Criticism's a bitch, and flak often feels more acute in small press because our work often comes with some degree of sacrifice: time, money, energy. It is understandable that we can take negativity to heart, from people nit-picking about a crooked staple to the accusation that “Norwegian dog breeder poets” aren’t included in your anthology project. (Maybe you didn’t reach out enough?)
Sometimes it feels like somebody just told you that your baby’s ears stick out too much. You want to hold them closer lest the mutterings of the cruel world’s douches creep in. But then- you also have a roll of scotch tape behind your back. Such is the nature of criticism and self-doubt.
Sometimes, in small press, that ugly baby’s all ya got.
However, that is better than offering up criticism from your armchair, because you have the free time to do it. “Those who can, do. Those that can’t… well, they stare at your baby’s ears.” They don’t have their own little bastards, see? They don’t do the work, so they don’t know about the challenges presented.
It isn’t easy to please everyone. Somebody is going to be pissed, which is not to say that some people don’t deserve to draw the ire. But in many cases, we are not talking about people who intentionally offend. It just happens.
Now I will throw out there that I am opinionated, and I might have thrown some “sausage fest” jokes around over the years because that can be a way to express frustration about a situation, in this case female participation, which is less about any particular individual and more about circumstances. In fact, the more you talk to editors and event organizers, the more you see that it is less a conscious act of omission- more a slurry of small press dynamics that should be subject to some exploration on all sides without the defensive posture undertaken in response to your pointed finger. Accusations push people apart. Asking questions can get people together on a problem. And isn’t that what we want?
I started to ask about the problem of representation, asking editors to share their view of what accounts for the gender disparity in their publications. Can anything be done about it? Do they want to do anything about it? Do we want them to do anything about it?
“You say that writing is writing, but then you wonder if I reach out to the women? Wouldn’t it be sexist of me to deliberately seek out submissions based on gender? Or worse, to factor that into the mix of acceptance standards just to round out some score card?”
That is an interesting question. I don’t think that I am suggesting that.
“Then what ARE you suggesting?”
Shit, if I know. He tells me that 10% of his submissions come from females, with some plus or minus for names he can’t decipher. Does R.J. have a vagina?
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I wanted it to be gray that day. We were leaving, after all. But everywhere I looked the white lawns and icy trees sparkled like cutlery. It was beautiful, and as quiet as held breath, waiting for an old story to end and a new one to begin.