Saturday, January 29, 2005

I have really been struggling lately with my writing style. I want it changed. I want to move on but I feel trapped in it. I just completed writing a little chapbook of poems that I call Abraham Lincoln and Other Death Scenes, which I think with much bias is pretty stellar, but its style isn't much of a depature from The Man Suit, the manuscript I've been working on since oh say 2001 (after grad school). I like what I write, but it's getting tired. A formula (aaaaahh!) is beginning to develop. It is so very difficult to get my style to move along outside of any sort of writing community. I'm out of school (but going back in the Fall) and Bozeman is dead to poetry. A is a wonderful and eager reader, but she doesn't write herself. So, I don't see anyone else's creative process develop. I read and read, and then tends to be a good silent community for me. I suppose that's pretty similar to most of you non-students.

This past week I've taken a new approach. In order to drop those prosey narrative-driven odd and strangely sad poems from my subconcious that just creep onto the page everytime I sit down to write, I've forced myself to write in an opposite style (whatever opposite might mean). I've been writing very lyrical, rhythmic poems--poems that don't depend on narrative to get the reader through, but on rhythm and whatnot, which is something I don't think I've done since the 7th grade when I was writing about melting snow in the spring, gag. Narrative still creeps its odd little offputting and sad head in but I don't think I'll ever get rid of that, and honestly I don't want to. That's who I am as a poet and I'm not trying to change that identity necessarily. These new poems I've written are the blues, among other things. I've read a few at Spaceship Tumblers if you want to hear--just keep in mind these are my little evolutionary experiments. And I'm working with line breaks and the locations of individual words which is something I haven't done for a while. It's pretty refreshing. Hopefully, after a while of this, my poetry may land somewhere in the middle. Let me know if you have any words of wisdom.

Also, much to Tony's disappointment, I'm selling Octopus t-shirts. Not because I'm trying to make a buck or because I'm trying to promote the site or make it bigger than it is through some sort of unrelated marketing--I could care less about that and I know damn well Octopus is about poetry--but because I wanted one for myself. Thats all. And because it's fun to make a design. I got a sweet tooth for graphic design. Is that so wrong? So if you want something, even though I don't expect you to, buy it here. If you don't, don't. Aren't I a good salesman? How bout this: if I see you wearing one at AWP in a bar like setting, I'll buy you a beer.

Oh and I'll give the $2.50 or so I earn in profits to the children. They are our future.

23 comments:

Laura Carter said...

For what it's worth, Zach, I'm in my fourth year of an MFA program & kind of feeling the same way. I'm forcing myself right now to work on this long piece that's really clotted & Wordsworthian---just realizing that part of my intention with it is to maybe get it out of my system? Dunno. But I think there's something to be said for pressing yourself to try what feels a little 'out-of-range' or maybe just out-of-style? Dunno.

Best to you when you go back to school!

Is that Charles Manson on the coffee cup?

Zachary Schomburg said...

Laura,

Thanks for the kind words. It's good to know I'm not the only one.

And as far as I know, that is not Chuck Manson, unless it this pic is pre-swastika on the forehead. I think it kinda looks like a less-hansom version of Tost. But truth is it's just a row of pic I found in an old old sciency book I stole from the library.

didi said...

Tony can be a knucklebrain..There I said it. NOBODY - and I mean NOBODY makes money on CafePress. It is a tool to allow digital artists to actually get their work on a PRINTABLE OBJECT. There are other sites as well and NOBOBY makes money on those either.

So there.

Didi

Tony Tost said...

Well, sigh. Just like to point out that I don't think it matters if you make twenty bucks per Octopus cock ring or lose five bucks per Octopus scarf-and-mittens set -- profit margins are pretty irrelevant. It's pretty harmless, if a little silly, to have a link from Lovely Arc to an Octopus clothing and dishwares line. Not something I would do, but no big whoop in the long run. I do think it'd be kind of disastrous to slap pictures of the merchandise all over the actual Octopus site. What kind of message would that be sending about the work found there: "Ronald Johnson's visionary poetry BUY THIS TRUCKER HAT NOW has been profoundly important to my BUY THIS BABY BIB NOW spiritual life . . ." Why bring the whole consumerist/merchandising virus in where it doesn't have to be? If it's REALLY all about the poetry/poetics, then why not have it just be poetry/poetics? These questions are presented in anticipation of the possibility of having Octopus coffee mugs, etc. all over the Octopus site -- the pissy tone is presently only in hopes of dissuading you from doing it. Not anger, but concern about the relevance of Octopus.

