Sunday, November 29, 2009

My take on a lively debate

My first exposure to Marge Piercy's work came at the Science Fiction Shop in lower Manhattan, which carried her novel Woman on the Edge of Time. Not long afterward I picked up her poetry collection The Moon Is Always Female. That book includes three poems that I have recommended time and time again: "For the young who want to," "For Strong Women," and "The Sabbath of Mutual Respect."

The current condition of the publishing industry and the debate raging over self-publishing or not, e-books versus print books, and all the ancillary issues stemming therefrom, brought me back to Piercy's poetry. What follows is my riff on her work, re-stated to fit that debate.

Poem After Marge Piercy's
"The Sabbath of Mutual Respect"

(You can read Piercy's poem here.)

In the writer's year there come thanksgivings,
the completion of drafts and the thrill of acceptance,
times when we hone our craft, read the living and the dead,
drinking their golden words of vision and toil.

Abundance, the Zone, the pouring of soul,
inspiration now and slogging later. After
the work emerges, small deaths come in edits.
The labor nourishes us, plot
and protagonist and continuity, hook and arc, query
and synopsis and conflict, all the serviceable
pages formatted to market specs,
the agents, the publishers, the editors; the products
that quicken into paperback and hardcover and e-book,
the humbling necessary critique groups,
the armies of workshops waving their
keynote speakers and networks.

The inspirational
how-to essays that focus the yearnings
stored in dreams.

The profound
sanctuary of work space, backlit
laptop, free-flowing ink, smooth
paper, the solid desk, the dictionaries
exploding awareness with the perfect word.

We praise our craft by submersing in it,
reveling in genres in an industry set with chapbooks
and contests and blogs, small press and large press
and podcasts inside this long
economic winter.

Creativity and choice:
every novel embarked upon means weeks/months/years
of labor. Over-extend and the ideas
lose their purchase in a flood of partial drafts.
The muse of inspiration is also
the restraint of labor and choice.

In another
life, dear author, I too would tailor myself
to marketplace demands. In another life, my colleague, I too
would ride convention waves, exulting
in the camaraderie of literature's movable feasts.
In another life, dear writer, I too
would scatter poems in the streets and throughout the ether,
or be born to scribe in private, to the muse of solitude.
Praise all our choices. Praise any writer
who chooses, and honor that choice.

Whitman, Paine, Dickinson, Piercy, Lorde,
Walker, Rushdie, Basho, Melville, McPhee,
Butler, Poe, Kafka, the many faces of Anonymous,
Tiptree, Asimov, Delaney, Hegi, Roy,
Hemingway, Proust, Zelazny, Chandler,
Sartre, deBouvoir, Blake, Keats, O'Connor,
Pushkin, Kingston, Shakespeare, DuBois, Goethe:
their words embody our histories, our perspectives,
our passions, the stories that resonate or not
with each individual reader. When I consecrate
my vision in the temple of expression,
when I pledge myself to my writer's instinct
mated to the balance of my circumstances
I do not choose for you or lessen your choice.

Our real abundance is the power
to hold rights or to grant rights, to offer
for sale or to freely distribute, to chance
the marketplace, to risk our own exposure,
and not to have rights taken by stealth or infringement
or greed or monopoly or loopholes.
To submit work or to self-publish or to not publish
is holy. To hack against one's wishes
is to risk the soul's deforestation.
To have one's vision bastardized is to have
your heart cut out. To transgress genre
is holy and holy is the freedom of improvisation
and precious to write however one can
and precious to let the voices grow from silence.

Praise the works you did not write.
They will sear you, fuel your stories, exact
your truth. You fill the void made by their absence.
You heal the heartache of their failure. I tell you
after the agony of my creative drought
I could delve deeper than I ever had before,
freeing myself of the fear of drowning,
reaching a layer I despaired I'd never reach.
When my friend signed options I hugged her in joy,
cherishing the drive she pours into her books,
her children of insomnia and deadlines.

Praise our choices, writers, for each missive
exacts a toll known to no one but its author
who pays in struggle and obsession,
rejection, reinterpretation, remaindering,
economic and spiritual hazard.
Words and ideas are sacred to writers, for we
are doorways of heart and we must choose
what to risk and how to value. Freedom of expression
is our real abundance.

Writers: do as much research into the industry as you can, weigh all of your options as best you can, and in the end do what you believe is right for you. Everyone's situation is unique and one size does not fit all. Rarely, if ever, does anyone operate with full information at their disposal. Every choice involves risk. The important thing is to own one's choices.

Elissa Malcohn's Deviations and Other Journeys

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[end of entry]


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