Saturday, June 25, 2016

Petty Literary Money Grubbers


Jane Doe

The two most prominent non-performing arts are painting (a genre term that includes all the fine art forms) and writing. An art gallery is a vital business that links the artist to the buyer. Almost all galleries are for profit, paying the artist a percentage of sales. The more well known and desired the artists, they naturally get a larger percentage. The other type of galleries are either not-for-profit, or collectives, with different structures of remuneration. Some artists feel that galleries take an inordinate share of earnings. Many artists resent the semi-closed world of galleries that do not readily accept new artists. This is a relatively traditional arts business, since artists ceased being artisans in the second half of the 19th century and acquired agents, rather than patrons to promote their work. Of course, except for dealers in old masters, a gallery’s selection of artists to represent is purely subjective.
Writing, until the advent of electronic publishing, was not entirely dissimilar to the art business. Publishing houses issued the books of their writers and paid them royalties. Invariably, except for successful commercial fiction writers, it became difficult for serious writers to earn a livelihood by their craft. This certainly urged many of them to seek refuge in hospitable academic environments that offered a modicum of security and captive audiences. Then came the proliferation of emags.
In an amusing historical note, in the 1970’s, the eruption of Off- Off Broadway theater ventures allowed, for the first time, inexperienced youngsters to start their own companys with little or no professional or business know-how. At this time, the average life span of a new theater company was three to four months. This confirmed the good sense of the National Endowment of the Arts that required a group to be in existence for at least two years before requesting funding. Then they would face the standard of artistic excellence, and if they were denied grants, they believed it was for not belonging to an old boy’s (or girl’s) theater network.
Then the children of the publishing arts multiplied. And no longer had to serve demanding, underpaid apprenticeships at traditional publishing houses to learn the publishing business. While everyone else is struggling in America in the twenty first century of economic malaise for the diminishing middle class, the liberal arts college degree finally had its era of utility. Formerly, the most useless preparation for the future, now the lib-arts grad could use simple computer skills, simple art skills, simple writing skills to start a magazine. By 2015 there were over 5,000 emags, most of them run by well-meaning, but ill-prepared dabblers.
Many of the nouveau arrivistes pressured their writers to subscribe to their magazines, thus hoping to pay for their new business. At the same time, tens of thousands of new writers, urgent for publication, collaborated with their new publisher by paying for subscriptions. In the 1930’s, if a writer self-published, or was published by a vanity press, it was either a joke, or an embarrassment. Now this phenomenon, a torrent of writers and a host of epublishers, formed a low-yield symbiosis. This was a union of true ignorance. The publishers believed they were entitled to money from the writers. The writers thought it was normal to support the magazines that published them.
The worst offenders in this pay to play arena are the contest sponsors. Even the well-established, supposedly responsible literary magazines and the university publications reap income by offering contests with an entry fee, that attracts participants hoping for recognition far more then prize money. Many of them also yearn for the cash. The practice of charging writers to be published is unprincipled, exploitive and deleterious in the effect on the mentalities of writers and publishers alike.
In an era of dominant visuals in entertainment, and unrestricted access to the internet, the performing arts are fading. Painting (including all the other facets of fine art) has become so diverse in form and technique, that it is no longer accessible to the basic culture seeker. Writing has expanded more then any other art form because it requires the least skill, the least investment in materials. Great writing has faded away in the publishing climate of mass market sales. Throughout history, culture has arisen and departed, often linked ot the life and death of empires. It is no tragedy that opera, ballet, classical music, classical theater are fading away in our society. Change in cultural values is inevitable, despite the reluctance of certain participants to accept the new reality.
It is appropriate for writers to realize that they should be paid for their work, rather then paying to be published. There should be some kind of standard to determine remuneration. Certainly the merit of the work should be considered. The reality is that very few of us know the difference between good and bad art, let alone good and bad writing. Liberal arts graduates, deluded into assuming they are educated, do not comprehend that if they want to be publishers, it’s like any other arts venture. It’s a business. If someone wants to be a publisher, they should learn how to finance their business, not expect to be funded by writers. Writers should learn not to participate in publication’s allurements, where they pay to be in print. It is improbable that either group will have the common sense to reverse their erroneous behavior patterns, but they should certainly be made aware of the impropriety of payment for publication.
An amusing afterthought. In semi-professional and community theater, where there is scarcely any money to pay artists, musicians insist: ‘Musicians must be paid’.

