Every now and again (yeah. like, every 4 hours) I kind of wonder why I call myself a writer. No, that's not true. I never call or think of myself as a writer, except for the collateral that would suggest I write.
No, I have made too many mistakes to claim anything for myself. You will see in these blog postings at least a strong suggestion that poets/artists follow more conventional publishing channels than I have. But I have not quite said that I made a mistake doing what I do. I do so now.
I think self-publishing is a terrific error.
I came to this realization - why, just the other day, when it occurred to me that the difference between writing and no one ever reading it, and not writing at all and no one knowing, was immaterial. Now, this is dour, is it not? But consider, I have no groups or publishers or avenues or school to which I belong. I self-publish, via Lulu.com, to no notice or acclaim or even "likes." My life, in terms of being a "writer," having published, is exactly what it would be if I never published. I am not bravely alone. I am simply alone.
Put against this fact the following. Two years ago I joined the Catholic Church (I know, hang on). In those two years, I have taken on the role of lector (reader), cup minister, council member, and sponsor. I am about to take on bread minister. That is about as much as one can do, technically speaking (occupation-wise) and remain a lay person. For my efforts at my church, I am praised, thanked, respected, and liked. I have made friends for life - and beyond, when it comes right down to it.
Further, there is no end in sight to what I can know and experience through church. I am considering how to take what I know to the streets, to people who need material, emotional, and perhaps spiritual help. The prospects are endless, the groundwork sure, the material fascinating, the community innumerable, present, and enthusiastic.
But, I should care to write poems. I should care, you say, to...what? Make a name for myself? Impress people? If I could have impressed anyone, self-publishing was not the way to do it. The chief impression I have made as a writer, as far as I can tell, is that I have avoided making an impression.
I do not think this is admirable. I think it is dumb.
Let's look at it this way. Since dedicating myself to poetry, having written 26 books, nothing has changed. If my writing has made a difference, it is one I am unaware of. What I publish meets no acclaim, no reaction. I might publish, on a Monday, a book of 40-some pages I have spent more energy and time on than I care to recount - to no response - and then, that Sunday, having read a short couple passages from the Bible, receive more response than I have experienced in the past five years of writing.
This isn't about being discouraged. I have never felt encouraged enough to be disappointed. This is about choices, and not making a monument out of yourself. I can either confess having made a mistake, or I can pretend otherwise. I am not very interested in pretending these days.
So, if a young poet says to me, what should I do, I would say go straight unless you're dumb just like me, in which case I can't help you. But - I will not applaud you. I have long maintained that if my work was great it would be recognized regardless of how I published. I maintain that view but add now that it can be pretty sweet not being great but having some kind of dialogue going on, because, you know, it's okay just to be a part of things - the way I am part of a little local church and perfectly happy with that.
With writing, I have driven myself into a psychotic idiot-logic corner where transparency veils oblivion. Maybe this too is a lesson. Maybe I had no choice but to do things the way I have. Maybe I am like an eagle, soaring the currents. Sure, pal. These are the kinds of things poets say who have no other excuse, and no one to talk to. Could I do things differently now? Uh, no. That's not how this sort of thing works. I have made choices. I live with those choices. Being a poet is not a straight-line life. If writers live at the boundary of conscience (and don't they all say that?) then one should not expect the life of a writer to be an easy one. It should be a little ugly, at least a little.
But who's to say that the ugly is not true, or that the world is poorer for lovely, perfect failures, like this "career" of mine? Ah well, I am not too discouraged. I would rather live in honesty than die a liar. So I say, write real books, my friends. Write books and talk to each other.