As if on cue, a letter arrived yesterday from an academic poetry journal that published three of my pieces in 1992.
In the movie Top Secret, Val Kilmer’s character Nick Rivers arrives at a restaurant and finds a note from another character, Nick’s manager. We hear the manager’s voice read the note to us, strong and echoing. Then the manager steps into the frame, talking through a megaphone, and continues, “I’ve ordered your favorite ripple blanc…” At least, that’s how I remember it. And that’s the important thing, really.
This letter from the academic poetry journal says – well, read it yourself:
[Journal name] has been honored to publish your writing in the past. Now we are updating our web site for podcasting, so our readers can have the pleasure of actually hearing you read that work.
We would love to feature a podcast recording of you reading the poetry or fiction that you published in [journal name]. You can record your [journal initials] selection in its entirety or, if your work is long fiction, and you just want to record and excerpt, we also welcome that.
I read this letter over and over. I handed it to other people to read, just to find out if this could possibly be real. My stomach is in knots. Ladies and gentlemen, please note the delivery of an oil drum-size can o’ worms and an industrial can opener.
Boring back story:
I don’t write poetry anymore, but what I was was a Biblical Revisionary performance poet. This means my Jewish Bible has very dogeared pages and pieces of paper with little notes and dust on it from when I realized I wasn’t working anymore. This means I channeled poems out of the ether, edited and edited, memorized them, worked up very stylized choreography, and did these pieces in front of all kinds of audiences. Drunks, students, the Dodge Festival. I seldom stayed on the stage and almost always worked in the audience, in faces, touching their backs. It took years, but I ran out of Biblical characters I wanted to write into the twentieth century, and the stage fright – which was always bad – got worse. By the end of 1995, I couldn’t write poetry at all and had moved into a more prose-based form that worked differently on stage. A year later, I fell into that depression I come back to like a broken record and the comfortable understanding – this is what I am – became an uncomfortable memory – this is what I was. During the early nineties, I was also a member of Hub City Spoke Repair, a college radio comedy whatsis, where I learned to hate recording with a fiery passion. Every so often, I go down to Sean Carolan’s studio and record a thing here and there for Altrok Radio. I put in a cameo appearance on a radio show every Tuesday, and yes, that is a joke. The sound of my own voice gives me the heebie-jeebies.
End/Boring back story
The poem I would record is twelve tight pages long, with accents, screaming, a biker gang, murders, a North Jersey trucking company, and one delicate Jewish princess whose rape starts a war. I love this poem. I loved doing this poem in front of audiences but it’s physically exhausting and one little mistake can wreck the impact of a whole section. Recording this could take all day, wreck my voice, and produce nothing but garbage. The idea of recording this piece is not without its risks – one being that I feel like a one-hit wonder in a blue velour suit singing in a Holiday Inn lounge for losers. I loathe nostalgia. I’m starting to wonder if I should skip this whole exercise and simply hate myself for considering it. Another risk involves the rights to the piece. I can’t republish excerpts from my own writing without written permission, which to me feels like this journal owns me. If I – step one – record this piece I can’t publish anywhere else anyway and – step two – give it the recording, am I giving the journal all of me that’s left?
The idea of having a good sound recording of my best piece turn up on the net fourteen years after the poem was published appeals to me. It might be a good career move, if I still had an art career. Is this all vanity, then?
What would you do?