Jane Doe has an M.A. in poetry from an Ivy League University. She teaches English and writing at a community college. Her poetry has appeared in a number of literary magazines. She recently ended her association with a magazine over the issue of charging fees for reading submissions.
Young Priest, Old Priest

Everyone in the neighborhood was surprised when Bill McIntyre entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. He had been dating girls since early in high school and had been engaged since graduating from college to a lovely young lady. He often spoke about wanting to have a big family since he himself had been an only child. But something happened in that relationship and Bill and his girlfriend broke up.

"I always wanted brothers," Bill had told his best friend, Adam Moskowitz. They had played basketball together in high school and had remained close friends, meeting at the local delicatessen every couple of weeks to wolf down corned beef sandwiches, Adam's on rye, Bill's on dark pumpernickel.

"At least it's not white bread" is all that Adam would ever say. 

Adam was studying to become a rabbi. Adam was the first one Bill told about his plans to become a priest.

"A rabbi can get married, Bill. You'll be single for life. The priesthood is wonderful but it might not be the right place for a guy who wanted to have a big family," Adam said.

But a year after his broken engagement, Bill entered the seminary. After six years of studying philosophy and theology, he was ordained. His first assignment was at a very busy church where several priests were on staff. He was the newbie in every respect.

At St. Adalbert's, Father Bill was more or less adopted by an elderly priest, Father O'Brien, who showed him the ropes of what was expected of any priest, young or old. They became close friends, sharing a love of chess, which they often played into the night, matching wits and having great conversations. Father Bill always said that he had learned a lot from Father O'Brien, especially what it was like to have been a priest for 65 years. After two years at St. Adalbert's, Father Bill thought he knew Father O'Brien well enough to ask him a serious question. 

Since he still found women attractive but had not strayed from his vows, Father Bill thought Father O'Brien might be able to help him with a little advice. Constant prayer had helped a lot but he thought an old priest like Father O'Brien, who was 90, might have some special insight. So during one of their many chess games, Father Bill spoke up.

"Father, at what age does celibacy become easier. At what age do women begin not to look as good as they do at my age?"

Father O'Brien leaned back in his chair, looked at the ceiling, ran his hand through his hair, and sipped his Coke. Finally he took a deep breath and said,

"Father Bill, that's a tough question. I don't think I can help you but I know a priest who might. I'll call Father Moriarity in the morning. I'm only 90. Father Moriarity is 95.

Donal Mahoney

Donal Mahoney spent 19 consecutive years and never once was tempted to be a priest. He has worked with a lot of them, though, and never found lemon among them. No doubt others have.

Dancing Became Poetry

It’s called the “Feis," a Gaelic word pronounced “fesh.” It’s a dance contest held annually in different cities in the United States. It’s the “Super Bowl” for young Irish step-dancers. When I competed in the Feis back in the Fifties, there were dancers there from the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and other countries. They took planes, trains and buses to get there to compete, usually in a stadium or some other large venue. 

The best Irish fiddlers provided the music. The judges were old men, retired dancers themselves, serious as clerics, sitting in trios at scoring tables in front of the platforms where the contestants competed. 

The audience sat in the stands or on folding chairs out on the field near the dance platforms. They chatted when there was no music but were silent during the competition. All you could hear then was the beat of the feet and the fiddlers playing their hearts out.

The Feis began with the various solo dancing contests--reels, jigs, and hornpipes. Toward the end of the day, teams of dancers, male and female couples, competed in the three-hand reel, six-hand reel and the eight-hand jig. This was a serious competition. Dancers practiced all year, hoping to take home trophies and medals.

