D.E. Steward’s Essay on Writing

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Latter-day Writing: (a lament)
(month of May 2015)

To a generic trade editor: You are working with things different from what I do and may that soon become your problem and not mine

Until then submit, submit submissively

Two, four, six, eight, get with it and go ingratiate, ingratiate

And deal with undergraduate literary magazines whose editors often do not know Chartres from Beauvais, Las Vegas from LA, the Ebro from their elbow

With the “taught” and their teachers, frequently pale careerists of university poetics with their serial collections of linguistic banality and mild raptures

And the few independent renegade small-press editors

Because, "Divine madness does not go over in a workshop.... there is a sense in which literature itself is being closed down by way of a narrow pathetically conservative vision of what narrative art is or can be” - (Robert Coover)  

Delivered with withering dogmatism, "A short story is an exercise in communication, not in self-expression." And a few days later, "A poem is an exercise in communication, etc."  He was on a TV book tour

She reads the opening chapter of her hot first novel and then fields student questions and jealous queries of women older than she who want to learn the ways to catch the ring

“…New York works, when it does work, not on a market economy but on little deals, payoffs, accommodations, baksheesh, arrangements that circumvent the direct exchange of goods and services and prevent what would be, in a competitive economy, the normal ascendance of the superior product”  (Didion, After Henry)

In keeping with the confusing and inhibiting condition of writers being subjugable to trade editors’ flattery, and their seduction and abandonment

Literary editors seem never to be sure, and even when they are they hold back and bask in their suzerainty over the “Great Unpublished”

There are no measures to compel editors in their choice of whom to take in or leave out, furious, in the bitter winds of the Great Unpublished. And while publishing is an industry, writing is not. The extent to which it has become one today is literature’s loss and capitalism’s gain, because writing is, at its best, at once an exploration and a performance—a high-wire act. Writers are supposed to fail, and then perhaps fail better, and then perhaps even to do something great: create something that is rare and true, that tells us what we did not know; something, most likely, that the writer learned only in the writing, a process that is terrifying and gloomy and, above all, without guarantees  (Miriam Markowitz in The Nation)

Fight orthodoxy with truculence and never let smug dictates about writing stand, not even savvy ones like Markowitz’s or prophetic Richard Kostelanetz’s The End of Intelligent Writing (1974) 

Since you did your utmost for my novels decades ago from Paul Reynolds on, I've continued publishing in literary mags with no commercial sales or credits. I'm at my constant chronic loss of what to do about my professional situation and would deeply value an exchange with you about it. I'll attach the tail end of my tiresomely extensive bibliography below, hope very much to hear from you, and of course wish you well in the optimistic tenor we shared and tried to nourish way back when.

Thank you for getting in touch with me again after such a long time. Congratulations on all your credits. I don’t really know what to recommend to you. I wish you the best in pursuing your writing career.

 Without representation in either New York or London, might you have interest in my project of month-to-month months now in its 28th year with 324 months, more than two thirds of which are published in literary magazines?

My project is in the category of Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave and Evan S. Connell's Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel and his Points for a Compass Rose.

Months is a composite of individual months taken from month-to-month work that I've been working on and publishing for years, twelve in Conjunctions and Web Conjunctions, and others all over the map, Antioch Review, Raritan, Agni ONLINE, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, Fiction International, Zone 3, Denver Quarterly (a baker's dozen of months are out in DQ). The months are not journal records but attempts to subjectively detail the intellectual times in which they are written.

Early in September, I'll be in London for a few days and would welcome the chance for an interview.

My bibliography of fiction and poetry is attached. I have one trade paperback novel, Contact Inhibition (San Diego, 1986), a poetry collection, Torque (St. Augustine, 2006), a couple of chapbooks in London, and a dozen near-miss novels finished in the 1970s and 80s.

I have a continuous month every month month-to-month project that is quasi-memoir and is generally published in literary magazines as poetry, fiction or nonfiction, depending on editors' predilections. Increasingly they are deemed poetry. Recently I've rewritten old month files to take them into out of ancient WordStar into readable formats and in doing so rewritten much of the whole thing. It began in September, 1986, and this morning I finished the month for March, 2017. The 367 months are each over a thousand words and many are much longer. More than 259 have been published in small press. They're loosely linked one to the next and some are in clusters such as those that describe a Russian Bering Sea sailboat voyage, an extended rail trip in China in 1998, and a return to South Africa after fifty years. I have almost 700 literary magazine credits, one novel, chapbooks, and a collection of short poetry. I lived for almost fifteen years in Europe during Vietnam, have never resorted to teaching having had good computer and U. S. Forest Service jobs.

The twelve months of the text of Months, that proceed month-to-month in an imaginary literary year, are out in magazines as follows:  SEP in Southwest Review 75/3, OCT in Conjunctions 49, NOV in Conjunctions 11, DEC in Notre Dame Review 26, JAN in Massachusetts Review 42/3, FEB in North Stone Review 11, MAR in Conjunctions 14, APR in Conjunctions 53, MAY in Knock 12, JUN in AGNI online (2006), JUL in Conjunctions 55, AUG in Web Conjunctions (2009). 

My project of months, in its 31st year, written month-to-month, is more than two-thirds published in magazines. Months, the mss about which I query you, is 110 typescript pages. Would you be willing to consider it for publication? Thank you, I hope I to hear from you.    My best,  D. E.  Steward

I certainly do understand--and my apologies again for the delay. I wish I could be writing today with better news; and indeed, the principal reason for this long response-time is that I've been determined to do everything possible on behalf of your manuscript, which I found absolutely astonishing, thrilling. Unfortunately, [our] current focus on translation and reprints means that we're able to acquire very little original work in English at the moment; and there wasn't quite enough enthusiasm among our editorial board to warrant moving forward in this case. I hope this situation may change in the future; and hope you'll consider us for future projects. In any case, it was a privilege to read Months, and I have no doubt that you'll find a publisher for the book--I wish you the best of luck in placing it.

“…how pitilessly the odds are stacked against poets who spurn group hugs, keep their distance from literary centers, evade personal poetic grooming in creative writing courses, and present no calling cards to editors except their poems”  (Dennis O’Driscoll)

I've just received your message, and I wanted to reply right away. My apologies for our long silence--we have an enormous backlog of submissions just now, and are only slowly working our way through, sending out long-overdue replies. As you may know, the Press is publishing fiction in translation almost exclusively, these days, which means that there are very few "slots" left over for exceptions. Unfortunately, while I know there was interest in your proposals, we just didn't get the response from our readers necessary to warrant moving forward on them. The Press's changing focus will have certainly played a part in this decision. I'm sorry not to have better news for you after your wait, but thank you very much for thinking of us, and, again, please accept my apologies for our silence. Paradoxically, it's often the manuscripts that do interest us that take the longest for us to "process," as was the case here.

“Every book is the death mask of its conception”  (Walter Benjamin)

(editor’s note : Archae Editions is publishing a five book series of Steward’s Chroma)