Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Cynical Look at Credits

Classic demi-puppet behavior: They carry their publishing credits everywhere, ready to bring forth and wear as badges of dubious honor.

Credits are the ultimate sign of decadence and insecurity among writers-- protective blankets to wrap themselves in to hide the fact of their work. (That even established writers in "prestigious" journals feel the need to list their credits is a sign of literature's desperation. The distance between the lowliest lit-zeen and, say, the Paris Review in terms of how much attention society pays to them is very small.)

Every writer you encounter is anxious to list his credits: "Well, yes, of course you must well be aware that I have been after all published in The Stale University Review, Defunct Quarterly, Mudpie, Croation City, Tenth Planet, and Blowfart!" Every obscure lit-journal in the universe-- the list of credits makes the writer's standing inarguable. How can one dispute such a resume? One can only admire it. There's hardly a need to read the works themselves. That would be superfluous.

The explosion of literary web sites greatly expands the opportunity for the writer to accummulate even more impressive (if never heard of) credits to flail around: Shipsunk, Mobycorpse, Brainshot, Garbleriot, Hairnet, Craponline, to name several of thousands. "Surely you've heard of them?" the writer declaims. (I do sometimes wonder if people make up their credits.)

The pinnacle of the usefulness of credits comes when the writer gives a reading, and a host or emcee has to introduce the person. Then we're given not only the entire lengthy list of publication credits-- print and on-line journals both-- but all previous readings-- that he was a featured performer at "Prison Skyfest 1992" and "Big Poetry Bash Twelve." A record of undoubted accomplishment.

You're sitting among five others on rusted metal folding chairs in a cramped, poorly-lit space between shelves in a tiny bookstore across from a toxic waste dump in a small town in New Jersey. You think one of three things listening to the array of credits.
A.) They're very lucky to get this guy to read at this shitty place.
B.) Boy, has he come down in the world since 1992.
C.) Maybe "Big Poetry Bash Twelve" wasn't so big.

But the intro to the Great Poet goes on as you look at your watch and the personage Himself clears his throat and intently clutches a sheaf of disarrayed pages. (Every poet who reads is The Great Poet, merely a different incarnation. It's written over their faces.) The Great Poet stands expectantly as the audience listens to the full litany of Credits. We're supposed to be impressed. The Great Poet certainly is, preening and smug, even buoyant-- even nervous-- getting to perform before six sleepy poetry fans in this chemical-stained metropolis. He rises up and down on his toes, limbering up. Then it's finally time to read. He searches through his pages.

"The swanky ship,
sunk"

That's it! That was his poem.

"That was in Hairnet," the Poet adds.

Encouraged by the audience response (we sat as rigid and silent as tombstones), The Great Poet tries another.

"The dead skunk hangs
from the tree"

Silence.

"That one was in Garbleriot."

As you hurriedly leave the bookstore-- the kindly blind proprietor unlocking the door, you accidentally stepping on her sleeping cat-- the Poet is loudly and desperately explicating his work's meaning: "Notice the affinity of 'sunk' and 'skunk' in the two places. . . ."

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

True about the credits. Some people send in a list of prior appearances as their "bio," with little to nothing of a personal, human nature.

Hard to fight it, though. If that's all a writer has to say about himself, yelling at him won't change much.

-Pat

Daniel Nester said...

Another thing about web journals is that, funny think, you can start one of your own--so long as you are near a library with an internet connection. So where are the journals that adhere to the ULA Platonic ideal?

Noah Cicero said...

I noticed after I got a book published on a small press and some postings at websites that some people starting kissing my ass. I assume because everyone thinks that they might know "the next big thing." Which is obvious from how many times people have said that I might be the next Steven King. And I tell them what I write will ever make it that far. But they won't listen, it is like regular Americans all have this dream of being in Star or knowing someone that will be in Star. People demand credits, or they won't listen to you talk, which I think is part of the problem you're speaking of.
I noticed to as someone who doesn't go to college compared college writers. I have friends who go to college and the only places they will submit their stuff is university presses that no one reads except professors.
The best place to read is at open mike night at a bar, come on between two bands, everyone is drunk and read some something, and the people in the audience aren't usually writers. Reading to other writers at a poety reading is painful. The only thing a person does at a poetry reading is wait for their turn, and when their turn is over they just want to go home. Reading to a bunch of drunk people for eight minutes is a lot more fun, they aren't mentally critizing your work while you're reading trying to make up excuses why they are better than you or why you suck. And drunks don't care if you read in meter, as long as you reflect the shittiness of their lives in the writing they usually enjoy it.
Good example of acdemic boat and sea poetry.
I got on a boat
and rode on the sea
with my PHD

Jeff Potter said...

Good remarks!

Regarding the last poster: The biggest thing about reading in a bar is if you suck you'll be booed and if you're good people will get up and jump around. Those are fine tests. Drunks can even catch subtlety. (But of course appealing to drunks has its, ah, limits---it doesn't always translate to success on paper.) Your description of turn-waiting readings is spot on! ...The extended workshop: no interference, please! Bah!

Regarding credits, when I get crap submissions they usually come with the string of credits. When I get something good, it comes with a personal note that, you know, makes sense---it mentions how the person found my zeen, what they think of it, mentions articles and news of another zeen, then says why they 're sending this story and thanks and see ya...and the submission then likely fits what I'm after. They often include a copy of their own zeen. It's not rocket science. If it doesn't fit, it seems to me like the person just wanted me to read their stuff, wanted to share a story, was being part of a community and not even mostly wanting to get into print. As a result we maybe get some correspondence going. They're not using me to get somewhere. That doesn't work in zeening, or in good small mags.

King said...

When reading I'm at my best when being heckled. It wakes me up. I need give-and-take from an audience.

Daniel Nester said...

Fuck being heckled by a bunch of jackasses. That's a complete waste of time. Art isn't democratic or even a democracy -- if you suck, yeah, you'll get heckled. But why worry if people don't like poetry? I don't see people who play darts sweating they don't have a national TV contract.

And what's with all this picking on poetry with the ULA anyway?

King said...

Dude, you are so wrong. Your statement illustrates everything wrong with literature today. Art HAS TO BE democratic or it's not real art at all. The glory of Periclean Athens was that it was a vibrant part of the everyday life of the populace. The Parthenon was a living artwork, speaking to people, all the people, telling stories. The great dramas were immersed in by everyone.

Maybe there's an argument to be made for aristocratic art-- but that's not what the ULA is about.

Re: Poetry. Poetry FIRST before other arts should be democratic, as it's the most primal of arts (with the possible exception of cave drawings); the spoken word around campfires. My gentle joshing is just that. I'm trying to wake up poets and prod them out of their self-imposed ghettoes.

As Noah rightly indicates, a poetry reading needs to LIVE. Why is poetry scorned by 99% of the population? Because of lifeless readings, which are a terrible face to put on the art, and have done much to marginalize it and make the very word "poetry" so dismissed or hated.

Again, there may be a place for enervated readings-- in a monastery-- but that's not what the ULA is about. Step aside, demi-puppet, and let those whose words have power and energy take the stage and show you how it's done.