "bestseller" rack may be the bookstore's bestsellers, not the NYT's.
- New hardcovers can be priced at 20 to 30 percent off the cover price because the publishers have given the bookstore a promotion subsidy.
- Today's big-box bookstore carries about 95,000 titles. At peak in the 1990s, it carried an average of 135,000 titles. What got cut? Books from small publishers.
- At a chain bookstore, the displays at the ends of aisles, called "endcaps," are subsidized by publishers.
- On the shelves, some titles are displayed facing front, while others show only their spines. The publishers of the full-front books have paid the bookstore for the privilege. "It really sells books."