Philadelphia Poet Louis McKee Has Died

Louis Mckee, a fixture in the Philadelphia poetry scene, passed away Monday November 20th. Coincidentally that same day I had sent him an email about a poem of his published in Rattle in 2001.

I only personally knew him through correspondence, letters and emails, and an article he generously wrote for me, but I knew him much better I think through his poetry. The December 3rd launch reading for the next issue of the Schuylkill Valley Journal will be dedicated to him. It will take place at the Manayunk Art Center. That issue also includes three of his poems.

That poem from Rattle seems appropriate to me now, so I’ll post it here:

A Beautiful Day in September

Today I stood in my back yard

leaning on the cold wrought iron grate

and realized, watching the blue

skies, the slow white clouds

moving behind the old church spire,

that this was a beautiful day,

one that I should remember,

and it made me smile to know

that I could know such things,

and sad, too, to know that

I would know so few more.

I wish I had paid more attention

when I was young; that I had

looked up more, instead of straight on.

Two children bounce a ball

back and forth, dance

to a familiar song on their radio.

The woman next door kneels

in her small victory garden

gathering last tomatoes,

and peppers, too, it looks like.

A pretty young woman waits

on the corner for a bus

and a mischievous breeze

sweeps her long chestnut hair

away from her settling hand,

away from her cigarette;

she moves in her own sweet

dance, reaching wonderfully

to hold it all together.

That’s all I’m trying to do.

I love the combination of gratitude with regret and awe in this poem, characteristics which surface frequently in his work.

Also, here’s a link to an interview with Lou on the Mad Poet’s Blog.

His 1987 collection No Matter, was just released by Seven Kitchens Press yesterday. You can find it here. We all wish he was around to enjoy the new publication.

Below is an announcement sent from Eileen D’Angelo of the Mad Poets Society:

Dear Friends,

With a sad and heavy heart, I am writing to let you know that our friend and Philadelphia poet, Louis McKee, died yesterday, November 21st.

A dear friend of so many of us on the Philadelphia poetry scene, Lou was most definitely one of its greatest voices. His passing is a great personal loss, as I know it is a great loss to us all. It is an understatement to say that he will be missed by many.

Plans for a memorial service are underway.

Sincerely, Eileen

Here’s a fine remembrance article on McKee written by poet  Fox Chase poet G.E. Reutter.

Louis McKee (born July 31, 1951, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) has been a fixture of the Philadelphia poetry scene since the early 70s. He is the author of Schuylkill County (Wampeter, 1982), The True Speed of Things (Slash & Burn, 1984), and fourteen other collections. More recently, he has published River Architecture: Poems from Here & There 1973-1993 (Cynic, 1999), Loose Change (Marsh River Editions, 2001), and a volume in the Pudding House Greatest Hits series. Gerald Stern has called his work “heart-breaking” and “necessary,” while William Stafford has written, “Louis McKee makes me think of how much fun it was to put your hand out a car window and make the air carry you into quick adventures and curlicues. He is so adept at turning all kinds of sudden glimpses into good patterns.” Naomi Shihab Nye says, “Louis McKee is one of the truest hearts and voices in poetry we will ever be lucky to know.”

Near Occasions of Sin, a collection issued in 2006 by Cynic Press, has been praised by Brendan Kennelly: “I really admire, and like, deeply, Louis McKee’s poems. They have two qualities I love – clarity and candour. And they often tell stories even as they evoke mysteries of being. And they engage a great deal with people. “The Soldier,” for example, is stunning for its pure drama. Then, he is a moving, complex love-poet, at once passionate and reserved. McKee’s poems are like flashes of spirit rooted in the body. He never hides behind, or in, obscurity. Near Occasions of Sin is utterly unpretentious because his genius (I think he has that) is so real; “I am content with this,” he says at the end of “Failed Haiku,” and this readiness to be himself, in all his complexity and simplicity, is, I think, the basis of the appeal of this most unusual and attractive book. Sometimes, McKee talks to his reader and it is like talking to a next-door neighbor (that’s what I mean by candour in these poems). Also, they sound like songs at times-winged, humane, vulnerable.”

