2018/04/09

Sparing the Poet

It's my pleasure to present the readers of this blog with the foreword to my upcoming short story anthology.

Spend some time on authors’ blogs or online writing groups, and you’ll meet people who claim to be aspiring writers. I use “claim” because there’s no such animal. Our actions define us. If you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you aren’t.

About eighty percent of Americans say they want to write a book. Wanting to write doesn’t make them aspiring writers. Only half of them will ever sit down at a keyboard to start a book. Only half of those who start will finish. The writers are the tiny fraction driven to see a book through to completion; then start on the next. In saecula saeculorum.

What separates writing from taking up carpentry, practicing medicine, and studying classical guitar is that unlike any other pursuit, deeply wanting to write is not the stuff writers are made of. Only those who absolutely cannot not write have the gift—or personality defect—required to be writers.

If writers are defined by their actions, what acts are proper to a writer? What does this strange office entail? Homer, the type and patron of the craft, gives us a hint in The Odyssey. Upon his return home through many perils, Odysseus puts the suitors who abused the hospitality of his home and tried to steal his wife to messy deaths. Two unwelcome house guests—a priest and a poet—beg Odysseus for mercy. He slays the priest but spares the poet.

That episode might subvert the expectations of those who were raised in the remnants of Western civilization. The gods are quite real in the setting of Homer’s epic. Killing a priest would be a potentially catastrophic act of impiety. But slaying a poet? It’s not like they’re a rare commodity. Everybody wants to be in show business, and what use are entertainers to society?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Homer was clearly well-acquainted with the answer and structured his plot accordingly. The role of the poet is to tell stories that explain a culture to itself. What we remember best about the ancient Greeks, their customs and religion, comes to us not from their sacred texts, but from Homer’s poems.

You’re probably wondering what Greek epic poetry has to do with a silly collection of science fiction yarns. Certainly you came here to have fun, not to be lectured on ancient Western literature.

The common thread that runs through the centuries from Homer to contemporary fiction authors is the duty of the poet to transmit culture. Fiction writing is the art of telling entertaining lies that serve a greater truth.

Sadly for us, many fiction writers in the West have neglected or even abused their office these many years. They have left out the truth, and increasingly, the entertainment, to tell us only petty lies in the service of bigger lies.


Do my books hint at bigger truths, or are they just frivolous diversions? You be the judge!

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier

13 comments:

  1. It's my pleasure to present the readers of this blog with the foreword to my upcoming short story anthology.

    The Futurama quote, Shut up and take my money!, seems appropriate.

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  2. Brian
    Do the short stories have an overarching theme or do you explore different themes that transmit differnt cultural topics?

    xavier

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    1. Men who find themselves alienated from their disintegrating culture. It wasn't even deliberate, but while putting the anthology together I realized that's how it turned out.

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  3. Ironically, elevating the poet so ridiculously high (as Boomers have done) is what has led to the current self-important attitudes of those who write and create. Writing is not considered a job or a craft like plumbing or welding but as some mythical high priest position that plebeians are required to worship and never question. After all, these bishops have no Pope.

    I have a feeling most of those who talk about writing but never do it are more interested in attaining their rank in the clergy than they are servicing customers. Hanging around any writer group for any period of time certainly gets that vibe across.

    Oh, and good luck on the anthology. I share Xavier's query in asking if it is themed.

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    1. JD Cowan,

      The RL SSF writer's group I'm in is about writing, not about Being A Writer. Maybe genre specific groups are better for attracting storytellers.

      I could smell the pretension before entering the room of another non-genre specific writer's group. In some ways that makes sense. Each genre has it's own issues writers want to discuss. The general group catches all the "not really writing" writers.

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    2. @ JD: You've diagnosed the disease but not necessarily the vector. I have no qualms against giving Boomers--or anyone--their share of grief when they've earned it. But the blame for elevating poets to Magisterial status rests largely on the Romantics. The converged state of the trad publishers is due to commies taking the Romantics' pretensions and running away with them. Strange bedfellows, but that's Clown World for you.

      @Heian-kyo Dreams: Agreed. Genre-specific groups like the PulpRev are all business, from what I've seen.

      We should really find a way to deprogram all the starry-eyed hopefuls with dreams of being an ascended Real Writer™. The Medievals understood that writers are just skilled tradesmen. That's another reason why we have to go back.

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    3. If you'll allow me to ramble, I'd like to put forth an observation.

      It's a deeper cultural problem of worshiping golden idols at the expense of truth. Like you said, Brian, it goes back far. The Boomers are not the originators, only the most obvious example in our lifetime.

      The Current Year cultists are using art instead of making it. They do this because of their inescapable despair. This is all they have.

      The more you chase out normal people, the Average Joe, from anything the more freaks and fanatics you are left with to rule the roost. Look at the comic industry right now. Heck, take a gander at the literary scene of glasses-wearing overweight middle-aged socks-and-sandals librarian types who gate-keep everything. These nihilists live in the hope that someone will put them in a history book as an Important Person because that is the only aspiration of immortality they have. That's the only reason they do anything.

      Why else does every tweet and blog post read like an MLK speech? They don't actually talk like that in real life. They want to be on the Right Side Of History. They want to be immortal.

      Their self-importance comes from their hopelessness. Until they have hope, they will continue to cling to these things in this pathetic way. It's all they have.

      Sorry to get spiritual, but that is what I believe is the root at this sort of idolatry.

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    4. JD
      You're right thst's spiritual warfare. Reading through real peer review, Daddy Warpig and Diversity and comic tweets, i've picked up the despair and hopelessness as well as the search for to fill the void but choose all the wrong choices because of pride and envy.

      Brian
      We also need to rehabilitate the dignity of the trades. In my lifetime i was in school when yhe govt and schoolboards abolished shop classes because everyone would be an office worker. And that's not so.
      I noticed that the kids I teach are excellent illustrators some could be on comics while most woyld be great for technical illustration or instruction manuals. Most are sufficiently unmotivated but because Asian culture disdains crafts and trades, they're unhappy and makes my job much harder
      xavier

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    5. You never need to apologize for getting spiritual, as long as you perform a thorough discernment of spirits first ;)

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