By early 1997, I had quite a few poems published in the small press/underground magazines and journals as well as a couple of really nice reviews of my chapbook here and there as well. The reviews of it were good enough to allow me to dispense with the little pile of these little blue books I had sitting on my shelf (minus the one’s I had simply given away, naturally), and it put me in touch with many other poets that I wound up having regular correspondences with (Remember, the Internet wasn’t quite where it is now. These correspondences were still being done the old fashioned way: paper, pen, envelope and stamp). It was through these correspondences that I was turned on to other really talented writers and poets and more often than not, would send their books in the mail along with their letters. The amount of talent out there truly astounded me. There seemed to be a whole movement taking place, something very much akin to the underground music scene I had been involved with for many many years. Small presses seemed to be popping up every day. Writers and poets were taking the initiative, doing what they had to do to get the word out and it all seemed to coalesce in a nice way. It was a very exciting time and here were a group of writers, though not necessarily a “group”, i.e. “The Beats”, but it was enough of a community forming to allow things to grow and breathe. Soon, many writers began starting their own presses, journals, magazines, etc and the circle seemed to be getting wider and wider, allowing many a struggling writer and/or poet an outlet the more “serious” journals wouldn’t even look at. Yes. This was exactly the same thing my generation had done in music circles, so I was already somewhat familiar with the territory and the idea came to me that I should possibly start my own literary journal. Why not? I was already making some good connections and there was a bevy of talented writers out there I had already become friendly with and a whole support network growing to help allow it to circulate, i.e. independent distributors, etc.
It was around this time when I discovered the mindset of certain people who had no understanding whatsoever what I was involved in yet felt they had all the knowledge in the world as to what it was supposed to be. People I knew who were not involved in any creative endeavor whatsoever felt it was time to try to shit all over everything I was doing. You know the types: the naysayers, the dream killers, the reactionaries, the assholes. I can count on one hand those who were actually happy for me, now that I found an outlet for all that scribbling I had been doing in the confines of my bedroom for all those years as a boy. In the minds of the naysayers, it wasn’t really “legitimate” because it was underground. “Talk to me about when a ‘real’ publisher decides to pick you up” was the implicit message. Again, much like it was in music circles, so I was familiar with these types and I knew to avoid them like the plague.
So I forged ahead anyway, starting up a little literary magazine of my own. For a little while, things went along swimmingly. Talented poets and writers were submitting their work, I got to connect with many of them, read their work, and offer my way, however small it was, to help “get the word out”. It seemed, finally, a little network of serious minded yet still struggling writers was getting bigger and bigger and as these journals continued to come into existence, so did the reach of the network, allowing a much further range of exposure. It was over this period, from 1997 through the early part of the new century, that it was the most exciting and inspiring. I dismissed all these naysayers who didn’t understand, who would never understand, or just didn’t want to understand. It really did seem like something was on the verge of happening, this little “rebellious” group of writers who decided the hell with everyone else, we’re going to do what we want, how we want and we don’t need you to tell us what to do and how to do it.
But people will always be people, I soon learned. As with anything that starts off as a common experiment with a common purpose in mind, some will shine brighter than others, some will garner more attention than others, and sooner or later the sniping and the backstabbing begins. Egos get completely out of control and suddenly people begin to lose perspective of the very thing they are involved in. I, personally, never had any illusions that any of these small press publications of mine would make rich and/or famous. I looked at it as an avenue to allow my writing to be read and possibly enjoyed by someone, even it were only two or three. I didn’t care. That was two or three more than there were before, I reasoned. I always kept things in perspective.
But soon you got to see what was bubbling just under the surface. If you want to see how others truly are in the writing game, just start a literary magazine and you’ll find out swiftly and forcefully. Many writers became incensed that you would “dare” turn down their works of genius. They simply didn’t understand that was the way it was for everyone involved. After all, even though I may have been friendly with many who had their own journals, they turned down my own work quite often. It wasn’t anything personal. I understood that. Some publishers had their own vision of what they wanted their magazines to be and sometimes what I was doing didn’t fit in to that vision. I never took it personally. I kept this in mind when I was doing my own magazine but soon learned that many people out there would take it very personally.
Nevertheless, I was pleased that I had a handful of readers that weren’t my friends and family, that someone I didn’t know somewhere in the world had read my work and was moved enough by it to want to make acquaintance or to take the time to write me and tell me what they thought. I always made it a point to write to them, to thank them, to let them know how much I appreciated it all. After all, none of us were going to earn the Pulitzer Prize here nor were we going to be able to quit our jobs and live “The Writer’s Life” by doing nothing but writing all day. Sadly, after reading their own “good press” in the underground circles, some writers became the “big fish in a small pond” and their egos ran away with them like a freight train. These writers would soon have their little “yes men” around them, forming their own little groups, their own little “cliques” and soon everything began to unravel. The pettiness, the jealousies, the high school bullshit soon began to rear its ugly head. Some of these writers even made the jump from the small press world to the “real” publishing world and suddenly began to question the “legitimacy” of the writers they were once ass kissing on a daily basis. In other words, it all started to become the very beast it was fighting against. Time to get the fuck out.
And I did. I didn’t want any part of it anymore. There are still some writers I am in touch with from those days, the more serious minded ones with their heads screwed on and their perspective still intact. But many others I don’t want and will not have anything to do with anymore. Apparently my little publishing endeavor didn’t make them the superstars they secretly desired to be and of course, having broken up into little cliques here and there, didn’t like the fact that I would publish the poets they were having a quarrel with and made a big fuss about it. The little magazine I did folded, mainly and most importantly, because I could no longer afford to do it. It wasn’t as if I were swimming in money, after all, and I never asked a writer for a single dime. It was all on my dime. Needless to say, poets I had promised to publish fell by the wayside and that didn’t sit well with them at all. The idea of “what part of I don’t have any money didn’t you understand?” was of no consequence to them. It was more important to them that I forgo my rent and meals so that a few hundred people could read their genius, know what I mean? Perspective was lost, the cliques became more petty and ridiculous, I bolted out the door as fast as I could and never looked back.
This is not to say that it was all bad. I got to be exposed to some truly great writing, was turned on to many authors that I had never heard of before, thereby expanding my “literary palate” so to speak, all of which became enormously influential to my own work and goals. But the time had come for me to start re-thinking things once again. Did I want to only be involved with the underground? I asked myself to be honest with myself. What did I really want to do? The answer was I wanted to write, plain and simple. I wanted to publish, plain and simple. I wanted to reach more people than the current circumstances would allow me to do. How was I going to do this? Well, poetry, for as much as I love reading it and writing it, was not going to do it. Besides, I wanted to start venturing into writing fiction, something that I truly loved above and beyond anything else. It was time to try my hand at writing a novel. In the meantime, I still wrote poetry, still submitted them to the more clearheaded publishers and magazines, and got to work doing what I always wanted to do. It was time to leave behind the pettiness and childishness of these little cliques who only wanted to pat each other on the back and begin to name drop themselves into their poetry---as if anyone even knew who the fuck they were to begin with. It was time to connect with people who were serious, professional and were doing it all for the right reasons.
So I hunkered down, got to work on the most important thing that seemed to be getting lost in all the pettiness and nonsense: sitting down and getting to work on actually writing.
(To be continued....)