Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“the solid permanence of publication”

I share some of Anne Trubek’s puzzlement here:

As a writer myself, I must admit to being somewhat confused by dancers and stage actors and chefs. All that work, I think, all that practice and preparation and effort, for what? An ephemeral product, an hour or two on stage, a meal to be eaten? How does one put so much into something that will only dissipate and dissolve into the slipstream of unreliable memory? Writers choose words as their metier partially out of a desire for the solid permanence that publication, reading, and rereading provide.
“[T]he solid permanence of publication” is only solidly permanent in comparison to a dance performance or a soup slurped up. Libraries burn, books sop up flood waters and feed mildew spores. Even the bestselling and awardwinning fade from cultural consciousness. 

The poets in my poetry group have a running joke. “What does it matter?” someone says, usually me. Then comes the attempt to come up with a reason why it matters. This got started when one of my poet friends, in frustration, asked me whether I thought publication in little magazines or ezines “matters.” I stammered that book publishers like to see a track record of publication. They want to see you’ve built an audience, a reputation. They want to see that you are acting professionally, putting your work before editors and, presumably, learning from the experience. They look at prior publication as evidence of commitment, as a publisher wants the writers they publish to participate in the marketing of the finished book. These are things I’ve read in all the years I’ve been reading advice to writers. 

But do publishers really care about prior publication? If they love the work, does prior publication matter? I suspect publishers like the reassurance that their favorable opinion is not unique. They’re human, too! 

But does a book matter? Does it matter whether anybody reads what you’ve written? 

This is when I slide over to spiritual justification. Everything matters. Each breath, each bowing of a leaf before the wind, each turn of the red storm on Jupiter. Because every thing that happens makes the world. And we make ourselves and each other and art is one of the intentional and careful ways we do that. 

source: A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses by Anne Trubek