When You Bit and the Anxiety of Influencing


A key point I’ve picked up on my life’s journey: the books game is a vicious one. There is an aura of violence and perversion around books; anyone can and does steal from anyone. Why authors and publishers feel entitled to steal I don’t know: but when I opened up a pdf, released by Chicago’s Beard of Bees, yesterday, I was stunned to see the signature style I developed for my 2008 Otoliths print book When You Bit... pirated most fulsomely. Interestingly, When You Bit is set in Chicago, where the offending pdf was published. I’ve run into this problem before; the likes of Anne Carson, Mark Strand, Elizabeth Willis, and others pirating the signature style of my 2007 print book Opera Bufa (Carson, entertainingly, also eventually covers Equations as well); and all three forgeries are more than reasonably blatant. Why is it that publishing thrives on pointless, destructive games? Why is it that literature anywhere should be reduced to the status of a game, where pirating for destructive purposes in permissible and actually demonstrating respect for those who have influenced your writing is not? Gaming here is both infantile, and opposed to the development of a sturdy, intelligent national consciousness. The impulses behind the composition of both Opera Bufa and When You Bit were unique, and intended to achieve the stature and effects of high art, or what I call major high art consonance; and to be brought to earth by the vagaries of a dumb game, in the middle of a major recession, is a major pain in the ass.

The games around books and publishing go out in all directions. The New York Times takes the stance that by ignoring literature online, they will somehow make it disappear. They appear poised to party like it’s 1959; and other lit-gamers like The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and even The Huffington Post are following suit. Online literature is a threat to these conglomerates; and while online literature is developing a sense of heft and gravitas around itself, those threatened will initiate the usual destructive games, and bury their collective heads in the sand. Meanwhile, someone is always waiting to declare poetry dead, literature dead, online dead, print dead, Language Poetry dead, Flarf dead, Formalism dead, what have you; when, from the evidence I have accumulated, all they mean to do is initiate another pointlessly destructive game. On the other side of things, bootleggers are always muscling in to pirate things in another direction; here are rogue editions, for instance, of Beams and Chimes. The free for all atmosphere, combined with a mentality bereft of maturity and serious literary awareness, make for a book world so steeped in juvenile competitiveness and the bad faith around general and generalized fraudulence that if one wants to keep sane, one can only hope for the peace and security of writing decent books and watching them gain precious ground incrementally.