One of my favorite things about being a writer is the sense of tradition I feel whenever I fire up a new Word Document or take pen to paper, jotting in my illegible scrawl some thought, some image, I will one day try to craft into a piece. The act of writing is the act of joining a community that spans time and space, and cannot be limited by age, race, or era. When you write, you join a conversation. A “California Supermarket” that shows up in one of your poems cannot be seperated from Ginsberg’s. We write from, or in response to, the views of those who came before us. For me, I write from Cormac McCarthy’s driving prose, from Yusef Komunyakaa’s lyrical visions, and from Wallace Steven’s technical precision. And, if you write in English, you cannot escape the Great Bard’s impossible shadow. Nor, for that matter, can you escape Emily Dickinson or Uncle Walt, or T.S. Eliot or whomever. The point is is that those tried-and-true English-speaking writers (not to mention the many great non-English writers) have left some vast footprints, and it’s important to know where we come from. That’s what our anthologies and favorite college texts help us with. And I love revisiting certain authors whose work continues to mean so much to me.
Equally as important, though, is to know where our contemporaries are. This point is why I think it is so important that we nourish what literary journals we can. I don’t only mean with our submissions but mean as well with our monetary support through subscriptions. Too many dedicated editors and their quality publications fold for lack of funds. Often times, these journals rely solely on subscription fees to keep afloat. There are only so many grants to go around, and many editors find themselves unable to keep their journals afloat for lack of subscribers. Yet, there never seems to be any shortage of submissions.
But, it’s not charity that drives me to subscribe to journals when I can; it’s greed. I love reading what my contemporaries are doing, love finding some gem of a poem that sends me spilling beyond my boundaries. I love when, a year later, I see a first book published by someone whose poem moved me when I read it in a journal. I am not advocating any particular journal, mind you. But I do advocate buying a back issue of a journal or magazine you might submit to. For me, it’s a good way to get an idea if my work would fit, but I am also exposed to more work, more writers I might not have read if it weren’t for their appearance in said journal. And, if I like the mag overall and have the funds, I’ll drop the 15 or so dollars for a year subscription.
The other side of writing well is reading well. Many of my books and magazines are annotated to the point of sin. There are cross-reference marks, question marks, lines I love underlined softly in pencil. That way, I’m actively involved . I’m a participant in making meaning of what I read. Not only is this fun, it helps me as a writer. If I am careless as I read, I will be careless when I write. That does no one any kindness.
For my part, I read as I’d like to be read. Sure it’s a remake of childhood’s golden rule, but I tell you what, whatever you read has cost someone a lot of time, effort, and energy. Plus, it might be damn good and, if you’re rushing, you’ll miss the greatness. And there’s a lot of greatness in journals and magazines and other small presses.
If you like, I’d be happy to comment on a few of my favorites, but I am not advocating any particular press or magazine. Rather, I believe writers should read nearly as much as they write. And just about every University has a magazine filled with worthwhile prose and poetry.
Anyway! I’m off to watch the rest of the NBA game. And then off to read and to bed and in the morning…Friday, which is Billiards day for me. Nine ball run, come on! Whoot!