I really think selling Octopus t-shirts, messenger bags, etc., especially from the site itself, is the first step to making Octopus irrelevant. It's fun to make the t-shirts and so forth. Ok! Think of it from the point of view of the poets and readers. You want an Octopus t-shirt; fine. I think most readers and writers want a place where poetry and poetics are taken seriously enough to be enough. I recognize that I could be overreacting, but Octopus is pretty important to me, even as a no-longer-co-editor. The idea of t-shirt pictures and prices all over the site frankly depresses me. May as well place a "don't take these poems seriously" banner across the top of the screen.

Ok, my two cents. I feel kind of weird writing these things on a public blog, but it was brought up. For whatever reason I felt compelled to explain my knuckleheaded lack of enthusiasm on the matter.

Zachary Schomburg said...

Tony,

No, you're 100% right. No need to apologize for a pissy tone--it's pretty warranted. And your investment in Octopus, whether former editor or not, is paramount. So thanks. I've already taken it off.

Tony said...

I'm for the T-Shirt. And the mug. And the vibrator.

But I can't stand the over-serious. Do people take poetry too seriously? Yes. They do.

Nobody outside of our little fairy world gives a flying fuck about poetry and poetics. We do. That's good. Making a t-shirt doesn't contribute to irrelevancy--we're already irrelevant. Pooh-poohing ideas or poets or poems as being "not serious enough" or "irrelevant" just makes me want to distance myself from poetry, if this is what poetry *is* or *should* be.

There's enough room for all of us. Serious need not mean somber, cranky, depressed.

With much respect,
Tony

Tony Tost said...

Tony,

Do you really think that? The whole "already irrelevant/people take poetry too seriously/fairy world" bit, etc. Kind of an obnoxious take on what I was saying, as though I'm back here tsk-tsking Zach, "no no, that's not depressing enough for me, try something more somber, like my manuscript Sex Hat." I'm assuming you're either showboating, grinding some previous axe, or something. There's a difference between taking yourself seriously and taking other people's poetry seriously enough not to upstage it with stuff like merchandising (btw I know Zach does take poetry seriously enough to do so: my whole point was that maybe he wasn't seeing how doing the whole t-shirt thing on the site could upstage the poetry).

"There's enough room for all of us." I'll remember that line when I'm running for poetry office.

Seriously yet not somberly,

TT

Tony said...

Tony,

I'm not trying to piss you off, nor am I making a commentary on your poetry. I have not read "Sex Hat."

I don't know how what I say or do can be considered showboating--I'm pretty irrelevant, not a major voice, etc. Maybe I am grinding an axe, but it's an abstract one--no particular targets, but more of a general complaint against those who would protect our gates by keeping poetry away from the "mainstream," or whatever that means.

Poetry, I think, is for people.

So many people I hear complaining about merchandising, capitalism, and so forth,can't do without their SUVs or their Starbucks. I guess I just don't see the harm in the long run.

Tony

Tony Tost said...

We're obviously talking past each other here. No mention has been made of anything being too mainstream -- my point was that things like t-shirts would be an unnecessaray distraction, not some bizarre fear that non-poets might read Octopus or of some impurity or something at the poetry gates.

SUVs/Starbucks seems pretty irrelevant to the issue; I wasn't telling Zach that he's not wearing the right politics or agenda, just that thing like t-shirts would be detract from the poetry and poetics on the site. That's why I venture your comments as being either showboating/axe-grinding, because your comments didn't seem to relate directly to the discussion at hand. So, my guess was that the serious/somber thing was some pre-existing issue for you (axe-grinding), or this was some chance to spout forth vague declarations like "there's room for everyone" even though it has no bearing on the conversation at hand (showboating).

Seriousness certainly doesn't mean somber, but being a serious/responsible editor means making sure the poetry & poetics are presented in the best possible manner, and that peripheral things don't come between the work and the reader. Pretty basic stuff.

You can say your comments are aimed at "no particular targets, but more of a general complaint against those who would protect our gates" -- but that seems a bit of a stretch since your comments come in response to a specific issue (my concerns regarding the Octopus t-shirt idea). I'm far from pissed off, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to respond when I think someone's being full of it. The Sex Hat thing should've been more clear from my end; of course I know you haven't read my unpublished manuscript, but I was hoping the ridiculous of the title Sex Hat would work as evidence against what seems like a vague charge of my arguing for the necessity of a somber-like seriousness in all thing poetry-related.

