Monday, July 7, 2008

Too, Too Busy

Lewis Turco,  Major American Poet, who blogs at Poetics and Ruminations, shares his royal face-off with the editor of the New England Review, C. Dale Young.  Here's a tasty highlight from Turco's letter:

Having Googled your name, I can see how busy you are, but that doesn’t excuse you from the discourtesy you showed when you sent me the printed rejection slip that I opened this morning. Your busy-ness as a doctor and as a writer, and as an editor and as a teacher is no reason for treating so shabbily someone who has done as much as I have, in almost twice as long as you’ve been alive, for the art you like to dabble in.

Young responds, and they go a couple of rounds. For the poetic balls and lessons in professionalism, it's worth checking out.


John Bruce said...

On the other hand, when they give you specific reasons for rejecting your story or poem, it can be even more depressing. See here.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I think Turco was out of line. It's difficult to think of something to say to everyone. I'm sure that some people do receive a word or two from the editor or reader but maybe Turco's poem just didn't inspire anything. I wouldn't blame the E-i-C, I'd blame myself.

x said...

There are three things I really love about this:

1. The statement:
I am sorry you feel we have treated you poorly. I wish I had better news about the future. But with MFA programs now graduating well over a thousand writers per year, I suspect the volume of submissions will only continue going up.

I love it when people don't apologize for what they did and instead apologize that you are such a schmuck to feel the way you do.

2.I also love the part about all the MFA graduate clogging the works. That's just hilarious in itself. The gates have been open and the riffraff are pouring in and there's no way to tell who's who when you're drowning in paper.

3. As someone whose day job is in another profession entirely, I have long been appalled by the lack of professionalism among the editors cited on this blog, long wondered why no one fires them, long been astonished that absolutely no other profession would put up with the nasty name calling and incompetence of this field. Turco is exactly right to compare the professionalism of being an editor to the professionalism of a doctor reviewing x-rays. While reviewing manuscripts is not life-threatening and submitters aren't patients, a profession is a profession. Of course, doctors are motivated by patients who will go elsewhere if not treated right, licenses to practice that can be revoked, insurance companies who won't reimburse, and, God Forbid, a Malpractice Lawsuit. What motivation does an editor have, financial or otherwise, to treat writers ethically and respectfully? None. Absolutely none at all.

Anonymous said...

How did he treat him so bad? He sent him a rejection letter. This Turco guy came off like an ass if you ask me. Demanding a personalized response.

Writer, Rejected said...

The point is Turco is a pretty famous poet. You don't let your college interns send him a freaking form rejection. That's why Young wrote back a note of some pretend apology. It was very uncool. There's nobody steering the ship, see?

John Bruce said...

OK, but "Do you know who I AM???" is also pretty uncool. Keep in mind that I'm not sure if Bukowski ever mentions Turco, even in the context of Creeley and others whom he regards as precious hacks. And Bukowski was a poet.

I think the bottom line issue here is the question of why do the wicked prosper. A rejection can be used to make creative use of that question. That's the best a writer can do.

And there are, of course, writers who deserve rejection, just as there are mass killers on death row who whine about the prison food.

Writer, Rejected said...

I don't know. If you can't expect a little respect among your peers in your own very small corner of the not-well-paying world, what's the point?

John Bruce said...

Peers in what? Turco is neither Hart Crane nor Robert Lowell nor Sylvia Plath, nor even E.A.Robinson, leaving Bukowski aside. He wants some doctor who's fantasizing about being W.C.Williams to make nice.

Aren't we in some lower-level version of literary let's pretend here? I don't see it as being worth the effort.

Writer, Rejected said...

I'm certainly not one to say what work or modern author has the literary legs to be an important writer of our times. That is for the next generation to decide. Unfortunately, as we all fear, the next generation maybe doesn't read poetry.

The point is: Dude is a recognized poet and critic in his time. A hand-written note from a recognized editor of a recognized literary journal would have been professional. That's all.

No claims to Hart Crane or Sylvia Plath. Just a call for professional courtesy. It's the least we can expect, no?

John Bruce said...

That assumes that a poet in some way becomes a "professional", like maybe a CPA. Real poetry shouldn't concern itself with that. Maybe that's part of the problem I have with the whole wrangle: Turco compares the editor's job to an MD.

Can't see Mencken with that sort of view.

Writer, Rejected said...

No, no, no. Now you're just nit-picking.

Not the poet. The EDITOR.

The EDITOR is a CPA, or at least that's what they all moan about: bottom lines and dollars and subscriptions, etc.

They shove down our throat that publishing is a business and that it's professional and that they have to choose what is the best, so it sells copies. (I'm generalizing from poetry to books, and perhaps that's not apt, but I think it is.) They pick apart our damn query letters with a fine tooth comb, happy to make entire blogs about why we are not "professional" enough to be chosen for publication.

But do they afford us the same courtesy? No, they do not. Hence my blog. Hence LROD, a catalogue of every permutation of the professional slight.

John, I think you are one guy who really likes to argue. Whatever the merit of the point. More power to you, man.

LCarson said...

Lewis and the bulk of you have really made a mess out of this one. Face it, when you've poured your heart out on a written project and someone doesn't like it, you lash out in any way you can. Guess what? Every agent and editor uses form letters unless they have a personal connection to the query. The fact that Young took the time and care to respond to Lewis is actually a pretty big deal. It IS hard to get through the masses of queries and the business of publishing is only getting tougher, since no one reads anymore. So, yes, it sucks to get a form letter. But when someone takes the time to apologize for that, it's damned childish to keep feeding your own misdirected anger.

Anonymous said...

"They shove down our throat that publishing is a business and that it's professional and that they have to choose what is the best, so it sells copies."

A-freakin'-men to that rant, WR! I've lost count of how many times I've heard this at writing conferences and workshops. Someone's always pounding the table and yelling, "it's a business, it's a BIZ-NESS!!"

Well, if it's a busines, then take a clue from other professionals, please.