Monday, June 30, 2008

The Last Taboo: Money

Re: "The Privilege of Doing It" (June 19), poet Julia Gordon-Bramer commented: "There will always be young, hungry, talented interns who don't need much to survive. What is to become of the rest of us?"

Good question! My answer: The world can't use young and hungry interns for everything. People will sometimes want or need people with experience and a proven track record. Having those, we may value and price ourselves accordingly. And working for less shows we lack respect for our own hard-earned skill and wisdom.

True story: A friend said she would pay me to read her book manuscript and honestly tell her why I think publishers won't accept it. I said I would, for $75 an hour. She said "That's too much," and ended the conversation. Another writer agreed to assess that manuscript free, as a friendship favor. Two years later that writer still has the manuscript and my friend hasn't heard a word. It's strained their friendship: My friend tries not to feel resentful and both of them try never to mention it. Big bargain, eh?

I'm not saying, apply at Wal-Mart and demand $40 an hour just because you've been in the work force for a while. I am saying, if you have decades of writing experience and are asked to provide a writing-related service, ask for money. Yes, it's hard to do, and it's hard to be cold-shouldered or to hear cluck-clucking about how uppity you are. But you should feel GOOD when someone is miffed because you won't work for little or nothing. Watch this eye-opening 3-minute clip on YouTube called "Pay the Writer" to see the sheer absurdity of abasing yourself and your entire profession.

We got ourselves into the "Sure, I'll work for nothing" trap, and have to get ourselves out. It won't be quick or easy. Do it anyway. Asking for fair wages for your work will help all the others who are too weak to ask.

I know that talking about our paychecks is the last taboo. Ever wonder who made it and keeps it taboo?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

World-Changing Chapbooks

A list of historically important 20th-century chapbooks is nowhere to be found, so I'll make one. Please help me add to this list.

Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), by T.S. Eliot
A Few Figs from Thistles
(1920), Edna St. Vincent Millay
Howl and Other Poems (1956), Allen Ginsberg
SCUM Manifesto (1968), Valerie Solanas
Edward the Dyke and Other Poems (1971), Judy Grahn
Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), Adrienne Rich

I thought Three Guineas might have been a chapbook -- it's often called a "pamphlet" -- but its first edition is in hardcover.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chapbook Renascence

Not so long ago -- about 15 years -- a "real" or "serious" poet wouldn't be caught DEAD issuing a chapbook. Only losers would try to preserve their work in little stapled, spineless booklets! Because desktop publishing as we know it did not exist, the booklets were either hand-set or photocopied. That was the extent of alternative publishing -- the only way for poets to take publishing into their own hands. A book reviewer back then, I swatted chapbooks away like flies. I saw them knee-deep at secondhand bookstores. Well, things have changed and chapbooks are important now.

Cherry Pie Press since 2005 has published a series of poetry chapbooks by Midwestern women. They are beautifully produced and the poetry is hot and it keeps coming: Three new books this year. A friend of mine, Pamela Garvey, won a chapbook contest last year; her chapbook is titled Fear (Finishing Line Press), and each copy is threaded through with a satin rattail ribbon, different colors: mine is wine-red. Poets with traditional publishers will issue chapbooks if they've got some work that's too edgy for the suits. Ted Hughes issued 110 copies (that's all!) of a chapbook titled Howls & Whispers (1998), 11 poems from the Birthday Letters series that he, or somebody, thought were too edgy to publish in the regular book. In a rare-book room I read copy #75. Online I found a deluxe edition for sale that costs USD $27,500. Mostly, though, chapbooks are a heck of a lot more affordable than normal books of poetry, and they're mostly meat, very little gristle. A book of 20 or 30 poems that are ALL good is positively intoxicating.

I'm even urging chapbook publication on poets who have lots of good poems but not enough for a full-length manuscript, or who have full-length manuscripts they can't publish. Chapbooks can be handsomely made, even at home, and circulated and sold, mainly at poetry readings, but also through flyers, local bookstores, and the Internet.

And as far as I can see, no poet today is ever sorry that he or she issued a chapbook. Poets, consider it. And maybe it's time for some fiction or nonfiction writers to do it too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Privilege of Doing It

A scientist comes up to me after I discuss how writers never get paid very much because, it's said, just being published is pay enough, and it's a privilege to be a writer and I should be satisfied with that. . .She said to me, "I was a researcher and never got paid very much -- because just getting to do my research was, they thought, compensation enough. . ."

