So I think I’m writing an essay–or a series of essays–but I keep calling it a collection of prose poems. At what point to I have to admit to myself that I might just be writing prose? Prose terrifies me. Can’t I just cling like a sloth to my poet moniker forever? Does this contradict my roles as a nonfiction editor and professional/academic writing tutor? So many identities!
I’m republishing a series of pieces that I wrote for the now-defunct Juniper Bends Author Collective. Since I can safely assume that none of my readers are big enough fans to take issue with this–much less to notice–I have few qualms about this course of action.
The joke goes that genre only exists so that you know where to find a particular piece in a bookstore. Now the nonfiction section leaps spasmodically from memoir to historical biography to cultural theory. Fiction includes flash, meta, stories, novellas, novels, and epics. And let’s not even get started on poetry (lyric essays, political anthologies, translations, oh my).
Here’s the question: as amateur (read: non-contracted) writers, why are we so obsessed with categorizing our own work? There are many journals that accept multi-genre pieces, or even seek them out. Authors publish multi-genre books (sometimes with friends); lyrical novels are a thing; David Rakoff wrote a novel in (rhyming) verse; Anne Carson’s brilliant Autobiography of Red is a classic piece of hybrid literature. And no one cares what they are since they’re crisp, polished, and satisfying.
Whenever I write, I find myself compulsively worried as I close in on a piece: but is it a poem? Is it flash-nonfiction? How will the bookstore know where to put my collected works?
Then I shake myself and ask the question above: who cares?
Maybe one day I’ll have to concern myself with genre, but for now, I’ll just shut up and write.
Been consumed by my personal statement. Decided, almost whimsily, to apply to a graduate English program in Seattle. Thinking a lot about what I can and cannot plan for when we travel so far west. Saving money. Wondering where it will come from next.
Trying to refresh my memory of the course I taught as an undergraduate. Creative storytelling, disruption of genre, challenging the narrow confines that we try to shape words with. Why I like graphic novels, zines, democratization of publishing & literature. Too bad quality is sacrificed in this world.