The difference between a press you’ve admired for years and a press you’ve never heard of is the former is willing to pay a little money for its covers. There are presses that have been around for decades, that pour their sweat and tears into publishing more words than any of us realize, and that absolutely no one but a tenure committee cares about because they can’t be bothered to pay for a decent cover. I’m not above designing without the proper training myself, but I at least pay for raw art to use on my magazine’s covers — and I do try to actually design. I didn’t want to call anybody in particular out, and it’s insanely easy to replicate the bad covers that drive me up the wall, so I made a few shit covers of my own. If your press’s output looks anything like this, for the love of God, stop what you’re doing and find a freelancer to do something better.
Now let’s talk about what happened here:
Masochists, manic depressives, suicides, all poets are neurotics of the death instinct, losers and failures who embrace the misery of their wretched trade, who wallow in its servile aura of diminishment and squalor—its paltry practice.
But among poets, those dismal defeated schlemiels and corner-biting cowards lured by vile Virgils into the abyss of verse, a fortunate few manage to inhabit the upper circles, its higher hellblocks—
Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed! Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!—
What traitors these are to their class—(jeez, if they didn’t want to be failures, why did they become poets!)
This morning, I heard a story on NPR about the wildfires in Russia.
Among the stories of the tragic loss of life and home was one about a woman in a small village who attempted to save her house from the flames by standing out front holding up a Russian Orthodox religious icon. One could react to this in a number of ways. This could be an opportunity to deride religious faith or a point in the “God is dead or never was” column. This could be seen as a cautionary tale about the right and wrong kind of fire extinguisher a person should have on hand in their home. Or this could be, for artists, a time to offer an apology.
To the extent that I might or might not be an “artist,” and bearing in mind the fact that, even if I could be considered an “artist,” the community of artists is likely never going to vote me in as their spokesman, I would still like to apologize to this Russian woman for the failure of the religious icon to stop the fire from consuming her house.
I realize that when holding up the icon against the fire, the woman was thinking of it as a lens through which to focus her religious faith, and hoped that through her faith her home would be spared. It was a religious icon being held up to beat back the fire, not, say, a de Kooning print or a copy of Joshua Cohen’s new novel Witz*. But religious proxy or not, it was still a piece of art, and it still failed to save her house.
Frankly, artists should be thanking this woman. She has a—probably misplaced—faith in art**. A faith most artists certainly don’t have***. She tried to hold back the destruction of her home with art and art failed her.
And when art fails, it is because the artist failed.
Go ahead and complain that the woman did not use art as directed. Try to find some clever loophole to absolve yourself of the guilt. Deep down, though, we know what we did. Or what we failed to do, anyway. Shame on us.
Russian lady: we’re sorry****.
* Have you readers heard anything about this book? Anywhere?
** And—possibly misplaced—faith in God. But who am I to judge?
*** Cynical, cynical bunch.
**** And those of us who aren’t should be.