Monday, January 24, 2011

The Pleasures of Self-Publishing

Modern Medicine, a chapbook by Tiffany Bullen, which the author is happy to have recently received.

I haven't picked up a copy of the magazine in a while, but it used to be that Poets & Writers sold ad space to printers promoting "Self Publishing." These merchants boasted that you could join the ranks of Walt Whitman and James Joyce by shipping your manuscript off to be printed and bound by their company. Pay no mind to the fact that Walt Whitman actually published himself by printing himself, nor to the fact that a world of publishing (digital and otherwise) exists outside of the realm of the perfect- and cloth-bound professional methods, these companies seemed to say. What is somewhat more disturbing is that they suggested that by self-publishing, one might become "great."

I, Aaron McNally, am an unabashed proponent of self-publishing, and I enjoy looking at self-published titles almost any time the opportunity presents itself to me.

That said, I am pretty sober when it comes to understanding the problems involved in this. One should never self-publish in order to seek greatness. One should only self-publish in order to share with close friends.

Many of us have received self-published works from friends during our undergraduate degrees, or during our high school tenure. These documents are often received with mixed emotions. These can include a genuine excitement for the person "getting out there and doing something," mixed with "but isn't it a little bit egotistical to go about promoting oneself this way?" iced with "my god! I really don't have time to read this." My belief is that it is most advantageous to all involved to look at the nature of each of these emotions, and to allow the positive emotions to birth richer fruit.

Is there going to be ephemera? Yes, by god, there's going to be an ass-ton of ephemera. But there are also going to be moments where particular imaginations touch you. Sometimes these will be beginning imaginations, which yearn as yet to develop a style or technique. Sometimes the sentiments expressed in the work will be clichés. Sometimes you will skim entire pages only to find a perfect line, or single catching idea.

The poet Odysseus Elytis is cited as saying the following: “A poet [. . . ] needs three readers. And anyone who is any good has two friends. So you spend your life looking for the third reader.”

Ask yourself, is this person my friend? Then, ask yourself, don't I want to know my friend, and her work, a little more deeply?

I may say, with no reservation, that I personally wish that more of my poet friends would self-publish more frequently. What better editors than themselves to understand the finer aspects of their work? What purer and less-impeded process for them to become available to me?

[As appendix to this piece, I'd like to applaud Jim O'Loughlin and Jeremy Schraffenberger, both of my alma mater, for requiring self-published chapbooks as part of their creative writing curricula. Will certain of these students cling a little too long to the ego-boosting effects of seeing themselves in print? Absolutely. But they're gaining basic building-block skills that they will use for the entirety of their writerly lives, even if they never self-publish again. Thanks, guys.]

1 comment:

jdschraff said...

Thanks, Aaron! Tiffany's poems are very well done, don't you think? I especially like the confluence of Ezra Pound and Hannah Montana at the laundromat.

As an aside: Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass in 1855, and 100 years later, A.R. Ammons self-published his first book, Ommateum, with Doxology, and while I don't think it's his most important work, it does herald a major voice in American poetry--even if few heard it at the time.