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Al Maginnes: Journalism 101

A friend stops me in the headache-dim

flouresence of the hall that houses

our little hive of offices to say she liked

a record review I wrote for

a website that published it without

letting me know, her words

a soft echo of the cymbal-laden overtures

I once half-expected each time

I got in print. “I guess you’ll be leaving

now that you’re make money

on your writing,” she joked, and the eclipse

on her face from joking

to disbelief saddens me as I explain

21stcentury Grub Street, where

success is measured not in readers

or the quality of the writing

or even dollars, but in mouse clicks.

There are writers—I’ve shaken their hands,

stood-sentry still beside them

in elevators—who do get checks

large enough to cover a month’s rent

or take the family to the beach

for a week for writing a piece

on baseball or learning to tie a Windsor knot

by watching their dads. In 1977,

I was a college freshman, writing

for my school newspaper at thirty five cents

a column inch. My market value has

eroded since then, though not my worry

at being chased down by someone

I interviewed and quoted incorrectly.

In those post-Watergate years,

no one wanted to be taped, leaving me

to scribble as the subjects of my stories talked,

trying for something like the words

they said without thinking. I missed words,

the occasional phrase, sometimes

whole sentences. Has there every been

an administrator without the gift

of talking while saying nothing. One afternoon

I left a dean’s office after listening

for forty five minutes to an explication

of the thinking behind a new parking lot

and knew I never wanted to write any words

built only on the dry sand of facts

and economics. Not when the great pillars

of clouds supported the sky. The shifting

ceilings of leaves offered refuge for any

words wandering the alleys or perched

on corners of the ramshackle neighborhood

where my vocabulary dwelt. A place

to watch traffic tangle and pass while

I made plans that blew away like

silent syllables of cigarette smoke. I can’t

abandon that neighborhood, but long ago

abandoned the idea of making any money

on my sonnet cycle built on the numerology

of forgotten tribes or the blank verse detective novel

I’ve threatened but never found a plot for

or the desire to actually do the thing. So

I keep writing books that won’t find

their way into airports. But I won’t have to face

the nervous ghost of myself from 1977,

scribbling what he hopes are the correct words,

dreading my shadow in the hall when

I come, demanding payment for

inaccuracies he was not paid to write down.

Copyright 2019 Al Maginnes

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2019 by in Humor and Satire, Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , , , .

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