The Bard Is Dead 400 Years: Where Are the Writers?

 

Truer words were probably spoken by someone else (but none louder than by Shakespeare).

So here’s a confession, Fickle Readers: I’m not a good trend-setter. I like weird, random stuff. I go after knowledge and feel as though I’m digging up keys to the universe. Other people? Kinda just go about their business like I’m not around.

In terms of social media, I tend to be more of a re-tweeter than a self-promoter. I share things and spread things and then I find I’m being courted by all sorts of people who want their own publicity.

I’m not sure how that happened. Really, I’m one of those types (and there are many of us) who felt from a young age we were going to become best-selling superstar writers. I’ve worked hard on my writing for at least 35 years–maybe more–and no one knows who I am. This is the ugly truth of living your life as a hard-core, dream-filled writer. You write and you write. You submit your work on bended virtual knee and you get a two-line Rejecto-message back (or maybe not even that). You try your best to be community oriented and interested in other people’s writing passions, but when you start in with, “Hey, you know what I’m into right now?” you can feel energy levels sinking and enthusiasm dimming to politeness.

Or this could be projection. Or me being socially anxious. Or me sucking on my copious supply of sour grapes. Or any number of situations where I turn out to have read the room wrong. I’m infamous in my ability to get circumstances totally bass-ackwards. So if I’ve misunderstood the Internet, or stayed under my Chronically Ill/Parental/Old Person’s Rock [tm] for too long, I apologize in advance for the rant that is about to unfold. Which is…

Everyone knows that April 23rd of this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, right? Or, at least, the date we like to say he died, since it conveniently corresponds both to the day of his supposed birth and the feast day of St. George, who happens to be the patron saint of England. (I’m baffled that more people don’t mention this little coinkidink when they talk about the history of Shakespeare. I mean, Shakespeare, whose birth and death dates can only be estimated, just happens to emerge from the mists of history as coming into being AND ceasing to exist on St. George’s day? Almost like some serious Bardolaters were trying to suggest that said Shakespeare were, hmm, I don’t know…the patron saint of English literature? Retcon, anyone???)

(Sigh. It’s hard being a Shakespeare nerd…)

Anyway, everyone now knows that April 23rd is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Why, exactly, has hardly anyone in the writing community seemed to notice? I mean, the theater people are all over this, of course. In Los Angeles, they’re even having a “star-studded” affair that includes star stud Sir Patrick Stewart. (Ah, Sir Patrick Stewart. Long may he remain ageless.)

However, I have yet to see any great activities or statements from the writing community. This may be because I haven’t been doing my due diligence, but so far I have found that a grand total of one literary magazine, that being New Orleans Review, planned an issue commemorating the event. And now they don’t seem to be talking about that anymore, instead putting out a new call for submissions for a special issue dubbed “The African Literary Hustle.” This seems wonderfully apt–kind of a reverse Academy Award pattern, where they get the old white privilege out of the way so they can explore voices that ought to have been explored ages ago.

But back to old white privilege. Many of you Fickle Readers and Writers out there probably don’t realize how much Shakespeare permeates our culture. His words are virtually invisible to us, and we trip over them everywhere. (Like The Fault in Our Stars? Totally didn’t realize til today that that was more than a teen tearjerker. And I spent 12 years more or less immersed in bardology and bardography.) More to the point, dear Fickle Ones, he is the master template for the single, conquering genius that takes the literary world by storm and puts all other writers to shame. He is the icon for winner-take-all authorhood. Most of his personal history and virtually all of his private life and personality are lost to us now–he’s been dead 400 years, after all–but in the intervening centuries he’s been built up, appropriated, painted over, and worshiped to the point where the entire Western literary canon and mountains of elitism and intellectual snobbery have been foisted on to the shoulders of this guy:

Long may his nondescript features reign.

So what have we writers done to combat the fact that this single individual writer has been dominating literary culture since long before we were all born? Like his work or not (and many readers and writers come up with their own Best Friend Shakespeare to combat the fact that he’s such a symbol of literary privilege), writers everywhere are beholden to this idea that only a select few writers get to reign supreme, that it’s totally fine for one Englishman to anchor our cultural response to literature and influence what gets labeled “literature” and what doesn’t.

So far in 2016, we’ve had one literary journal look at Shakespeare. The rest is silence.

See, to me, this year, when Shakespeare will be 400 years dead, is the perfect year to start tearing down some of these authoritarian structures and start questioning what it means to have this guy

as the patron saint of Literature. Many people have already been doing this work, of course, but it seems to me that this year is the perfect opportunity for even more writers to tackle Shakespeare head-on. We should be feasting on his remains, or what remains of his remains. We should be talking back to him, taking his image and his texts and ripping them apart, exploring what exists in the gaps between his words, and reworking those words to reflect what the writing world of 2016 is like. So many more people can read today than when Shakespeare was alive. So many more people are writing things down. Our literary culture can and should reflect that.

