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,
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"
"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. . . ."