Bad press

Let me begin by saying that I never actually mean to cause controversy. I know that’s hard to believe, but I really don’t. I seem to have some knack for stirring things up and pissing people off– since I was a small child I’ve had this social incompetence– and when I incite strong reactions I’m always a bit shocked. I don’t really understand why people care if I publish my own book, who I love, the ethics of what I eat/drink or who I work for, whether I charge for my blog. I’d understand if people were more upset about the Anthology, since quitting that project means disappointing 400 people, but on the whole folks have been really supportive about that. I’m not sure why some things that I do end up being so poisonously distasteful that they prompt personal emails, comments, and blog posts, while other things (that I think might rationally cause displeasure) are handled with equanimity. Ultimately I’m never sure why anything that I do matters to anyone else when it doesn’t directly concern them.

Case in point: my comments here on Elizabeth Reddin’s poetry reading. I didn’t like it, and I said so, and this rubbed some people (not Reddin herself) the wrong way– some people handled the rub gracefully and attempted to explain to me why I should like Reddin’s poetry and some people were really pissed off. Why? I’m not Ron Silliman. What he blogs about actually affects book sales. I’m just some 28-year old kid who’s been to too many poetry readings and gets bored easily. Why does my opinion matter so much? Why is it so important that Reddin’s poetry be unequivocally liked? (If I didn’t know better, I’d let this go to my head– I am powerful! People care whether I like something!– but I do know better, there are cultural issues going on here that have little to do with me.)

I received negative press (both reviews and blog comments) on my own first book, which wasn’t published by as phenomenal a press as Ugly Duckling, so any negative press not only hurt, but also stacked up against the fragile space I’d forcefully carved out for the legitimacy of Organic Furniture Cellar. Only one of these attacks against OFC seemed personal and was worth responding to personally. Otherwise, you know, some people are going to like one’s work and some people aren’t. That’s just the way it is.

Then again, even negative press mentions OFC and gets my name in front of a potential reader, who might out of curiosity pick up OFC in the future. Ugly Duckling, unlike some of Reddin’s fans, seems to understand this phenomenon, and has linked my blog to Reddin’s book’s webpage to show that Reddin’s work is exciting controversy– demonstrating once again that there is no such thing as bad press.


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12 Responses to Bad press

  1. Mark L. says:

    Don’t leave the house and you won’t piss anyone off. That’s how I handle NYC.


  2. So that’s why I never see you… you should risk it because I’d like to hang out with you sometime.

  3. When it comes to books, there really is no such thing as bad press. Long after people have forgotten what was actually said about a book, they come into the bookshop with a name, “I read something about this author…”

  4. kristine says:

    I’ll tell you why you get these negative responses; it’s quite simple–you’re a *woman* with an opinion! Unconsciously, a lot of folks just can’t handle that. Trust me, I know.

  5. Mark L. says:

    You will see more of me when the bloody semester is over!

  6. @marie that is totally true. Or they see the cover in a bookstore and they’re like, “hm I remember hearing about this!” and leaf through it. Potential customers are anyways going to make their own decisions about a book, regardless of what the review says. (People have free agency? Oh damn!)

    @kristine I was trying not to say that, since I feel like I am always saying that and that “playing the gender card,” as it were, tires both the audience and the issue. But it is, well, still an issue. We were discussing this a lot last week in Buffalo… the issue of how gender relations is, well yes actually still an issue.

  7. Lynn Behrendt says:

    I think that you tend to edit what you say about what you think & feel a lot, lot less than most people. It’s neither good nor bad, really–or, (and this is true for most people’s strong traits) –it’s both.

    I have noticed that when you write about visual art, you tend to be way more specific and less emotional. Maybe if you feel strongly negatively about some poet’s work, it would help to write more like that, too? ….nah, that’s probably not right. But I do find, for myself, that when I react really negatively to some work of art, it’s pretty useful to figure out very precisely why — I mean useful for me — not for the creator of the work of art I disliked.

  8. kristine says:

    ha! I know you were, so I said it for you.

