Genesis of a Poetic Conscience
Mark Antony Rossi
The Poetic Conscience Essay
Series began as individual essays often published in small literary magazines,
most outside of the United States. My slant towards international submittance
was hastened when I naively began submitting these essays to American academic
literary publications in the foolish belief that their commitment to academic
freedom and anti-censorship was the same as my own. It was not.
received nasty rejection letters from editors ridiculing me for attempting
to broaden the scope of poetic inclusion in academic literary journals.
They were at odds with my criticisms of "big-name" poets like Ginsberg
who did nothing but promote himself and his political leanings. No one
wanted to hear the truth that such poets glory days were behind them and
they were doing next-to-nothing for poetry in general or poetry for the
next generation. These towering literary figures were saints to be canonized.
Untouchable angels latching themselves to institutions and the establishment
who once scorned them but three decades earlier. They cashed in for honorary
degrees, writing seminars and mainstream book deals. I never used the term
"sell-out" in any of my essays. I deeply regret that oversight.
After the litany of rejections
came a form of blacklisting. Publications that once published my poetry
rejected it so quickly I could tell by the postmark and condition that
it was not even read. These were still the days before the internet revolution
where writers, especially poets, were at the mercy of temperamental editors
wilfully unholding more than literary standards to discriminate against
writers of a certain ilk. Generally if you were not a suburban Anglo
writing about other writers or mythicizing about ancient Greece---your
work was in danger of being unread or marked up with a blue pen. Most urban
writers of my generation, the ones born between 1965 and 1975, used to
call these ignorant markings "blue blood graffiti."
blacklisting in certain publications lasted as long as the editor held
the post. The same poems I submitted two years earlier were published in
these publications once a new editor came aboard. Another unwritten rule,
other than do not mock their "sacred cows" had to do with your credits
and bio. To this day American academic literary publications swear credits
have nothing to do with acceptance---but they do! The stealth blacklisting
of writers in American publications leads to less "credible" credits; thus
less chances to be published, etc. A perfect vicious circle of inbred backslapping
one could ever fear to encounter. These ugly doings coupled with publications
that continue to accept poetry about "my girl hates me, my daddy doesn't
love me" and the usual stupid references to goddess Diana cults brought
me to a crossroad. I either had to stop writing poetry or find new homes
to place what I began to label the "lyrical orphans of my soul."
Thus began my crisis
of "credit" I mockingly I called it. Following the hard work of writing
a poem a you believe in, arrives the next challenge: getting published,
particularly by people who also give a damn about what you are creating.
A number of good poetic friends questioned my initial approach to academia.
Their argument was "you are writing in essence social poetry about ideas,
conditions, world events, people other than brats with polo shirts-so why
bother trying to get that published in the stuffy halls of ivy league elitism?
"At the time my answer was boiler plate stuff about academic freedom, censorship,
diversity of ideas, inclusion of lesser known societal strata, etc. Having
been born poor, Italian and urban in America is to expect a fight especially
when things seemed fixed from the word "GO." Your background follows you
into every aspect of your life. Without making excuses for myself I came
to realize when you are always expecting a fight you usually find one.
Such a circumstance works for the good and the bad. In America you cannot
survive and eventually rise above your background if you are not willing
to fight every inch of the way. I later learned to choose my battles.
I decided without
much deliberation---to give up poetry was to give up love, was to give
in to ignorance, was to give up period. I aimed towards the international
scene of which I knew very little about. If you were to score the
situation market by market, publication by publication, the United States
publishes more literary and poetry journals than the entire English-speaking
world combined. I did my best to ignore this daunting fact since it scared
the hell out of me. The rejections started flowing in one at a time. Usually
polite editors reminding me that their publication is restricted to citizen-poets
of journal's country of origin. I did my best to write each one back and
remind them due to the nature of my non-autobiographical work my material
was best suited for their audience. That appeal worked on more times than
not. And I began getting published more frequently. A boost my sorely tested
morale needed. Eventually my essays, essay-reviews, fiction and poetry
were showing up in wonderful publications like The Antigonish Review, Scrivener,
Kola, Purple Patch, Poetry Kanto, Heart and Seouland dozens others in 14
In the preceding years
I "homesteaded" at a number of publications, Collages & Bricolages,
being a fine example, an international American publication of enormous
support and value to myself and other writers of the same mind. I did not
have to search so hard to be read and published. The psychological and
emotional freedom of a fair amount of acceptance directly lead to my writing
of plays. A development truly amazing in that they were being produced
and published at a faster rate than most of my other writings. It also
allowed me to focus on a short-lived but life-altering article series for
a now defunct publication "Fahrenheit 451" which published a collection
of my condensed articles about the dark side of technology for a column
I created and called "The Intruder Bulletins."