Philip Dacey, writing about McKee’s poetry in Schuylkill Valley Journal (#24, spring, 2007) says, “It is the essence of McKee’s work to be rich in artifice and craftsmanship and informed poetic strategies while at the same time consistently brave in its presentation of two confrontations: a person’s with himself and that person’s with the world outside himself. To read McKee is to witness drama and struggle; if the art is hard-won, the human victories are, too.”

Warren Woessner, in the American Book Review (Jan/Feb 2007, Vol 28, No. 2), writes that McKee’s poems have a “surprising honesty…. In this era of superconfessional hubris, we are told that no topic is off-limits, but, if this is so, why are so many of these poems startling? Picasso said, “art is not truth,” and I know that to be true, but it is important to the force of these poems that I can believe that the poet is giving us his stories straight up.”

McKee was a longtime editor of the Painted Bride Quarterly. During his tenure, he edited three special issues, celebrating the work of Etheridge Knight and John Logan, as well as a retrospective, 20th-anniversary volume of the PBQ. He currently operates Banshee Press and edited the magazine One Trick Pony until its demise in 2007.

Louis McKee[edit] Bibliography

Schuylkill County (Wampeter Press, Green Harbor, MA 1982)[1]

The True Speed of Things (Slash & Burn Press, Philadelphia, PA 1984) (Reprinted: Nightshade Press, Troy, ME 1986)[1]

Safe Water (Slash & Burn Press, Philadelphia, PA 1986)

No Matter (Pig In a Poke Press, Pittsburgh, PA 1987)

Oranges (M.A.F. Press, Portlandville, NY 1989)

Angelus -a broadside issue (Lilliput Review, Pittsburgh, PA 1990)

Three Poems -a chapbook (Verse Press, Narberth, PA 1993)

Last Seen -a pamphlet (Red Pagoda Press, Reading, PA 1999)

River Architecture: Poems From Here & There: A Selected Poems 1973-1993 (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 1999)[1]

Right as Rain (Nova House Press, Rosemont, PA 2000)

Loose Change (Marsh River Editions, Marshfield, WI 2001)[1]

Greatest Hits 1971-2001 (Pudding House Press, Johnstown, OH 2002)

Near Occasions of Sin (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 2006)[1]

Marginalia (Translations from the Old Irish) (Adastra Press, Easthampton, MA 2008)

Still Life (Foothills, Kanona, NY, 2008)

Jamming (The League of Laboring Poets, San Clemente, CA, 2008)

[edit] As editor

Etheridge Knight: A Celebration (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1988)

John Logan (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1990)

PBQ: A Poetry Retrospective 1973-1993 (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1993)

References

PA 1984) (Reprinted: Nightshade Press, Troy, ME 1986)[1]

Safe Water (Slash & Burn Press, Philadelphia, PA 1986)

No Matter (Pig In a Poke Press, Pittsburgh, PA 1987)

Oranges (M.A.F. Press, Portlandville, NY 1989)

Angelus -a broadside issue (Lilliput Review, Pittsburgh, PA 1990)

Three Poems -a chapbook (Verse Press, Narberth, PA 1993)

Last Seen -a pamphlet (Red Pagoda Press, Reading, PA 1999)

River Architecture: Poems From Here & There: A Selected Poems 1973-1993 (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 1999)[1]

Right as Rain (Nova House Press, Rosemont, PA 2000)

Loose Change (Marsh River Editions, Marshfield, WI 2001)[1]

Greatest Hits 1971-2001 (Pudding House Press, Johnstown, OH 2002)

Near Occasions of Sin (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 2006)[1]

Marginalia (Translations from the Old Irish) (Adastra Press, Easthampton, MA 2008)

Still Life (Foothills, Kanona, NY, 2008)

Jamming (The League of Laboring Poets, San Clemente, CA, 2008)

