The Small Press As I Saw It
(After Three Years of Small Press Publishing)
AKA, The Poetry of Failure
(Originally published as part of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Small Press)
The small press literary scene, or The Small Press, as it is referred to by its participates, is represented by the countless unknown poets who contribute an infinite supply of verse to unsophisticated, but no less pretentious, poetry zines. The young poet/editors of these zines are banded together by the greatest gimmick ever of the disintegrating papernet, the SASE (self- addressed, stamped envelope). With a relentless and deluded fervor, they criticize but freely participate in a mass circle jerk of publication credits among other editors, the old-timer poets, hangers-on and wannabe Bukowskis that proliferate in the obscurity of their endeavors. Embellishing the submission process with a moral agenda while collecting acceptance letters like baseball cards, reinventing rejection as an editing tool, these has-been slackers publish poetry zines as they wait for their supposed writing careers take off. The established poets determine the content of these poetry zines, as they have stuck it out so long they can boast over 500-1000 magazines that have published their poems. They seek out and blindly submit without explanation to as any available zine, limited only by the expense of postage. Joined by their supposed common love of poetry, everybody vies for the same publication credits, to get their new chapbook mentioned in the Small Press Review, The Chiron Review or the Pontificating Nimrod Journal of Vociferous Chance, until the only goal it seems anymore is getting on the Top Ten List of Most Published Poets in America (yes, it does exist).
Entering the fray is the constant influx of new writers that begin sending out letters, submissions (replete with SASEs) or gingerly extending a submission call for their new zine. The poets try to dazzle them with publication credits and sweet-talk. “Sure, kid,” the poet responds to the beat references, “You remind me of a young Ferlinghetti, back when he was first starting out.” And then, oh, so generously, the poet hands over the 300 page manuscript of the epic poem he’s looking for somebody to “put out.”
There is no doubt that Small Press poetry scene is a very tight community, from the aged poets, the editors, the barnacles and the lost old maids in back country hovels who took up poetry after their husband passed on “as a way to occupy myself during the lonely nights on the tundra,” whether based on the tradition of the bards of yore or the trailer trash of your Jerry Springer fantasies, poets are everywhere now… and they want their words in print, damn it! Some poets shine through the sludge of crap, others wallow in it and subject anybody that will listen to the most banal aspects of their depressing, boring and sad, sad lives. But mostly, it’s about being as moronic as any other group of people relying on each other for the affirmation their pathetic lives need.
Somewhere an aspiring young writer is holding his third rejection letter that week when it suddenly it occurs to him that, while no, I can’t get published in magazines like the New Yorker or Harper’s, but what if I created my own magazine, then I could publish whomever I want!” And as that weak but determined glob of brain cells drips out of the cranium and slowly spills down the spinal cord, and with a couple synapses firing a faint flicker of what could quite possibly be an idea, the cycle of bad poetry and even worse zines continues… and yeah, one could very well produce the next great poetry zine of Spring 2001, get burned out half way through the second issue when the submissions take over all the empty space in your home, and all you can think about are SASEs and what an asshole that guy is because he didn’t include one with his submission. And all the poets, the hangers-on, the wannabes and right there in front of the mob are all those editors that used to write you and you called friends, they all want their poems printed in your zine and they want you to publish their next chapbook and shit, you just pretend like you know what a broadside is.
If you don’t want to print this poet cause you like that poet, you get nasty letters, “but you took so-and-sos poems and I’m so much better than him!” And after you’ve spent your entire paycheck at Kinko’s photocopying and stapling the new chapbook you published for What’s his god damned name, your girlfriend is back home, pissed cause you can’t take her out anymore. “She doesn’t understand who this poet is!” you tell yourself. “He’s going down in the books! He’s a genius,” but she’s still not putting out and you realize that unless you charge the poets to make these chapbooks or expect the readers to shell out an hour’s wage for it, you will end up broke, hungry, homeless and alone when, gosh darn it, all you really wanted was to be a writer, meet some interesting people and fit in.