(A local magazine recently approached me about writing an advice column. I wrote this and then decided not to do it because of my new policy that I don’t publish any nonfiction I write while going through a manic phase. However, I’m posting it now, for different reasons).
1) Why you would be completely comfortable with being the poor/lazy man’s (better poet than you). Seriously, it’s not that I don’t like (better poet than you), it’s just that you are not (better poet than you). (Better poet than you) has written bad poems in their time too, has had several years to work at and hone their own voice and (where applicable) performance style. And there’s a reason for that. Everyone has someone that they look up to, someone that they admire and aspire to make proud, but all of the best artists of any medium that I have ever met have come to realize that the thing that separates their hero from everyone else is the simple fact of originality– whatever it is that hero does well, they do in a way that is totally their own. If anything, imitation cheapens it. It is the opposite of flattery. This realization is the real path to finding your own identity. Give big ups to your dreamboat, then sail away on it. And stop that asthmatic shit you do. Seriously, I’m frightened for you.
2) Why, when told that what they are doing is not art, young talented poets seem so terribly unwilling to look a long-past-expiration but somehow highly opinionated veteran poet in the face and tell them to shut the fuck up. It’s easy. Just say, “look, you haven’t written anything in almost six years and yet you’ve been performing the same eight or nine poems for almost ten. I like what you did in 2004, seriously it changed my life and I’ll always be grateful for that. But you’re not involved in this anymore. You’re preventing the growth and progression of the thing you helped create, you’re standing in the way of human progress. I understand that change can be scary, and I understand that this is precious, that this matters to you, that you want to protect it, and that is why we have collectively decided to give you some options: 1) either create something new that shares the place where you’ve been in relation to where you are today and/or where you hope to go, and stay relevant, 2) shake our hands, sit back, and reflect upon the good you have done, maybe go and work on that drinking habit you picked up, maybe go and see your family or 3) shut the fuck up, because time marches on and the rules you have fought for no longer pertain to us.” And then you go and create something yourself, to back up your signature on this letter.
3) Why people personally attach a modifier to their title. _____ poet, ____ writer. It reminds me of people who give themselves nicknames. I’m okay with you defining yourself however you want, but me, I don’t understand it. Someone start attaching “human poet” to my name. Or robot poet. I’m cool with that one too.
4) If you think competition is stupid, then just stop competing. Really. There’s lots of other ways for a talented writer or even a talented performance poet to make a name for themselves and just because this is the most get-rich-quick-looking scheme on the scene doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. We listen to your bullshit year after year about how much you hate competing and then you invite us to come down and cheer you on at a slam you don’t even want to be at, and then we have to listen to you bitch for months afterward when you don’t win (or deal with that smarmy little grin when you do and pretend that you don’t really care about it). Furthermore, there are people out there who really do value competition and I hope they trounce you in front of all of your friends in the next bout. My feelings on competition completely aside, there is absolutely no reason you should put yourself and your writing through that, and the only reason I can think of is fear. If that is the case, I’m sorry for yelling at you but it’s time someone did.
5) Popular and bad are not synonyms. If you think they are, you don’t really care about art, you care about aesthetic, you care about being underground in some exclusive club of which not everyone is a member. You should admit that now.
6) Pretentious and smart are not synonyms. Higher concepts should be explored, esoteric ones can be beautiful and universal. That’s right, can be. People of real genius usually work with the purpose of uniting people rather than alienating them. People who really want to understand are not offended if they don’t right away. Furthermore, even having put my love for Dave Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon out there for all to plunder and tease: everyone can tell when you’re trying to sound smarter than you are. Nobody likes it.
7) The internet is your friend and it’s here and it’s knocking on your door. You’re using it right now. Why do you want to fight it?