I'm a showman of the old school, by which I mean my goal is to strike a balance between meeting audience expectations (give the people what they want so they'll keep coming back) and defying them (because if I'm only showing you what you already know you like, what do you need me for?) It's the reason I am, at bottom, a filmmaker, even though I am prolific at other forms of expression; film, particularly as constructed in the US, sits halfway between commercial art and fine art. But this approach holds true pretty much regardless of the medium. Depending on your affinity for this philosophy, you could call it a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, bait and switch, boundary pushing, setup and punchline, subversive manipulation, or an editorial eye.
(Key problem: I am horrible at guessing what other people expect. I don't think it's exaggerating to say it is the pinacle of my incompetences. However, I am good at being pleasant
, which often suffices. In any case, this proclivity of mine is probably more apparent in the things I like than the things I make.)
It is not something I do by instinct, although instincts are involved. It is something I do deliberately.
I don't think it's particularly in step with this cultural moment, which seems to be about purity. But! I think purity is kind of horrible, more shortcut than ethic. I do not particularly want single-sourced cocoa beans; I want a nice rounded blend, with an amount of cocoa butter that gives a good mouth feel even though it means a lower percentage of cocoa solids.
A couple of weeks ago, Strange Horizons
published an article partly by me called "Defining Speculative Poetry: A Conversation and Three Manifestos
." If you've read it, you know it's a stretch to call what I wrote a manifesto. It provides something
of a manifest; you get a not innacurate sense of my personality and can guess at least a little how this influences my editorial choices. However, it fairly obviously takes an external point of view to define a genre (this is how people seem to apply this title; these are characteristics of some of the markets; here I'll describe back to you what you're saying to me). Which is a fairly tricksy vantage point to claim when I am an insider with direct influence on the future of speculative poetry.
But there's that key giveaway line, buried way down there: "I look to speculative poetry to push the mainstream forward."
Which, given my actual rather than assumed vantage point means: I am actively publishing liminal work which I hope will redefine both this subgenre and poetry at large, but am trying to do it in a friendly enough way you'll keep reading, because I can't manipulate an audience that I've driven away. And I understand you, I think, because look there I just described what it seems to me you like, in the most flattering possible terms.
I do this not just for me, but for you, because it's what I want you do to for me in return. I would prefer
your mix tape throw in some bizarro obscure spoken-word piece at track four. One you think I'd enjoy the fifth time through, if maybe not the second time.
However (so many howevers): This puts me in a sometimes difficult position as regards outsider art. Because: I can only publish so many poems. Sometimes: I think it is a good thing to publish something there is no way you'd see if I didn't publish it. On the other hand: I know the poet is not skilled enough for me to want to read more than one thing by them in a lifetime; what attracts me is the serendipity.
And there are other poets who I do want to see more work from who I would be passing on because I know I will see more work from them. And it's awfully unpleasant to see something published in a magazine that's rejected you and think "I am so much better than that." It makes me stop reading the magazine a lot of the time, because here I felt welcomed and like we were on the same page, and clearly we're not.
On the other other hand: I am absolutely terrible at predicting how other people interpret my artwork.
On the other other other hand: Although I talk about curating as the artform of the 21st century and mean it, found art is inherently hostile. Friendly hostile. But hostile. Both to the people viewing it and to the people/context appropriated from.
And yet: Lines of power are what they are and if they can't be permeated, that's its own unfairness. And yes, it's awful to be the first woman to attend the Citadel and it's awful to be the first family to integrate a neighborhood, and maybe you're subjected to a lot of violence. A lot of violence. An outsize amount of violence, some of which is visible and some of which is invisible. But does that mean the person who let you in hurt you? (I think yes? And yet they would also have hurt you by not letting you in?)
I am maybe more aware of the ethical conundrums of being a gatekeeper than is practical when the name I'm playing with is not my own. I'm not the founder of Strange Horizons
. I'm not the sole or even senior editor. And yet I was hired for being myself, which I have been the whole time.
Anyway, I'm not agonizing over this. It's just that when I'm going through submissions, and I run across something I like, a certain amount of the time, the thought follows: the other editors would not choose this one. And I'm never quite sure whether that means I should give it less attention or give it more attention. Particularly since I always like more poems than I have room to publish. I wish I could show you some of the stuff I reject. I really love it.
Meanwhile, I still have a cold. Multiple colds on top of each other. Drinking a lot of water. Drinking a portion of limoncello. King David and the Spiders From Mars
is out. I have a story in it which among other things tells you the process that happens to you biologically if you're burned alive.
And I almost never talk about things that haven't happened yet, less out of superstition than because I don't like getting advice from people (unless I specifically ask, in which case you know because I've asked) and because I find it excruciating if I don't do something I've told people I'll do. That's not leverage I like to hang over myself if I can avoid it. But even if this doesn't go anywhere, it's nice: I've agreed to give a British director named Paul Gay (who directed the first couple episodes of Skins
) a short-term free option on "A Robot Walks Into a Bar and Says. . .
" to shop around and see whether he can get a feature greenlit.
No idea how likely that is, and no idea whether the critical success of Her
is an advantage or disadvantage, but it's nice to be asked. Nice because it's fun to imagine, and nice because Jonathan Lethem was nice when I wanted to adapt one of his short stories
, and that generosity meant something to me.