Does the Literary World Have a lot of Rules?

Beth Lisick tells a story in her book Helping Me Help Myself -- I'll quote the version of the same story that's currently on her website --

"Jennifer [Joseph] was invited to a writing conference in Birmingham that she couldn't attend because she was very pregnant. She sent me in her place, along with poets Jeff McDaniel and Bucky Sinister, both of whom had new books on Manic D. While we were there, Jeff, Bucky, and I did a reading at a cocktail party that had some fancy writers and publishers in attendance. After we read, James Tate told me he really liked one of my poems. He had just been asked to edit the Best American Poetry anthology and was wondering if my poem had been published. (I guess to be in those books, the piece has to be previously published somewhere.) Anyway, Clockwatch Review editor James Plath was standing there, and said he was about to go to press with his new issue. Plath said he would publish it and Tate could pull it from Clockwatch for the anthology."

"I didn't even consider myself a writer at the time, but when James Tate called my thing a poem and put it in a book called Best American Poetry, making this my first ever published piece of writing, I realized that there were obviously not a lot of rules in this literary world."

You can find Best American Poetry 1997 here, on Google Books, and go to page 134 to find Beth Lisick's poem. Some perspective -- Donnell Alexander's article on whether black people are cool, in the last issue of Might, also from 1997, specifically gives Beth Lisick as an example of a cool white person. So you don't have to take my word for it that she has more social skills than the average writer. Otherwise, maybe she wouldn't have found herself at that cocktail party to begin with. And her live readings are great -- found in a slushpile, would this poem have had the same impact?

For most writers, of course, the experience of getting published is more like the experience of Kafka's man from the country who seeks to gain entry into the law. But Beth Lisick would probably have gotten past that gatekeeper. Some people just are that way. Which is kind of cool I guess.

2 thoughts on “Does the Literary World Have a lot of Rules?”

  1. i hear you, james. one might take solace in another russian proverb: тише едешь, дальше будешь.. — or "the slower you're riding, the farther you'll get"

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