My graduating class from an MFA program was advised to apply for major grants until we got one. It’s a fact that academic success and public acclaim are thought to be the marks of a successful writer. I have, for years, looked longingly at well-known publications and wanted to see my work there. And it has happened. I’ve published poetry, fiction, and essays. I keep a list of potential submissions. But I’m not sure that publication as I’ve defined it matters.
An influential book in my reading history is The Gift by Lewis Hyde. And it has occurred to me that my efforts to publish defy The Gift‘s ideal. I’ve had it backwards. The product of a consumerist economy, I too often measure success by prestige and sales. Money motivates. More interesting to me now is the need to scatter good words like grass seed.
Competing to publish in big venues satisfies my ego, but where else might a poem, story, novel, or essay distract, instruct, or comfort a reader in a difficult world? (And has it ever not been difficult?) I’m rethinking the issue of publication vs sharing. Who is best served if I parcel out poems to a select few? And what does it mean that I’ve taken so long to examine that advice I heard years ago? Would I turn down publication in a venue with thousands of readers? No, but I will try harder to make my work available to whoever wants or needs it. Fame be damned.