"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Why I Am Not Jonathan Mayhew

Radical Druid asks and I answer:

1. Do you write with the intent of submitting (and getting published)? Is that your primary objective in writing poetry (publishing to print media, or online journals, or other outlets [i.e., contests, prizes, etc.])?

Um, not really. I started writing poetry long before I started submitting it. The first poem I submitted was to an extremely small website (not even a journal, even, rather a site for “collegians”—I was an overaged undergraduate at the time) that was offering $50 per week for the best poem submitted. I was extremely hard up, and I won the fifty bucks. I didn’t submit again for another couple of years. Then I was rejected for ever and ever. Finally, people started publishing my poems—but it was more of a game for me at first. Now I write poems, but not because I need something to publish but because, what else am I going to do with them after they’re written? I give them to friends and lovers, and then send them out into the postal ether. I’d like to win a book contest, though, because then I’d have a book, which would make my mother happy, and even if “you can’t always trust your mother” (Lou Reed), I’d like to make her happy. I haven’t given her any grandchildren, don’t have a real job—if I publish a book of something she can brag to her friends. Oh yeah, and it might help me get a real job. Might.

2. If submittal/publishing is not your primary objective, is there another outlet (regular public poetry readings, religious liturgy, slams, literary cameraderie/competition) for which you tend to write?

I write mostly for my friends. People I love. Other poets. The Pantheon below. Literary Cameraderie sounds pretty good to me.

3. Do you write poetry for other reasons (i.e., personal confessional, celebration of special events, academic requirement, etc.)? How much of what you write is for these "personal" uses, as opposed to ultimately for "audience" consumption?

It’s all initially for personal use. Once I used the fuck out of it and my friends and lovers use it all up and my girlfriend dumps me and thus invalidates the deep loving communication aspect of all those poems I wrote for her, they get sent out into the world. They, at some point, reach the age of majority. I give them a carton of smokes and send ‘em packing. If they don’t join the Army, they sometimes land in poetry journals. This past week, one of my children landed in Gulf Coast, for example. When I send them out in large groups (like one group I have called “lucky error”) they get sent back. I do not want to keep feeding the damn things. I didn’t win the Walt Whitman award which saddens me. I want Mary Oliver’s approbation.

4. In any case, what percentage of your "audience" is other poets, versus non-poets?

I think fifty percent is other poets. The others are my non-poet friends. In all reality, since the poems I publish in journals are probably read by other poets…I dunno…maybe 75% is for other poets.

5. As relates to audience, what is the level at which you seek to connect with them (i.e., artistic, intellectual, emotional, political, spiritual, etc.), once you have them identified? Does "connecting" to your audience even matter?

I want them to go, “Wow, what a good poem.” Then I want them to fall in love with me and give me babies.

6. As you explore those different aspects of yourself through your poetry, does that change your audience, make it larger or smaller, alienate it, etc.?

Well, as my personal relationships change, my audience changes. For example, not to beat a dead horse, but now that my (ex)-girlfriend has decided that we can’t be in love forever, she ceases to be part of my audience (unless she picks up a copy of a journal in which I’m published, but I doubt that. I’ve been to her house—she doesn’t have many poetry journals lying about). I hope that as I publish more, my audience will widen. If APR would publish me, for example, not only would readers get treated to my poems, but they’d also get to see me posing for an APR photo. This might attract a new girlfriend, thereby expanding my audience by one.

7. What percentage of the "audience" for your poetry would you consider your friends or even acquaintances, if any?

Wow. These questions are getting pretty similar, no?

8. In terms of well-crafted, do you think that craft (that is, skill of the poet in whatever genre or form they have chosen) is typically the criteria used in determining what is or is not published in the above? Or is it more likely to be what is considered "good" poetry by academia and its associated publishing press?

I think what Jonathan Mayhew said here is pretty appropriate. I once got a rejection letter from a contest to which I had submitted “lucky error.” I was a semi-finalist in this particular contest, and the judges remarked that they were “impressed by the craft evident here.” I laughed out loud. I exclaimed (to nobody in particular, since I was alone) “What craft!?” Then I wondered if I knew what craft meant. I guess I don’t. Or I duped some contest judges.

9. What is more important to you as a poet, assuming that you can only pick at most two of the following: that you be widely read, widely known, widely admired, widely quoted, or well-paid?

Widely read and well-paid sound pretty good . If I ever get famous and win a Pulitzer, I’m going to threaten other poets. I know kung-fu.


Jonathan said...

You know I had to read a post entitled "Why I am not Jonathan Mayhew."

I like the idea of a batch of poems nicknamed "lucky error." The editor accepting them might be making what seems to be a "mistake," but one with fortunate consequences all around.

Anonymous said...

"I write mostly for my friends. People I love."

And to think I was going to name my first child after you. Where is my poem?

Anonymous said...

This is the best, most honest statement of "poetics" that I've ever read on a blog. Tony, you are my hero.

-Andy Mister (see picture below)

Tony said...


Thanks for stopping by. "lucky error" is a good batch all right! Yessir!


I you only knew...


Thanks. I am a good role model. Follow in my footsteps young man.

Laurel said...

Oh, man. I LOVE you, Tony. You are the best answerer ever. If I wasn't preggers and married, I would totally give you babies.

When I get my Pulitzer... and you get yours... we should do a poetry death match at Madison Square Garden!!! I got numchucks!