Sunday, October 7, 2007

Inside Early Music

I figured I'd left the whole thick envelope/thin envelope thing behind me (has McLuhan's medium-is-the-message shtick ever received such satisfyingly literal support?) I mean, I'm done with being eighteen. I graduated from college. I've even waded most of the way through grad school.

But I hadn't counted on literary magazines. And after years of craven avoidance, I finally, six months ago, entered the submissions fray. Yesterday I got my first thick envelope in the mail.

I suppose I should be thrilled. I expected to be thrilled. A journal I've read and respected for a long time accepted one of the four poems I sent them and is publishing it this winter. I've got a contract, proofs, the works.

But I'm not thrilled, unless thrill feels like a mild case of indigestion. Because what, exactly, is the point? Certainly not money: my total recompense is a grand total $0.00. No, make that -$0.85, which is what I spent on postage. Basically, I am paying 85 cents for the privilege of having my poem printed in a journal that will be read by approximately seven people, one of whom will do so on the toilet.

And I'm certainly not doing it to "express" myself. I am not breast milk. Nor do I think the point of poetry is to convey the experience of the poet. If my life were interesting enough to write about, I wouldn't have time to write. The poem the journal took (not my favorite) is my contribution to the classic music-slash-sex genre, but in real life I'm more likely to think about laundry (where DO all the socks go?) than sex when I'm playing.

(And just why is the music/sex thing so enduringly popular, anyway? Why are all the movies about music -The Red Violin, Touts les Matins du Monde- really about sex? I don't think most musicians associate music primarily with sex. The general public must think we spend all our time rutting on top of pianos.)

No, mostly what I feel -the "point" of it all- is relief. Phew, alright: at least I'm not one of those self-styled "writers," one of those the self-published, self-important, self-deluded Poets with a Capital P. The ones who write dreadful poetry in the their basements on weekends and then inflict it on their relatives. At least I am not excruciatingly, mind-numbingly, throat-closingly awful.

Is publication really about nothing more than soothing our pettiest fears? There's got to be more to it than that. Or else I'll need to find another hobby. I hear the tops of pianos are quite comfortable.

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