GRIEVANCES: Roberto Montes

compiled from the social media of Roberto Montes


The Business of Poetry rides its own meltings

I was talking to someone who works as an editor of a NYC magazine

And they said something that was obviously true

Yet surprising

Surprising not for the merit of the claim

But because they were saying it aloud

They had discovered by talking

With many editors/contributors to journals/magazines

That they all disliked a particular book

Dislike may be a strong word

They all didn’t feel warmly about a particular book

However, they were also all writing glowing reviews

And promoting the book in their magazines/journals

This person was both amazed and amazed

By their amazement

Upon realizing this

Oh you all don’t actually like the work either

This is something that is widely known

And underreported

But saying it out loud was

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit

Very helpful to me

The world of reviews and publication is a strange one

It distorts value

By claiming value

The difficulty lies in the fact

Publication is both outside of poetry

And necessary for its proliferation

(Some people may object

By saying that the proliferation of poetry

Should not even be the aim

So the whole insistence on publication

Is a bit counterproductive )

I’ve been thinking about this insistence

And how it can be damaging

In subtle but powerful ways

The idea that Publication Affirms Value

I remember talking to a poet

Who was discussing the work of someone they admired

They were kind of getting worked up

Expressing their hope that this person receives an award

They feel they deserve

Worked up because there is always a fear

And a frustration

In these kinds of conversations

The notion that awards

Affirm the value of the work

And so good work is rewarded and recognized

We know this is not accurate

A lot of bad work is awarded

And a lot of good work goes ignored

I remember affecting a kind of smug advisor voice

And expressed my belief

That good work has a way of being found

Even if it does not get recognition from the industry

What interested me about this conversation

Was the young poet’s response

Which was an immediate rejection of what I said

And a counter assertion

That there are many poets of color who never get awards or published

So the idea that good work is eventually found

Is incorrect, whitewashed, misleading

This is I think is

Where many people are at conceptually

In the community

In terms of how people view publication

At least it’s a common refrain I see

However it makes a quiet assertion

That I think is somewhat dangerous

And potentially toxic

The assertion is that

Publication Affirms Value

We know this is untrue

We know it so implicitly that I think

We sometimes forget it

A lot of the culture and community of writing

Monomaniacally orbits the idea of publication

That is what a poem is for

There is nothing more terrifying to a MFA student

Than the poem



Outside of publication

The very idea of a MFA program

Pivots on the importance of publication

But how strange it is

With all the obsession of publication

That there is no community support

No workshop, no guide

To what you’re supposed to do after publication

What the fuck are you supposed to do after publication?

(I would be very interested in a workshop with that title)

The poet I was speaking to

Was frustrated by the unbearable whiteness of publication


But also asserting that Publication Asserts Value

Because they assumed that when I said “Good work is eventually found” I meant “Good work is eventually published, accepted, and awarded”

There is also the implicit assertion

That all marginalized poets

Are & always have been

Pursuing publication and awards

It strikes me as somewhat


The way the narrative paints our ancestors

Helpless and rejected from the literary center

It cannot imagine the possibility

That perhaps some people

Have no interest in the center

Perhaps some poets on the outside

Write for the outside

Perhaps there can be autonomy

Of course

This divorces the money from the equation

A complication that is difficult to disentangle

Although I am unsure if pursuing funding

Ever gives someone the freedom

That we like to pretend

Just like being published

Does not free you from the insistence of publication

But we need money

And some need it more than others

So the whole raffle of publication

Can be particularly frustrating

We know publication does not actually affirm value

But we are forced to pretend that it does

Because acting as if you are too good for publication

Seems like an easy way to not get published

And talking openly about this stuff

Is about as useful

As writing a poem and then burning it

Which is to say

Very useful

But not in the way you think you need

Just like the conversation with the editor

Was incredibly regenerative for me

Hype and promotion and publication

Often has little to do with the work itself

And the gears grind in such a way

That we feel compelled to go with it

I get it

But pretending at something

We know is untrue

Is exhausting

But I won’t belabor the point

Because I am only paid as far as this line

Roberto Montes

Roberto Montes is the author of GRIEVANCES (The Atlas Review)