Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Writing: On Not Being Able to Fit Into the Boxes

I have difficulty even seeing, much less respecting and obeying, what some writers and editors feel are hard-and-fast lines between poetry, prose, nonfiction, creative writing, and essay. To me those all blend together. The most interesting books I read tend to be like the Japanese ideal of zuihitsu, "following the brush," the great exemplars of which style are Essays In Idleness and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. The American writers who have given us journal-books that move easily between prose, poetry, poetic prose, prose-poetry, and creative nonfiction essay, are who really stay with me. Andrew Schimmel, Gary Snyder, Paul Blackburn's The Journals, which I have only recently discovered, to my great delight.

I love the form of haibun, which is the form Basho's travel journal books are written, with alternating prose and haiku sections, on some pages just a single poem, on other pages a formal haibun which is a prose description of a moment or subject followed by a haiku on the same moment or subject but from yet a different direction. In not irrelevant ways, the haibun is my ideal form for writing.

I see when literary publishers offer open reading periods, during which anyone can submit a manuscript or collection, that they often create fixed categories for acceptance. You have to submit through the Poetry gate, or the Fiction gate, or the Nonfiction gate. But what if your manuscript moves between all of these? What if there is no real distinction, or boundary between them, in your writings? Where do submit them? I often feel a kind of decision paralysis in the face of such categorical requirements, and end up not submitting anything anywhere. Because inevitably I'll place my manuscript in the wrong box, and be automatically rejected.

The fact is, my best writing is All-of-the-above. The writing of mine that I like best, perhaps I should more truthfully say. The stuff that I write that excites me doesn't live within the boxes of Prose or Poetry, but tend to be Prose-AND-Poetry. I readily grant that there are lots of editors who just don't know what to do with that. I'm sure I've caused more than one headache which led to rejection. (There is also the issue that when you read a certain genre, yo bring presuppositions—one hesitates to say prejudices—to one's reading, and things that don't go along the usual trails get rejected not because they're bad but because they are not comprehended.)

Well, I don't want to make editors' jobs harder, and I'm not trying to be difficult, AND it seems to me that the rigid categories between writing genres are in fact a barrier rather than an aide. They are illusory, and often arbitrary, and even occasionally rather dismissive.

Because the one genre I don't really write in, and have no real "feel" for writing in the genre that doesn't like to be called a genre, namely, mainstream literary linear-narrative prose fiction. I have written in that non-genre-genre, an have even been published in it. It is just that it seems like an artificial construct to me, like nothing real at all. Virginia Woolf was right: life is not lived as a neatly-arranged linear prose narrative, as consciousness is both more diffuse and more Brownian (nay, distractible) than the artificial construct of linear narrative pretends it is. And not just Woolf says this, but Albert Einstein, whose spacetime theories strongly imply that everything is always happening all at once, and time itself is a constructed fiction of consciousness that we make up to be able to cope with time.

It's very likely that I will only rarely ever get published. (And thank you ever so much to those sympathetic editors who have been willing to take risks on my behalf!) I just can't seem to stay in the boxes.

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