In 1956 I was 18 and had been dancing competitively for at least 10 years. I started taking lessons early in grammar school to please my father who had emigrated to Chicago from Ireland. In his part of Ireland, step-dancing was at least a sport if not a religion. 

In the United States it was mostly girls who took Irish dancing. But my sister, try as she might, was unable to do it. 

I happened to be in the basement the afternoon my father, once a fine dancer himself, tried to teach her the first step of the reel. To show her up, as brothers are sometimes wont to do, I danced the first step perfectly, just by watching my father do it, and from that moment on, I had to take Irish dancing lessons. 

I can still hear him—after he saw me do the step my sister could not do--hollering up the basement stairs to my mother.

“Molly, he’s got it!” 

I was in fourth grade then and danced competitively until the age of 21. Over the years I had come to love the music, the intricate footwork and the competition. And it didn’t hurt that the footwork helped in playing basketball.

From my father’s point of view, the goal of Irish dancing was two-fold—perfection, in that the feet were not to miss a beat, and victory, in that not a contest was to be lost. 

Life being what it is, he was often disappointed. 

The interesting thing is that the music of Irish reels, jigs, hornpipes instantly appealed to me. I felt it in my whole body right from the start even if I didn’t like all the practice time involved, time I would rather have spent playing ball. 

The teacher, a man also from Ireland, not far from my father’s hometown, was a former boxer as was my father. Needless to say, they were of like mind. So we children had to train for a dancing contest as if for a championship fight or close to it. A lesson might take half an hour followed by two hours of practice. And there was no air-conditioning back then except in movie theaters.

It just so happened that in my class we had four boys, all the same age, myself included. We grew up together, dancing every year in contests when not playing ball or doing other things boys normally do. 

In Irish dancing, boys were a rarity. No other dancing school had four boys so they could not field a “real” eight-hand jig, as it was called, with four boys and four girls. Most schools had eight girls in their eight-hand jig. But without boys, an all-girls team in 1956 probably lost points on optics alone if nothing else.

We had four boy/girl couples and we had been dancing as a team for years by the time the contest at Fordham University rolled around in 1956. 

We figured we’d take the train to New York from Chicago and whip every team we competed against, no matter what state or country they were from. After all, we had beaten all the other teams from other Irish dancing schools in Chicago and some other mid-western cities.

That year the Feis was held in the August heat in Fordham's stadium and our eight-hand jig beat everybody, as we thought, except for an “old team” (four couples in their 30s) from Ireland we knew nothing about.  

We had seen them the night before in an Irish pub where fiddlers played nonstop the best of Irish music and everyone was dancing and hollering the way the Irish do when properly lubricated. 

The four “old” men on the Irish eight-hand jig team had been drinking a bit, shall we say, and dancing with girls from other teams, including ours. And they were still dancing, finally with their own partners, long after our team had gone to our hotel rooms to get some sleep for the competition the next day.

But after watching that Irish team dance for fun in the pub that night, I realized that when the right feet were involved, dancing could be poetry. 

Although the “old” Irish team had been drinking all night, they had sobered up by noon the next day when the competition began. We were dancing to win and they were still dancing for fun. We didn’t miss a beat and they didn’t either but they had literally an extra hop in their step, a leap if you will, that we had never seen. 

What’s more, they smiled when they danced and demonstrated an unaffected grace. 

In contrast, our team of boys and girls looked as serious as novices from a seminary and convent. We were kids trying hard and they were adult dancers having a wonderful time. They took the trophy and gold medals back to Ireland and we took our silver medals back to Chicago. 

We had been trounced and we knew it. And there was nothing we could have done, before or after the contest, to beat that Irish team. 

I can still see one of the men I had first seen in the pub the night before. He was as bald as the balls on the pool table and wore an Irish kilt. But that man could dance. He didn’t miss a beat, drunk or sober. His feet on the floor sounded like iambic pentameter with a little thunder added here and there for emphasis, especially at the end.  

