Joyce Carol Oates needs no introduction, and exemplifies a fact that ought to be obvious: forget genre, forget—as writer and/or poet—walling off your work between categories established by the ever-prickly demands of the market. No matter what you’ve read in books on the craft, writer and poet are not wholly divorced. Oates is hugely prolific, pursuing subject matter with shy conviction and deceptive ease. It’s never easy. “Productivity is a relative matter,” she told Robert Phillips in a 1975 Paris Review interview. “And it’s really insignificant: What is ultimately important is a writer’s strongest books. It may be the case that we all must write many books in order to achieve a few lasting ones—just as a young writer or poet might have to write hundreds of poems before writing his first significant one.” No matter Oates said this in 1975; the truth remains.
The Internet, for good or ill, grants free access to anyone driven to share their work. A universe of voices rich with dream, ambition, comedy, and terror—and not a few guides laying out the perfect dinner, efficient methods of securing employment, and way too many crazy-seeming schemes to fatten your wallet. Quickly downloadable texts replete with sample pages to hook curious eyes—formatting occasionally as uneven as advice eager for attention. What most struck me about Oates' carefully articulated remarks was their seeming alienation from Amazon's textual democracy. "Each book as it is written, however, is a completely absorbing experience, and feels always as if it were the work I was born to write. Afterward, of course, as the years pass, it's possible to become more detached, more critical." That sounds, in the current free-form atmosphere, severe. It isn't though, and I don't exempt myself from Oates' quiet dedication to integrity, her revisiting published works before including them in collections. I' m not saying Amazon's literary democracy is "bad." I wish writers—and poets—would see their efforts so seriously, and not be caught up in publishing simply because they can.