As editor

Etheridge Knight: A Celebration (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1988)

John Logan (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1990)

PBQ: A Poetry Retrospective 1973-1993 (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1993)

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New Musehouse Workshop

Looking for something literary to do on Wednesday evenings (if you’re in the Philadelphia area)? I’ll be leading a new poetry workshop at the Musehouse Writing Center in Chestnut Hill (down the street from the Chestnut Hill Hotel). This workshop will be for beginner to intermediate poets. Honestly, I don’t know what that means, as I think we’re all a still beginner poets each time we sit down to write, but at least don’t show up planning to get into pedagogical arguments. It’s a six-week class meeting every Wednesday 7-8:30 beginning Dec. 7th. There’s a cost for this workshop, but right now I don’t know what it is. I think it’s $120. When I find out I’ll post it here.

If you want to learn more about the Musehouse Center and its events, go here.

The catalog description is here:

In this session we’ll discuss what makes poems work and where good ideas go off course and where to take risks. Elements including image, sound, line breaks and form will all be addressed. Participants will discuss poetry craft, practice writing prompts and explore techniques for discovering poems in everyday life. A wide variety of poems and poets will be read, and students will write, share and discuss their own poems in class.

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Who’s Reading Your Poetry Submissions?

At Prairie Schooner, “about 40 graduate readers look through the submissions, determining if they are eligible for the magazine. ”

from an article in the Daily Nebraskan.

Prairie Schooner does not currently accept electronic submissions (this is changing soon) nor charge for submissions.

By the way, I’m not judging, just pointing it out (I was a screener for Mid-American Review when I was a grad student). This is a question often discussed in writing circles and becomes more interesting as more journals adopt submission fees–see previous post for complete context. I know a lot of writers worry that a 24-year-old grad student may not be the best judge of what literature is “eligible.” I know I’m a very different reader than I was 20 years ago.

Pay to Play Poetry Journals: Is This Right?

The Nov/Dec issue of Poets and Writers magazine ran a story on what may be one of the most important issues facing the literary community, or at least the literary journal community, today. The article discussed the emerging trend of literary journals charging writers for content submissions.

Several journals, including the Missouri Review, Hunger Mountain and the New England Review charge a fee of $2-$3 for writers to send in work for possible publication. Some, like the Ploushares, only apply that fee to online submissions while others require the fee from all unsolicited submissions. None of the journals mentioned in the article or in online conversations that followed it charge authors for solicited submissions.

The fee issue created a little hurricane in several blogs and forums for obvious reasons. At one point a private listserv conversation by editors belonging to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) was made public, eliciting more outrage from both writers who read the emails and the editors who (rightly) didn’t want their debate on the issue made public.

Now of course I know that times are tough for literary journals. They’re facing three primary problems. First, funding for literature (particularly in university-affiliated journals) has been significantly cut. Second, the workload continues to increase as the number of people who want to get published (partially fed by expanding MFA programs) gets overwhelming (one editor said he receives about 1,000 submissions a month). Finally, while interest in getting published increases, subscriptions decrease—less people are buying the journals.

So of course that means that both money and time are stretched thin. I get that. I work in consumer magazine publishing myself. I understand the problem of shrinking staff/resources and shrinking budgets. I never met a dollar I didn’t like. What I don’t understand is how the answer to the problem is to charge the very people whose work publishers should be embracing and without whom they’d have no product to publish.

A few editors commented that they hoped charging writers would limit the amount of submissions they received. So far the results haven’t proved that. If they want to receive less submissions, how about shortening the open submission period? I have trouble understanding a paradigm in which an abundance of artists is perceived as a problem that requires a punitive response.

Do writers expect special treatment when they’re paying for their work to be read? Many journals use interns or grad students to screen their open submissions—I was one of those when I was a grad student 20 years ago, so I know how it works. How long do these readers spend on a submission? Often they only spend a minute or two on a piece, maybe less (and still take six months to respond). In their defense, bad writing singles itself out quickly; however, if a person has paid for the privilege of submitting should that person expect a more thorough reading, maybe even something more than a generic, unsigned rejection form? Maybe a faster response? If you think money doesn’t influence expectations in a relationship then just ask to borrow money from a friend and see what happens.

