We all know it’s hard to get published. My intermittent efforts show this (I am, as of August, trying to submit poems every month—haven’t submitted any for October yet but preparing), and the process has been very tough on many of my friends who’ve been through it more than I have.
I think this is a (challenging, frustrating, hard-to-accept) good thing.
It means that lots and lots and lots of people are making art. (There are people who don’t look at this as a good thing. I am, as you may recall, not one of those people. ) But not only is the creation of more art good in itself—because creativity is one of the most fulfilling and worthwhile drives in the world. It’s good for art as a whole.
I’ve heard people say there will never be more than a few Real Geniuses ™ whose work will be worth reading a hundred years from now, and all that’s happening is we’re getting larger and larger piles of mediocrity to wade through to find them.
Let’s assume this is true (it’s not; there are all sorts of reasons to read an author other than that they’re the best of the best, and our judgments about who is the best of the best are highly unreliable, and why on earth would there be a fixed number of Real Geniuses when the earth’s population is in a J curve…and…and….). I find it nearly impossible to believe that none of the Real Geniuses of past centuries were poverty-stricken, illiterate, prey to now-treatable medical conditions, and otherwise utterly unable to create; yes, Real Genius tends to drive people to overcome impressive odds, but surely, surely it fails sometimes. I refuse to believe that there is some magical force that always brings Real Genius to the top. And I do believe that as education becomes more widespread and social incentives to value diversity become greater, we are likely—yes—to get a lot more dreadful art, forgettable art, heartlessly commercial art, hopelessly eccentric art. But we’re also likely to get more Real Genius.
In fact, I suspect that our standards grow not only more diverse but also higher as the competition gets more intense. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the recognized geniuses of the nineteenth century would be mediocrity if they were transported into today’s world.
As a reader, I’m very picky about the surface of writing. Many, many topics and approaches turn me off quickly and almost completely, regardless of their merit. But when I force myself out of that superficial mindset and attend to what I see, I find incredible depth and craft far more often than I find those qualities recognized.
It is possible in today’s world to make extremely careful, thoughtful, sincere, intelligent, creative, personal work—and find that, while it stands out from the majority of the writing out there, it still has innumerable peers and would, even if gatekeepers were entirely fair (a proposition not humanly possible if it has meaning at all), have a hard time achieving the recognition it deserves.
Dreaming of publication, recognition, applause, is fun, and it can sometimes help motivate a person to achieve creative goals. But it’s important to remember the other reasons we create too—for ourselves, for our friends, for the sake of the vision we want to make permanent.
In the meantime, I am considering focusing this blog, at least for a time, more definitely on poetry. Several reasons: I continue to want to learn more about poetry, and forcing myself to write about it seems like a good step in that direction; I especially want to read more contemporary poetry, and committing to writing about it sometimes seems like a good step in that direction; and I really enjoy analyzing poems in writing, but it takes a lot of mental energy to make myself do it, so…commitment to doing it may cause me to do more of it. Not sure if or how long I’ll stick with this plan, but I find the idea really exciting.