"Poetry, I think, is for people." Again, I'll throw that one in my future campaign speech (to clear up my reasoning in saying that I'll put these little sentences of yours in my campaign speech: that's my way of saying that statements like 'there's enough room for everybody' and 'poetry, I think, is for the people' are empty and basically useless) (who would argue against them?).

"So many people I hear complaining about merchandising, capitalism, and so forth,can't do without their SUVs or their Starbucks. I guess I just don't see the harm in the long run."

Again, I have no idea why whether or not I drink Starbucks or drive an SUV has any bearing on my argument concerning selling merchandise on the Octopus site. I know you aren't saying directly that I'm probably a hypocrite with a Nader sticker on my SUV or something, but I'm just saying this whole point isn't pertinent because it frames the issue as a personal one. My view is that editing is not just some other form of self-expression -- to take on the role of publishing and presenting the works of others is a serious role, and editorial decisions should be thought through in this way: "how are my editorial decisions going to bear on the relationship between the reader and the work." That's why I thought the merchandising was a bad idea because it would add unnecessary noise and distraction. Harm in the long run by reducing the poetry and poetics to a more marginal role, not just in mass culture (which doesn't bug me) but in a journal that ostensibly is a poetry and poetics journal. In the long run, that would be very bad for Octopus, a site I care about very much.

Tony said...

Tony,

Fair enough. Maybe I am "full of it."

No hard feelings.

Tony

Tony Tost said...

Tony,

Fair enough then. Do note that I said you *were being* "full of it," not that you *are* "full of it." Big difference!

Best,

Tony

Anonymous said...

Isn't a "Sex Hat" a condom?

-Andy Mr.

Anonymous said...

Just to chime in: I agree with Tony R. I own a Palace Records T-shirt, I don't think that it takes away from the "seriousness" of Will Oldham's work. Or makes Drag City irrelevant, for that matter.

Oh, and check out my new manuscript: "Spermicidal Lubricant"

Anonymous said...

forgot to sign that last post.

-Andy

Tony Tost said...

It's not so much the presence of the merchandise as the possible foregrounding of the merchandise before the poems that I'm talking about. Thus my continual distinction between Octopus t-shirts available via Zach's blog and Octopus t-shirts on the same page or site as the poems. I know the "merchandising is selling out" argument is an old and obvious one and that it is easy and fun to counter, but it's not the argument I'm making. Drag City piping in advertisements for a Palace t-shirt between songs on a cd or at a concert would be more analogous to what I'm talking about than just the existence of a Palace t-shirt.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tony T,

Not to belabor the poing. I was really just kidding with that post. But at any show there will be a merch table and anytime you but a record that is distibuted by touch and go (as DC is) you'll usually get a catalog with their releases--and T-shirts. So I don't really see the connection. I mean, I guess Octopus is not a money-making enterprise and selling records is, but it seems weird to try to "keep it real" by not selling stuff on the website, which seems to be what you're saying.

What if Octopus also had a print component publishing chapbooks? You can't honestly say that you'd have a problem with selling them through the website. It seems to me that you really are worried that the existence of a T-shirt will take away from the "seriousness" of the zine, as in "Ronald Johnson's visionary poetry has been profoundly important to my spiritual life..." etc. And who said that poetry or zines that publish poetry have to be serious? Why say that they should't have any connection to the marketplace? I'm glad that Drag City has better distro than say Corwood Industries. Because I could buy Palace cds at Tower Records when I was in high school instead of waiting until I was in college to buy Janek cds at Waterloo records...

And why is all of this reminding me of the whole Fence hoopla on Third Factory?

-Andy

Tony Tost said...

The reality that is not addressed is the fact that the site itself is the only venue by which the work itself is available -- if a band has a website with t-shirts, that doesn't intrude on the listening of the music. The music, at large, exists separately from the website; the music is accessed by cd, itunes, concert, etc. My main concern is that the website of Octopus is in most cases the only means by which the poetry and poetics found there are publically accessible; poetry and poetics most often by people other than the editor, who have entrusted the editor with the work. It's all seriousness of stewardship I'm talking about, not seriousness of content or personality. It's a more subtle issue with an online zine than I think you or Tony are acknowledging -- you can throw away the inserts that come with records. & why would an online poetry magazine want to engage the marketplace when it can accomplish everything it wants, in terms of making poetry and poetics available, without doing so? Distribution? That's the whole upside of having an online zine, massive distribution with miniscule overhead. The market can be bypassed and it doesn't inhibit anyone from accessing the poems. I'm more hyper about this for Octopus because obviously it's something Zach and I made together & actually feel I have the right to be heard on matters concerning Octopus (doesn't mean Zach has to agree).