While I don’t like contest entry fees either, I see a big difference. With contests there’s the promise someone will get a big payoff (hundreds or thousands of dollars in some, book publication). Most literary journals pay little if anything. The most frequent payment is a copy or two of the journal.

A few of the journals who charge fees for unsolicited submissions also note that the acceptance rate for open submissions is less than 1 percent. This means the 99 percent are essentially subsidizing the work of writers who were invited to the journal and didn’t have to pay the submission fee. How is that fair?

On the Facebook page of an editor on a well-know literary pub (a pub that doesn’t charge fees) I made the comment that a journal that needs to charge its rejected writers in order to survive needs to examine its business model and maybe rethink its product into something people are more likely to pay for. Or the product could be redesigned into something that cost less to produce/mail.

I was quickly shot down by another editor for the blasphemy of equating an art journal to a business or product. I understand the sensitivity considering the political climate and all, but what I meant and believe is that if the publication is not able to find a supportive audience without imposing a submission tax then that is a publication that needs to wonder about the need it is serving. I’m not saying a literary journal that’s losing money needs to shut down, but it should think seriously about its place in the community and whether or not it’s doing a good job. If readers aren’t willing to pay for it, is there something wrong with the publication? Is there something wrong with its outreach or marketing?

One of the rationales for charging for online submissions is that the fee of $3 is roughly the same as we’d be paying for postage and envelopes. That may be the case for fiction writers who mail 25 pages at a time, but for poets who mail 5 or 6 pages it’s not even close. And even if the costs were the same, why does the saving in postage now have to go to the journal? Why does a journal get to profit from the opportunity to reject you? Let’s be honest, with acceptance rates of less than 1 percent, they’re profiting from rejection.

So if ultimately the problem is a lack of paying readers, how about solving that problem rather than creating a new ethical problem?

One of the problems with submission fees is that they inadvertently discourage subscriptions. Hopefully most writers feel some sense of obligation to the journals they’re targeting and especially the journals they’re accepted by. Hopefully that sense of obligation occasionally results in a purchase or subscription. But with submission fees the writer feels that he or she has already met that obligation, but at a much lower cost (and without the benefit of receiving the journal). Why feel obligated to buy a copy when the writer has already done his part by sending in a $3 rejection fee?

Right now I’m subscribing to seven  journals at a cost of about $95 a year. I send out about 30 poetry submissions a year. From some of the editors’ comments on the leaked listserv I should be subscribing to 30 journals a year. Is that really reasonable? Next year I’ll re-subscribe to about half of those journals and subscribe to three or four new ones so over a number of years I’ll be able to sample a wide range.

Some editors suggest the option of only allowing subscribers to submit. The problem with that is that it creates a closed little club. The journal turns from a public forum to a private one, and it greatly reduces the pool of qualified writers.

I do recognize the problem. Really I do. But the burden shouldn’t be put on the people whose work creates the journal. Even more, the burden shouldn’t be unevenly put on the people who are least likely (due to high rejection rates) to be a part of the journal’s forum. If journals look at this as a reader problem, not a revenue problem, then they won’t leap to the most vulnerable population available to be exploited. They’ll instead be forced to look at themselves, their audience and their mission and come up with creative solutions to the problem.

So far I personally haven’t faced this situation since none of the journals I’m interested in charge fees, but many editors seem to believe that the fee model is bound to become the norm. I’m not sure I believe that, but I’m interested in hearing what other people think.

Read comments from the Missouri Review here.

Read the opinion of Gian Lombardo, editor of Quale Press, here.

Go here for the blog of Laura Maylene Walter, author of the Poets and Writers article.

Please add your comments below. If you believe this is an important topic, please forward, post, tweet and share.