Genesis of a Poetic Conscience (1984-2000)
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.

    I 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."

   The 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 countries.

    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

  • Genesis of a Poetic Conscience (Introduction)
  • Soul Cadence and the Social Poet
  • The Divine Madness of Writing
  • The Writer in a Material World
  • City Parks as Healing Instruments
  • The Creative Benefits of Righteous Anger

  • (C) Copyright Winter, 2000 Mark Antony Rossi All Rights Reserved