    I agree that, to some extent, the gender card is tired and played out. I mean, who knows what it means to identify as a woman or to think rationally through gender issues, and then try to defend or be “blamed” for upholding thaose kind of reductive arguments. But… I just continue to notice my own supposedly aggressive and opinionated self produces reactions and very negative feedback and I can’t help but see that a lot of folks really can’t handle it. The funny thing is, most of the time, for me, it’s the women I know or am around (I don’t know them that well, to be honest) that look like they’re terrified of me. Men seem to kinda like it. Anyway, fuck everyone. say what you want, the way you want. Life’ ain’t no popularity contest. My mom always used to say–if everyone likes you you’re doing something wrong!

  9. @Lynn, It may be true that I edit what I say less than “most people,” but I don’t think so. The responses I receive are rarely “edited,” and I do edit what I say a lot. There’s lots of poetry I just don’t address, even though I think it’s shitty or self-indulgent or taking the art back to an unethical stone age or etc. I feel a lot more than I say.

    Regarding art, you know, I like visual art, but I also don’t feel as passionately about it as poetry. It’s not my field, and I rarely write about it. When I do, there’s less at stake for me.

    I like your assessment of the situation, but I don’t think my habits are going to change much. I may say even less about poetry as I see less and less worth saying anything good about. But that seems to be most peoples’ attitude these days– just let everything go, or be passive-aggressive about what you don’t like. I just need to steel myself better for the reactions.

    @kristine, originally I’d written: “I’m not Ron Silliman or Kevin Killian, or even Tao Lin or Jim Behrle. What they write about online actually affects book sales.” But then I thought the gender card was too obvious. Those were just the first names that came to mind.

    Kate Greenstreet’s first book interviews and projects like Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects probably affect book sales too, but they’re not based on those women’s personalities– one is an interview (about the writers) and one is a multi-authored project. The same is true for the DIY Publishing blog (multi-authored). If you can disperse the impact… . Maybe Amy King and Shanna Compton have clout? And there are others perhaps, whose online writings I don’t read. But Shanna, at least, gets all kinds of negative shit hurled at her and she’s way nicer than I am.

    Even so, I don’t mean to be mean– personally. I have nothing against Elizabeth Reddin. In real life, we have different interests and probably wouldn’t be friends. I just didn’t like the poetry. I saw another reading at Zinc– Stephen Gyllenhaal. Now that was terrible poetry. Compared to that guy, Elizabeth is a genius. But I didn’t even think that one was worth writing about. I see a lot of poetry from the same historical/personal narrative vein as Reddin’s that I don’t bother writing about. I just happened to pick her. I’m still analyzing why I picked her. Am I being non-feminist in picking on her when there are 100 men whose poetry I could easily have picked on instead? Did her work matter more to me and if so why? I don’t think it mattered so much that night– I was just like, “augh, I don’t want to sit through any more of that.” But since then it’s become such an issue that now I have to analyze it.

    I have Charles’s voice in my head from my undergraduate days through all this– whenever any students got excited, offended, or upset about something he’d chuckle and sparkle. (Happy bday CB.)

  10. françois says:

    I have no clue as to who Elizabeth Reddin is.

  11. Matt says:

    I read a couple pages of Reddin’s book at the bookstore the other day–I think your assessment was pretty accurate. (I know, I only read a couple pages, so before people start yelling at me I just want to say that this comment doesn’t constitute a review of the book. But, you know, with poetry I think you can usually get the general idea from a small sample. It’s not like with novels, which might take time to develop and grow on you.)

    Anyway, I think that for some people, “really pissed off” is kind of a default position, a lifestyle really. Which is fine if you’re in politics, healthy even, but I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t talk–I admittedly don’t have a lot to be pissed off about in my own life.

  12. Amish says:

    1. Most readings suck. It’s in the very nature of readings for them to suck.

    2. People are pissed at you because we’re at a time now where all criticism for some reason has to be positive. People won’t read it if they don’t like it and then they’ll just ignore it. People don’t realize that criticism is neutral: you love some and you hate some. Part of the definition of that word.

    3. I agree with Kristine. Ignore it 🙂

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