Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yesterday I received word that the series editor at a well-known university press would like to read the ms of Chestnut Ridge. There's no guarantee that she will take it, of course, but my spirits are high anyway. Not many university presses have broad poetry programs, and those that do usually consider collections "by invitation only" or build their series via the typical small-press contest model. Most don't deal with poetry at all. So I feel full of good fortune, just to have gotten past this door.

I am fretting, though, over the notion that readers' resurgent interest in Chestnut Ridge may be Trump-related . . . just as my publishing opportunity at the TLS was. Such interest is not bad; I mean, it could even be good; it could even mean that readers want to learn more about individuals they've overlooked or romanticized or derided for so many years. My fretting comes more from my own fear of being seen as a voice or a spokesperson rather than as an artist with a subjective and malleable vision. I am not a journalist or a representative. I'm a neighbor and a cousin, and a writer with the avowedly selfish purpose of striving toward art, and I possess all of the usual blind eyes and gratitudes and irritations, along with the urge to frame and highlight and dramatize. This makes me unreliable as an Expert.

In "Taming the Bicycle," Mark Twain writes about learning to ride one of those old high-wheeled machines. He begins: "I thought the matter over, and concluded I could do it. So I went down and bought a barrel of Pond’s Extract and a bicycle. The Expert came home with me to instruct me. We chose the back yard, for the sake of privacy, and went to work."

Twain's version is what I think of, every time I hear the word Expert: it's the person who always gets smashed by the bicycle. "The machine was not hurt. We oiled ourselves again, and resumed. This time the Expert took up a sheltered position behind, but somehow or other we landed on him again."

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