By Lou McKee
If I remember correctly from my days in law school, or was it something I heard in film about a law school, there is such a thing as a “contract implied.” For example, when a person invests his time, money, and energy in a project that furthers the interests of other parties, those other parties can be expected to – bound perhaps by honor if not the law – to help support the efforts being made in the furtherance of their interest. Okay, it maybe came from the movies or television, or maybe just from “formal” training in the law beyond a few seasons of The Paper Chase many years ago, and a messy but pretty much hands-off divorce that dates around the same time. What I know is this: I’ve spent a great deal of the last thirty-five years publishing books and magazines – never including my own writing, but only getting out the good work I’ve been lucky enough to find in others. I also know that I’ve had little support. I never asked for government of philanthropically-minded people to help out. I had hoped that the poets I knew, including those I published, would buy copies, subscribe, maybe even offer an occasional gift. And this did happen, but rarely. Most of the time I was shorting credit card payments to my buddies at Bank of America or Citibank, anteing up at the start of each new issue with hard-won schoolteacher dollars.
Perhaps there never was a deal. Well, there should have been. I think of all the magazines I have enjoyed over the years, from mimeo to Xerox – the ones which were built on clouds with substandard concrete mixes – which lasted a couple, a few, a dozen issues, until the noble spirits behind them, hunched over, their shoulders snug to the wheel, could not take it anymore. As I edited and published my efforts – The Carousel Quarterly, The Axe Factory, The Painted Bride Quarterly, One Trick Pony, Banshee Press – I sent exchange copies to the editors I thought were doing good work elsewhere. This “in kind” trade was actually not much help in lifting the burdens from their backs, I know. They would rather have had me send a check, something that might not do much to satisfy the printers, but which could go toward the beer, another unavoidable cost when putting an issue together. Before I joined the ranks of the publishing trade, before I entered into the soul-trading pacts with the aforementioned banks, I used to keep a list of the litmags I saw or heard of that piqued my interest, and every two weeks, on pay day, I would send for another subscription. Poetry Tax, some friends and I would call it. At year’s end, twenty-six subscriptions! The number seems like such a pathetic joke – checks going out each month for five or ten dollar subscriptions … but the pleasure of finding poetry in my mailbox expectedly, but still fairly often, couldn’t be beaten. If I thought an editor somewhere was doing a great job, I renewed. Sometimes, though, I jumped ships, went looking to see what else was going on. This was on top of the other habit I tried to keep going, of subscribing, as well to any magazine that had the sweet decency to accept my work. A quid pro quo, the least I could do, I thought. Besides it was not an issue all that often.
Like all good habits, this one went the way of Sister Donna Maureen’s – who I heard not long ago had two grown children of her own now. I became a junkie, and started shooting my money directly into the typesetters’ and printers’ and post office’s money boxes. Naïve, I thought I would get by on “the kindness of strangers,” but it was never enough. I tell you this now as a recovering addict. I cannot say that I am done with that life completely. I don’t go to the meetings – oh, I know I should. And I’m not sure I can count on my sponsor. He is a bit shaky, too, at times. You know what they say though: One day at a time.
As for the rest of you: I get it, man. And good luck to you. Enabler that I am, I will throw a few dollars your way whenever I can and I will pay entry fees – I mean, I am trusting you, friend. We all are. Pick the good manuscripts, get the good poetry into the hands of those who will appreciate it, get the names of the good poets into the conversations of those who talk about such things. Hang in as long as you can. This is the deal, right – contract be damned! Swear on your grandmother’s grave.