Saturday, August 30, 2008

Literary half-way houses

As Labour Day approaches, so too the labour of what Mary Biddinger calls the BFS: "The Big Fall Submission." So many poets, including Mary, talk of "finding homes" for their poems. But aren't literary reviews half-way houses on the way to the real home, the published book? If not kinky residences, reviews are locales to work out kinks -- overcome bad habits, wean free from addictions, get adjusted to the "real world".


Pris Campbell (my favourite blogging namesake) asked me for clarification on the above; since it could be taken the wrong way, I reproduced her question and my reply below.
Blogger Pris said...

Hi Brian
I always enjoy your perspective, but wasn't clear what you were saying here. Did you mean you prefer to go for the book and feel that journal submission isn't that important?

Saturday, August 30, 2008 7:19:00 AM
Blogger Brian Campbell said...

Perhaps I crossed the line from concise to cryptic. Actually, I think journal submission an important *step* for the writer. Submitting your work to public scrutiny forces you scrutinize the poem yourself in a way that you may not otherwise, and can aid revision and proof-reading. It's a valuable proving ground. Sometimes an editor will give you feedback that can help you to put those poems up to snuff, and connecting with that editor who accepts your work can be a special thrill. (I'm sure you know that thrill, Pris.) Even seeing the poem in journal or chapbook form can lead to further revision: how many times have we seen something to the effect of "a number of these poems, some in previous incarnations, were published in..." Also, those journal credits can add up to a certain credibility, reducing the stranger anxiety so many book editors feel when faced with a new manuscript, particularly that first book manuscript.

But at the same time, the readership of reviews -- excepting, perhaps, the biggest ones -- is limited: oftentimes they aren't even given a thorough read by their own contributors. There's just so much to read, after all! Ron Silliman once compared the journals to a kind of white noise that's always back there, but easy to ignore. So a journal doesn't seem like a permanent home, but a kind of half-way house to the "real thing", the book, which itself may be a half-way house to that anthology in the skies we all wish to be a part of someday.

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