So today I’m calling on writers to start looking at this thing called Shakespeare and to see what you can do with it. Play. Experiment. Trash. Consume. And most importantly, produce what comes of your discoveries. Shakespeare is one author who is very, very dead. Time to see what we can make of him and leave off figuring out what he makes of us.

Advertisements

Call for Submissions: New Orleans Review’s Shakespeare Issue

Hey, all you Fickle Readers Who Are Also Writers! Do you like Shakespeare? Of course you do! Right now, I’m here to interrupt my regularly scheduled navel-gazing to tell you about the New Orleans Review and its special Shakespeare issue to be released in 2016, just in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. (Yes, it’s sort of a macabre thing to celebrate, but whatever.) Here’s what they’re looking for:

We welcome submissions that riff on, respond to, reimagine, or recast any of Shakespeare’s works. Submissions may be in any genre, including short fiction, poetry, image/text pieces, creative nonfiction, and scholarship.

Deadline is December 31, 2015, so that should give everyone plenty of time to brush up their Shakespeare-based projects or start new ones.

Am I going to submit to this? You bet your booty I am! I’ve been re-re-re-inspired. Deadlines and submission calls do that to a person. It’s easy to want to fulfill someone else’s desire.

Yesterday It Was My Birthday…

…I hung one more year on the line.

–Paul Simon, “Have a Good Time”

So now I’m the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. My husband, Inspector Spacetime, reached this age last month, and he doesn’t seem to be more enlightened yet. Maybe it takes a while to kick in.

Anyway, to celebrate my first full day of being a brand new age, here are a sampling of the callouts I’ve wanted to make for a while. I haven’t gotten around to writing them all down because I’ve either been chasing after small children, playing with poetry, lying around in a semi-conscious haze, or just generally being insane:

First, I’ve had some nifty Publication News in the past couple of months! (You know the Goddamned Writing Life? Sometimes it ain’t so bad.) I had a horror poem, “Mother Killer,” published in Spectral Realms, along with many a fine spec poet, such as Ann K. Schwader, F.J. Bergmann, Marge Simon, Mike Allen, and spec-poetry bigwig Bruce Boston.

I also had not one, but TWO essays published this spring: the first, “Rape Stories,” is a reprint from Mid-American Review but made its official Internet debut in Hippocampus Magazine, a journal devoted to memory and memoir. I have to say I couldn’t be happier about this publication. Not only did Hippocampus provide a new forum for a piece that is really important to me, the layout folks on staff found a picture of the fountain from my old stomping ground in Rome, where the essay happens to be set. Many, many heartfelt thanks to whoever found that picture. Even though I wrote about some fairly dark topics, the fountain itself takes me back to a beautiful time and place.

The second essay, “Dead,” appeared in the 2015 issue of Moon City Review, which isn’t online but can be ordered here. A really gorgeous journal, which also includes a piece by Curtis Smith, an amazing writer and all-around beautiful guy who incidentally helped me work on the very essay that appears in MCR. Lots more deep and heartfelt thanks to Curtis, whose workshop did so much to boost my confidence when I felt like I was starting from square zero.

Back to Hippocampus: this month, I had the overwhelmingly self-esteem-boosting experience of opening an email about a journal’s latest issue to see my name listed as a contributor. Yes, in case you missed the umpteen times I announced this in the past week, I’m officially on the schedule of Hippocampus reviewers, and my very first review appears here. The book is Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Light of the World,” a stunning piece of writing that shows what extraordinary innovations a poet can bring to prose. Definitely a must-read.

Two last things: as a birthday gift, I finally got the Poet Tarot, which is in fact a pack of Tarot cards plus a guidebook for “creative exploration.” This nifty item is produced by Two Sylvias Press, which is also currently running its poetry chapbook prize. (I personally covet the trophy they give out with the award, but I’m not sure I have anything on hand that’s especially prize-winning.) And I must say, I’m SO looking forward to playing with my Tarot cards and seeing what happens. I looked through them already and noticed a certain Mr. W.S. is not among the poets represented. Very ballsy, ladies!

Fie on thee, froward, fen-sucked flax-wenches!

And finally, April is over but the PoMoSco poems will be up for one more month! Here’s the official wrap-up post discussing the 3000+ poems that were written, plus links to some favorite individual pieces. Though my own work isn’t featured here, you should still explore the site for some excellent poetry! (And if you think I’ve forgotten about my proposed list of ruminations on my own found poems of April, oh how very wrong you are. I may just pick a few I like or want to grumble about, or I may write about them all in one lump, but you can be sure you’ll get bugged about them, yessirree!)