The invention and expansion
of the Internet was brought my writings and life full circle. In the three
years since I entered the Internet my poetry has been published 600% more
than the past 14 years. There has not been a moment since 1997 when at
least 50 of my poems are being showcased in a literary on-line site someplace
around this vast world. Which I supposed is a bit smaller now with the
reaches of the World Wide Web. Where the caring arms of the international
literary community sheltered and supported my work when my own countrymen
were too busy locksteping to the chants of political correctment, the Internet
has now once and for all completely freed me and many of my poetic brothers
and sisters of the shackles of print hegemony.
Contrary to the propaganda you might
hear now and then about on-line quality of writing versus print "standards"
I have very seldom encountered editors and published scrambling to assign
points to one's credit history or bio. Most do not even ask unless your
are accepted. Some warn against submitting one at all. There is for the
first time since I have been keep track a real sense of freedom and fairness
in writing these days.
Since 1997 when I
ventured into Internet writing and submission I have not been published
in print publications with the exception of my writing family at Collages
& Bricolages, the last of the major annual literary publications in
the United States, and still one of the few holdouts against publishing
a parallel version on the Net. My exclusion from print publications this
time is wholly my own choice and it feels good. With very rare exceptions
I doubt I will ever go back. There is not a week that goes by on my homepage,
Mark Antony Rossi's Poetry & Other Writings without receiving a half
dozen compliments from readers around the world. I have received more commentary
of my poetry and others publishings in one year from the homepage than
in my entire poetic writing career. Nearly three hundred emails sent from
places like Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Canada,
Finland--the list goes on and on.
I even receive mail
forwarded from sites publishing my poetry too. It is one of the best feelings
you can have as a writer. The majority of the correspondence are from readers
not always so keen to usually reading poetry.
I also receive a fair amount of "help"
emails from younger writers seeking tips, information, advice, etc. I always
oblige unless what they are asking is unrealistic. We are constantly reminded,
especially by the older writing crowd, that writing is a lonely craft.
But this is only part of the truth. The bigger picture reveals something
else. You actually cannot be alone for long in writing. You need the support
of faithful editors, brave publishers, and smart readers to make whatever
time and sacrifice you put into writing worth every dime and deed. I owe
a debt to hundreds of such persons across the planet; most I might never
have the privilege of meeting in person. I also owe a huge debt to Alys
Thorpe of this fine New Zealand-based publication, Scribble, for suggesting
the essay series you are about to read. In her own gentle way she reminded
me not lock away these essays forever but to give them a new life to once
again arouse in readers and writers alike a sense of purpose when writing
the noblest of
You need not agree
with all the sentiments expressed in the essays to be informed and carried
away by their sense of urgency and passion for the craft. Writers have
been killed for their poetry. Writers have been arrested for their poetry.
Writers have been banned for their poetry. But writers still write their
poetry. Their poems outlast the dictators and debutantes. It has survived
the ages in sacred revelations belonging to the Bible, the Koran, the Tibetan
Book of the Dead and other moving manuscripts. Shakespeare wrote entire
plays in poetic verse. Poetry is read to the one you love in a romantic
setting. Poetry is read to your loved ones passed on. It will be read on
the red sands of the Mars some distant day. Poetry will not go away even
when the people have gravitated to some nonsensical new entertainment form.
It will always be with us, always be written, always be relevant, always
be precious, if only because it is forged from force that created the heavens
and the earth. A passionate purpose unwilling to kneel at rootless commercialism
or soulless silicon logic. It is the soul we come back to when the world
lets us down. It is the poetry. The home we all stray from. The home that
welcomes us back. The poetry that comforts the prodigal child too weary
to believe in a supreme being, but too weak to walk the good path alone.
It is the soul we come back to when the world lets us down. It is the poetry.
It is the poetry.