Thursday, September 20, 2012

Because the Stakes Are So Low

I had to block someone on Facebook the other day, not because of political stupid-headedness, or too many pictures of kittens, but because of good, old-fashioned crazy. I won’t go into too many details, because a lot of us have been there (and it wasn’t really that interesting) but he started by attacking a story of mine (actually 3 stories that he wasn’t able to discern were, in fact, separate, even though the separate titles should’ve given that away, and the fact that they were on separate pages, and about totally separate things) and quickly progressed to cursing, namely calling me a “pussy.” Now I love pussies – a pussy gave birth to me – so that isn’t really much of an insult, but the whole thing got me thinking about what was probably my worst encounter with crazy in the form of a failed academic who accused me of being part of a communist conspiracy to keep him out of print. Compared to that, Pussy-Boy just don’t cut it.

My failed academic sent me a “review” of one of the Best New Poetry Anthologies. This was back when I was editing Ghoti Magazine (anyone remember that?). The “review” was structured pretty much like this: “Look at this poem: (quoted lines) Doesn’t that suck? Now look at this poem: (quoted lines) Doesn’t that suck too?” It wasn’t so much a review as a rant, which would be fine, but it wasn’t a very good rant. Now, I’ll be very specific: when I rejected it, I stated that I agreed completely that the anthology probably isn’t very good, because they don’t tend to be. (This is something everyone knows but few will admit.) But the review wasn’t very good either. Why would I publish a poorly written review whose thesis was that the poetry in an anthology was poorly written? Let’s try a little harder. WHY do these poems suck, asked I? I also pointed out that if he were willing to revise it, I’d be happy to run it. (To be honest, I would’ve been THRILLED to run it if it were an actual review with evidence to support his thesis…) He responded by saying I was afraid of offending the editor because he might not publish me some day (completely ignoring everything I’d said. See the beginnings of Crazy?) This is laughable because, as I told the guy, the editor of this BNP Anthology wouldn’t give a rat’s ass what I say or think about his book. He has NO IDEA WHO I AM, and he sure as hell didn’t read Ghoti, I was pretty confident. The odds of me being in one of these anthologies is right up there with me winning the lottery (which I don’t play). Perhaps I’m being jaded, but it’s how I felt. Again, I pointed out that I agreed with his thesis in the essay and clarified the changes I was asking for. He wrote back accusing me of being an academic (I teach high school, whereas he taught at a college). Furthermore, he labeled me as part of a communist conspiracy to keep him out of print, which, I have to say, was a new one. He claimed to have sent this essay to over a hundred journals and all had rejected it. Well, says I, that should tell you something about the quality of the writing, eh?

The totality of our correspondence consisted of three emails and responses. After he jumped the shark with the whole communist thing, I backed out, because I began to suspect that he might possibly be batshit insane. Later, I discovered a new “essay” on his website (one that was very well known-to and hated-by editors of other journals, I found out) that credited me with actually taking him somewhat seriously and communicating with him from within the web of my communist academic regime. He also wrote a poem decrying me along the same lines. I was actually pretty darned flattered. It was the second poem someone had written to trash me – the first being from another person whose work I’d rejected repeatedly (one of those guys who sent work in every week until I finally told him not to send anything else until he’d read a bunch of contemporary poetry and written a bunch more). He referenced e.e. cummings for some reason I’ve yet to fathom. That’s all I really remember about it.

I’d been trashed before, of course. One of the first reviews I got for my first collection trashed it (because of the reviewer’s bias, cries little old me!). (When I say “trashed” I mean “shit all over.” Plenty of really strong reviews of my work have pointed out some flaw or shortcoming or whatever. That’s totally fair. It actually shows a well-rounded review. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the “This sucks because I don’t like it!” guys who have no idea what a review even is, much less how to write one.) I’ve had hecklers at poetry readings, or just really bad audiences. Someone once trashed a review I wrote of another book by claiming I was part of a feminist conspiracy, neglecting, of course, the fact that I’m male. (What is it with these conspiracies? Am I the only person not actively involved in some secret movement to achieve some sort of nefarious agenda? I’m feeling a little left out, here.)

I’m sure the guy on Facebook thinks it’s unfair that I’ve gotten the success I’ve had (such that it is) while he’s toiling in only slightly less obscurity. Maybe the work I posted was from a journal that had rejected him. Something like that is, I’m sure, why he sought me out to shit on my work. I’ve encountered people like that since my earliest college workshops, who tried to claim that I somehow cheated my way to talent. I remember in my first college workshop, a guy came in saying he’d Dogpiled (remember that, in the days before Google?) a line of mine because he didn’t believe I could’ve written it because it was too good. His own work was full of clich├ęs (for some reason, I remember his best poem as being about his dog and ending with the phrase “…don’t darken our doorway”). But I didn’t cry about it. I just quietly wrote poems whose achievement he’d never be able to approach. Sorry if that sounds cocky, but it’s the simple truth. I’ve worked my ass off for over a decade to achieve the level of slightly better obscurity I’ve managed. I didn’t take potshots at other writers; I got busy and wrote and researched and sent work out and built up momentum and took advantage of every opportunity I could scrape up. If I wanted to “take on” a writer, I found out what journals published him or her, and I worked until I was published by the same journals. It might take years, and I might not ever get in, but I tried. I still do. That’s how you pay your dues, as a writer; not by whining about the big, evil world that doesn’t understand your genius, but by writing. Because the reality is no one gives a shit. I’ve got a solid decade-plus of publishing under my belt, and still no one has heard of me. Oh well. Actually, I take that back. Pussy-Boy has heard of me. And the crazy academic. And the e.e. cummings guy. That’s three, and it’s only taken me a decade. Hell, I’m moving up.

-CL Bledsoe

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