March 27, 2009

When They Know Better

In the latest issue of American Poet, the magazine of the Academy of American Poets, there is a fun if brief interview of Louise Gluck by Dana Levin. Gluck is a little bit of a sore spot for some Washington folk, I think, because she halted the momentum of the Office of the Poet Laureate by being so reticent about hosting public programs. She was also a no-show at AWP a couple of years back.

But even when she's being a recluse, Gluck has an honorable rationale. I believe she honestly feels her job, first and foremost and regardless of whatever laurel wreath has just been laid upon her, is to keep writing good poems. And I'm charmed by simultaneously humble and cantankerous exchanges like this one:

DL: Did you ever hope for or imagine the large readership and current acclaim that your work enjoys? When you look back on the trajectory of your public career, what do you think or feel?

LG: I have no perception of large readership and acclaim.

DL: I can testify: it's out there.

LG: When I go to a reading, when I give a reading--first of all, you're standing in front of the room, you see the empty seats. And you only see the empty seats. It's because you were raised by a mother who said, "Why did you get 98? Why didn't you get 100?"

DL: I had that mother too!

LG: Yes, I know you did. So you see the empty seats, and people leave during the course of the reading, and you see them leave, and you think, "The are simply the more blunt representations of the feeling of the whole room. That everybody wants to leave, but only a few daring ones do." So that's how that feels. And acclaim? I've had as many terrible, condescending reviews or those that damn with faint praise: "Well, if you like that sort of thing, here's more of it."

So I have no great feeling of acclaim. When I'm told I have a large readership, I think, "Oh great, I'm going to turn out to be Longfellow": somebody easy to understand, easy to like, the kind of diluted experience available to many. And I don't want to be Longfellow. Sorry, Henry, but I don't. To the degree that I apprehend acclaim, I think, "Ah, it's a flaw in the work."

DL: As if, if they knew better, they wouldn't read you at all?

LG: When they know better, they won't read me at all.


Next week holds many adventures: two readings in New York (details below), a home-hosted poetry reading for two of my favorite first-book poets, and a seminar at the Writer's Center...for which it is probably not too late to sign up. Plus, maybe some talking about things which cannot yet be talked about.


Sunday, March 29 - Reading with New Issues poets (Myronn Hardy, Alexander Long, Elaine Sexton and Matthew Thorburn) at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. 6 PM; 29 Cornelia Street, NY, NY.

Tuesday, March 31 - Reading with New Issues poets (Myronn Hardy, Alexander Long, Martha Rhodes, Elaine Sexton) at McNally Jackson Bookstore in New York City. 7 PM; 52 Prince Street, NY, NY.

Saturday, April 4 - Breaking Through: Book Contests

Publishing a poetry collection via the contest system can drain time, money, and sanity. Learn the rules to the game. This seminar will examine details of the contest selection process: guest versus in-house judges, behind-the-scenes editorial considerations, and how to position your manuscript to be a strong contender. We'll identify emerging powerhouses of small press publishing--and discuss "warning signs" for ones that may be struggling. Attendees receive an annotated handout of resources.

1 session, 1 to 3 PM, at the Writer's Center (4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD). Interested? Sign up here!

1 comment:

Maggie May said...

Thanks for the heads up.