It's a different scenario with an online journal than with most other media -- museums have gift shops, but not in the galleries. I suppose a link to site that sells t-shirts would be less nauseating, but that's just thinking so short-term -- once you introduce the merchandising thing onto a site, are you just going to just keep it static, just-like-it-is the rest of the time, years into the future? If you display the stuff more prominently, advertise, etc., you'll get more sales/hits/etc. Why introduce it when it doesn't accomplish anything?

Since I posted my explanation to Zach, no one has actually countered my concerns that selling t-shirts on the site would be distracting from the work. Not in some vague abstract sense of what Octopus is about, but in an actual visual and situational sense. A whole lot of abstract stuff about going mainstream, selling out, keeping it real, etc. Am I just incoherent? I know that when someone is against something like selling t-shirts, it is usually because of fears of selling out, etc. So is it then totally inconsequential that that isn't the argument I'm making? I'm not being political or abstract here.

I should probably just shut up because Zach gets what I'm talking about, and that's all that matters here. But if I don't get at least some semblance that I'm communicating my actual point to the people countering it (or more precisely their phantom substitution for my point) I'll just get even more frustrated.

The variable of most importance is not some sense of integrity (though I think it's weird to not aspire to that as well); it's the question of how people actually access the poetry and poetics for which the site exists. If someone already reads and enjoys Octopus, then introducing t-shirts won't be that big of a deal (perhaps, depending on that person's ideals). Another advantage of online zines is that they eventually become databases of poems and poetics, and if the editor/editors have any semblance of an editorial vision, that database can introduce an aesthetic view of the art (see Jacket). There are thousands of people out there that haven't heard of Octopus. I think Octopus is already taking the first step in constructing an interesting look at the art in its first four issues. I just don't see any upside to not having that fact be the most noticeable aspect of the site to the person who is coming upon it the first time.

The print issue is an interesting one to think about -- it's different from a t-shirt in that it is actually poetry. But I do think one thing to consider is whether going print, even for books and chapbooks, would trump the content of the poetry on the site, creating a hierarchy in which the site's centrality is undermined. I don't know. For whatever reason, I've been digging Slope quite a bit less lately -- the scope of its issues is not nearly as interesting or surprising as before. Jacket keeps on choogling, though, probably because it is still the only point of the site's existence.

Going through my old issues of Sulfur, it's kind of cool to see Sulfur baby t's and headbands on the cover, and a little 'buy Sulfur brand clothes or suffer' logos at the top of all the pages, and a color photo of Clayton Eshleman on the back cover wearing Sulfur dungarees and Caterpillar galoshes and counting his Benjamins.

Anonymous said...

You haven't explained how selling t-shirts on the site would distract from the work. If it was not done intrusively, I don't see how it would distract from the work. Your example of BUY TRUCKER HATS was so hyperbolic it's hard to take seriously. I don't care either way about what Octopus does. But if you're worried about communicating your point. I still don't understand. Are you saying that someone click on the site and say, "Forget these poems. I wanna buy a T-shirt"? That doesn't seem very plausible. And if having T-shirts brings more people to the site, isn't that what you want, for people to read the work?

It seems to me like you're saying the work is "serious" and selling T-shirts is not serious, so selling T-shirts would somehow taint the seriousness of the work. And "serious" journals like Sulfur would never do anything like turn their magazine into a brand. Personally I'd rather read Vice magazine.

-Andy

Tony Tost said...

Well, okay doke! It's Zach's magazine now, and his blog. I've probably preached enough here. You enjoy Vice. I'm psyched to see what Zach does with Octopus next.

Anonymous said...

you both have blogs right? what the fuck is that but your own t-shirt you stick in someonelse's drawer. believe it or not you both have the same values.

Anonymous said...

you both have blogs right? what the fuck is that but your own t-shirt you stick in someonelse's drawer. believe it or not you both have the same values.

Anonymous said...

o

Anonymous said...

Tost: You're keeping a shadow blog in Zach's comments! Be a man, exhume the Grave.