Surprised, I told her I thought all science people really raked in the cash with those grants.

Oh, no, she said. Post-docs, researchers, all sorts of people, they aren't paid very much.

I said, They also exploit young people. Because they're young, employers think they don't have to pay much.

She said, They do it to journalists, too. I said Yes, I know; I worked at a newspaper where goodies like circus tickets were supposed to compensate for pathetic paychecks.

Now I wonder: In how many professions are skilled and dedicated workers being b.s.'ed that they shouldn't be well paid because they have "the privilege of doing it." And like fools we believe and profess and accept that! What a wonderful scam!

(Winner of the June 2008 Artificial Difficulty Award!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Poet Laureate of Missouri Said

Walter Bargen is the Poet Laureate of Missouri, the first one ever appointed. Notes taken during his talk to the St. Louis Writers Guild preserved some of the intriguing things he said:
  • "The role of the writer in society is to keep us awake."
  • "Poetry is like music; talking about it is not experiencing it."
  • "Each first line [of a poem] is an argument for the poem's existence." (For example: "About suffering they were never wrong, the old masters. . ."; "You don't remember the hanging, but you do. . ."; "Each lover has a theory of his own . . .")
  • "It's rhythm that marches your reader through the poem."
  • "You know you're really writing well when you're surprising yourself."
Also in my notes, not a direct quotation, maybe an on-the-spot inspiration: "IDEA: Read poetry to stones, birds, and trees." Read a post-seminar interview with Walter Bargen here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

My Mom for President

Elect my mom president of the United States and the budget will be balanced in five days. The occupation of Iraq will end when she says so: no ifs, ands or buts about it. Osama Bin Laden will quake in his boots, and if he bombs anything she will clean his clock and show him who is boss. There will be no shenanigans in the Oval Office. You'd better believe the White House will be tidy and there will be no eating at the desks. Rich folks will be taxed until they're in the same boat as the rest of us.

President Mom's cabinet will be working women who know how to juggle everything and get things done. She will award medals to stay-at-home mothers, nurses, cancer patients, and graduate students. Dick Cheney will soon be laughing out of the other side of his mouth. When the Democrats and Republicans have stupid arguments she will say "Cut it out or I'll knock your heads together."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Writers and Horoscopes

Friend of mine had a St. Christopher medal in his car to protect it. I said, "Didn't you hear that the Catholic Church retired St. Christopher, at the same time it retired Limbo-- they say there's no historical evidence that he ever lived. . ."

My friend replied, "It can't hurt."

The only thing in astrology that has always, always worked for me is the Moon Void-of-Course (VOC). Anything done during a Moon VOC period (every 2 or 3 days -- can last the whole day or a few minutes) will come to nothing. Moon Void is a great time to have a mammogram. It's a crummy time to make important calls, send manuscripts, start a novel or make a commitment. I've tested this over a period of years. Anything for more confidence!

Astrologer Georgia Nichols follows the Moon Void patterns, and her daily horoscope column will always say when (it's U.S. Eastern time) it's a good time to make decisions or spend money, or when to hold off. It's right at the top, under the heading "Moon Alert." Try it. It can't hurt.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Show Business for Writers: Hecklers and More

#7. Don’t apologize onstage. If you make a mistake, a slip of the tongue, knock over the mike, etc., ACKNOWLEDGE it by saying “Oops!” or “Let me try that again,” and MOVE ON. Never begin a reading by apologizing for anything. (“Some of these poems aren’t very good” “This is an excerpt from a novel, so it probably won’t make any sense to you”) The audience doesn’t perceive this as honesty or humility. They've wasted their time coming to hear literature that even the author thinks is no good.

#8. People will not remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. (Attributed to Walt Disney)

#9. Heckling is rare, but don’t ignore it if it happens. Always have a response ready. At a reading in a pub, I saw a poet heckled by a drunk. The poet bravely tried to ignore him. Rather, he should have acknowledged the heckler by saying something like Hank Williams used to say: “Somebody get a shovel and cover that up over there.” Dick Gregory, who integrated the Playboy Club, handled a heckler thus (preserved on a live recording): “If you don’t like me, why don’t you just get up, burn your cross and leave?”

#10. Is your audience fidgeting, bored, escaping out the exits -- while you're reading? Change your tone. Not your speed, but your tone.