Reels, jigs and hornpipes are still in my blood although it has been decades since I danced, for fun or competitively. When I hear the music now, I sometimes am moved almost to tears. It's the only music that ever really got to me. 

That was a long time ago but every once in a while I wish I were young enough to get up on that platform at Fordham University and dance again, compete again, and then I remember that bald Irishman in his kilt and I know that once again I’d be taking home a silver medal.

Dancing for fun beats dancing to win. I learned that in 1956 watching a team from Ireland leap and not miss a beat as the fiddlers played their hearts out. The three judges knew the winners as soon as they saw that Irish team. They knew, in the heat of that August day, they had seen dancing suddenly become poetry. 

Donal Mahoney

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Note to Young Writers

Over the years I have been accused of many things in real life and in the virtual world as well and often deservedly so. Recently, however, I sent a few poems to an editor unknown because samples on his site suggested to me that these particular poems, rejected by other editors as not fit for their sites, might find a home there. One never knows and can only try.

These poems were scabrous enough, I thought, to have a chance at this site but they lacked profanity, sex and violence. I am neither in favor of nor opposed to profanity, sex or violence but I don’t knowingly traffic in any of those when it comes to writing. 

Sex is too easy to write about, I feel, and profanity seems an easy way out when the right word can’t be found. Violence I don’t think I have ever dealt with although I have dealt with the prelude to violence as well as its aftermath. I guess it’s all a matter of taste. 

Nevertheless, I decided to send these poems to this particular site because I thought they might fit there. No cost to send an email overseas. It’s not like when I started out decades ago and you would have to weigh envelopes and affix overseas postage not to have the postmaster return the envelopes damned as bearing insufficient postage. 

Editors vary as greatly as writers in taste and patience and I speak as a former print editor bearing the scars of many years of experience. I remember writing acceptances and rejections and receiving pleasant and irate responses. But the response I received in the rejection of this batch of poems accused me of something I had never been accused of before. 

The editor told me in no uncertain terms my poems were too “nuanced” for his site and left it at that. 

If you write for many years and send a lot of stuff out, you should eventually become less elated by acceptances and less dejected by rejections. But when I received this particular rejection, I thought what if a young writer starting out received a rejection that said his or her poems were too nuanced. 

Rightly or wrongly I've always thought nuance was a good thing in writing poetry, fiction or an essay. 

At the same time I think there is a place for tough poems that can be nuanced if that is the right word to use. Such poems may cause some editors dyspepsia and I have no problem when they send them flying back. At the same time I would never consciously inject profanity, blatant sex or hard-core violence into a poem. I have never felt poetry was the place for that kind of thing. Perhaps that comes from reading too much T.S. Eliot as a young man and not enough Charles Bukowski. 

As someone who grew up admiring Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso and most of the writers in The Beatnik Generation, you would think I would find some merit in the writings of Bukowski but try as I might—and I have tried off and on over the years--I have not found anything that made me want to read more of him. Yet there are writers today who think of Bukowski the way Buddhists think of the Dalai Lama and Catholics think of Pope Francis. 

There are more than a few sites that are almost dedicated to Bukowski but editors at many of those sites don’t seem to demand imitation of him in the poems they publish while some seem to like that kind of thing. And I think an inordinate admiration of Bukowski at this particular site is why my efforts were judged “too nuanced.” But as my wife often reminds me I could be wrong once again.

In any event, I hope young writers learn early on to accept rejections for what they are. Either accurate because something is wrong with the poem or simply because the poem is not suitable for that site. 

Or maybe the editor has too big a backlog or simply doesn’t like your content or your style. 

Or maybe he or she doesn’t like you. Not everyone does, you know. I don’t think any writer should strive to be everybody’s friend. 

The editor who does all the work on any site has the right to have the site reflect what he wants his efforts to accomplish. 

So whenever you get a rejection, look the poem over, make changes or not, and send it out elsewhere. If the poem has merit, it will likely find a home somewhere. But try to pick potential homes carefully—almost as carefully as you might pick a spouse. 

Donal Mahoney