Haiku Hope: For the 98% Who Didn’t Get into Rattle

Hey, all you Fickle Haiku Writers Who Didn’t Get into Rattle Magazine’s Special Haiku Issue! Do you still have your four pages of Japanese-form verse? Then I have a few markets for you to try! I happen to have a contact in the haiku world (she, by the way, got four haiku into Rattle; want to know how many I got? It rhymes with “dear-o”) who gave me links for a few haiku pubs that are accepting submissions until December 15: The Heron’s Nest and A Hundred Gourds (NOTE: A Hundred Gourds is an Australian journal, so if you don’t live down under or thereabouts, you’ll want to get your material there by December 14th.)  There’s also bottle rockets and Modern Haiku, both of which accept submissions year round but have very specific requirements, so read all guidelines carefully.

If your four pages aren’t burning a hole in your pocket and you can wait until 2015 to send them out, here are some other haiku journals of note:

Acorn (accepts submissions January-February and July-August only)

Frogpond (accepts submissions February 15- April 15, June 1-August 1, and September 15-November 15; full disclosure: I’ve had one modest haiku published in Frogpond–really nice publication from the Haiku Society of America)

So there you have it: multiple places to send your Japanese formal poetry and mend your broken haiku heart. Also, this bit of news might help: my contact says that Timothy Green, the editor of Rattle, said he only had room for 40 contributors. Know how many of us submitted? Over 2000. A 2% acceptance rate is pretty much a lotto drawing. So don’t sweat the rejection and keep writing and submitting!

 

 

 

Calls for Submissions: Roxane Gay and The Butter

Oh, yes! Roxane Gay now has her very own editorial venture, a sister site to The Toast called The Butter. This seems appropriate, since Gay’s own writing is like buttah. (Yeah, okay, half of you Fickle Readers probably don’t know what I’m referring to. I’m old, okay? Shut up.)

Gay herself explains the project and her interests and quirks here. Of note is a long rationale about her fascination with Ina Garten. Some of you might remember that I posted a little confession a while back about how I unfollowed Gay because I couldn’t take another tweet about Ms. Garten. Well, miracle of miracles, Gay’s rapturous description on the FAQ page for The Butter actually made me understand why Ina Garten is so alluring. Seriously. Gay’s list of the battery of Ina’s rhetorical questions is a thing of beauty in and of itself.

Don’t misunderstand. I still wouldn’t give two pounds of goat butter for Ina Garten or to participate in endless discussions about her. But I get the attraction now. Thanks, Roxane!

A Prize for New Poets (Really!): The Russell Prize at Two Sylvias Press

Hey, Fickle Readers! I’m breaking my incommunicado streak (first I was working on my very first book review, then I was sick; more exciting details to come!) to tell you all about a neat prize for poets who haven’t yet published their first book OR chapbook of poems. It’s called the Russell Prize, and it’s named after the parents of Kelli Russell Agodon, who’s an extraordinary poet herself and co-founder of the prize-awarding organization, Two Sylvias Press.

What’s cool about this award? Well, first of all, there’s no entry fee. As long as you haven’t yet published a chapbook or full-length book of poetry, you can submit your work and be considered for the award. Submission materials include three poems, a short bio, and a few paragraphs explaining how the award would help your career. (There is a more careful guideline breakdown on the web site, so please be sure to check here for complete instructions on applying.)

Second cool thing about this prize is the award itself: $500 and a small medallion. I would totally love to have won a medallion at some point early in my career, but tragically I’m ineligible for the Russell Prize. So enter this contest and let me live through you! Seriously! If you win, I’ll totally post a picture of you with your medal on my blog! Booyah!

Submissions for the Russell Prize open tomorrow, October 20th, and must be received by midnight PST on November 2nd, 2014. So get your best stuff together, Fickle Readers who are also up-and-coming poets! And good luck!!

Here Comes Annnnnnnother One!!!

Yet another last-minute call for poetry submissions from yet another excellent literary journal, Crab Orchard Review. I’m just going to copy-and-paste the instructions from their Submittable page; the closing time is hours away, and my Writing Brain doesn’t do rush jobs (especially not at 12:45 am):

25 Lines in 25 Hours

One Submission per Poet, Up to 3 Poems 25 lines or Less Each Poem

SUBMITTABLE ONLY

September 30, 2014 (11:00 AM CDT) – October 1, 2014 (noon CDT)

Today (September 30) at 11:00 AM (CDT), Crab Orchard Review is opening a free submission portal through Submittable for poets to send one, two, or three poems of 25 lines or less in one submission (ONLY ONE SUBMISSION PER PERSON). The portal will close 25 hours later on Wednesday, October 1, at noon (CDT). We will let all writers who send work know our decision by Friday, October 3, by 5:00 PM (CDT).

The poems accepted from this call for submissions will appear in Crab Orchard Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, which will be published February 2015. All poetry published in Crab Orchard Review receives $25 per published page (a minimum payment of $50) plus two copies of the issue and a year’s subscription (two issues).

No theme or topic with this; just send the best short poems (unpublished and no more than 25 lines long) that you would like us to consider and respond to you before the week’s end. Not a contest. Free to submit through Submittable.

I say again: good luck!

Now I’m going to bed, consarnit!