Sportsmanship in Art

Maybe it is partly due to weather and interminable winter, but of late I have been dismayed to read on social media sites rants by poets and artists who did not make it into a publication/ win a prize/ get into a gallery exhibit. We all have our share of disappointments. Reading paragraph after paragraph of ” woe is me” by any adult is disappointing.
Making a living as an artist or writer especially a poet, is hard. Life is hard in general. If you did not go up the university train and climb on board the MFA CW car, it is even harder. Why? Is it fair? Maybe not, but we live in a society ruled by politics and labels and lots of works of excellent merit do not get the attention they deserve nor their creators for simply such arbitrary reasons.
There are millions of poets out there. Millions. Every other person thinks they are a poet. There is nothing quite so bemusing as being a professional poet and after a reading, someone who is not, approaches and says with smugness ” Oh, I could write better than that.” Has happened to me. And perhaps the person could, who can say? It is all subjective.
The number of markets vs the number of poets/artists is vastly weighted toward number of creators rather than recipients. Those editors and publishers, judges and gallery owners are human beings each with a very subjective taste. So, of course, in your career as a poet you will receive far more rejections than acceptances. It’s just math. Not that many poets excel at math.
I attend workshops and conferences. I thought not only to learn of course, but perhaps I ‘d find support among fellow attendees and learn enough to draw attention to my work and the quality of it. Not so. Or maybe so, but I do not know of it. I am releasing a new collection in March. It is bilingual poetry though mostly English. I have had almost no luck gaining reservations for copies. It is the best book I have done. Most of the work in it is the result of an amazing workshop spent with Patricia Smith at Lismore Castle in Ireland. Is it because I am nobody? I notice folks who have already ” made it” have no trouble at all selling their work. Weren’t they nobody once, too?
I like to watch Masterchef Jr. It makes me feel close to my husband who cooked with me. Most folks I mention the show to pooh-pooh it: they don’t like Gordon Ramsey or whatever. Guess what? If you watch that show you see the most excellent standard of sportsmanship in young people I have ever seen. No long woe-is-me rants. No, if someone is voted off, group hug, positive critique of their food art and while he or she may walk away crying, they are also walking away with pride. How is it these 8-13 year olds go from this behavior– even helping a competitor in a timed competition–to adults who perhaps will complain about how unfair life is because their work was rejected?
Philip Levine was a working class poet. Frank McCourt did not publish till he was in his 60s. Most of us know Emily Dickinson’s story….Van Gogh’s mother threw out a lot of his work….to name a few.
Whether you sell books, paintings or are invited to give readings and win prizes is not what makes you an artist. Making art makes you an artist. Period. It does not even involve audience– it is between you and yourself. In my case, as far as poetry is concerned, when I was in first grade my teacher, Miss Mahoney, used to write poetry on the blackboard when we were learning to print. Printing, for those of you who are unclear, is when a person starts with a piece of paper, holds a pen or pencil in their hand and makes letters on the paper! No keyboard or touchpad! Miss Mahoney felt it might be less drill and more thrill if she chose interesting poems for us to copy and to discuss while doing so. Thus Miss Mahoney inadvertently exposed me at age 6 to the fact that I was a born poet. Emily Dickinson’s words were on that board, Edna St Vincent Millay’s, Carl Sandburg’s, Robert Frost’s….Miss Mahoney had excellent taste. No nursery rhymes for her class. I did not meet another teacher who loved poetry until I was in 8th grade.
Going through my mom’s papers as we cleaned out her desk unearthed poetry written by me when I was 8. My mom could still recite one I composed when I was 7 until a few months before her death.
If nobody buys my books, reads my work or takes a painting home, it does not make me not a good artist. Some days since my mother died, I feel like not putting my work out there any more and keeping it just for me. Maybe that is the path for awhile. Time will tell. A great impetus for me was achieving enough so that my mom could pass knowing her child was safe and okay. Perhaps that is enough for now.


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