I can’t find my last issue of Tin House and it’s frustrating, but only because I needed it to reference how ridiculous so-called political writing in literary magazines has become. The new issue of Tin House features a segment called “The Political Future,” an oh-so-timely page filler that shares the political opinions of writers with us.
In fact, the issue is a bit of a tease, as it claims work from Charles Baxter, Lydia Davis, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, and Francine Prose, et. al, when all it ends up being is a bunch of little paragraphs about what these writers think of our political future. No new fiction from them or anything, just their political opinions. What a disappointment. I mean, I like hearing from these writers just like the next person, but I can do without their views of the political future. To me, they really have no credibility or real knowledge in this area, and it seems they’re preaching to the liberal choir, anyway. The poet, Bruce Weigl, did a reading during a Vermont College Post-Graduate conference, and during his shuffling of papers, looking for the next poem, he mumbled something about that “fucking liar George Bush.” The audience of sheep gave a few “WHOOs, etc.” but my thought was, “Just stick to the poetry, buddy…” and “Enough with the Mickey Mantle shirt already…I understand: You’re a fan. I get it…But Yankees don’t have names on the backs of their jerseys, so your shirt with the MANTLE 7 on the back, the one that you wear every day, is a bit overkill…A lot like the ‘fucking liar’ pseudo-propaganda you’re laying on us when you should just read your poetry…”
I like the work of fiction writer Stephen Elliot, and I told him so a few years back. He and I maintained an e-mail correspondence for a while, during which he asked if my work was political in nature. I thought No, should it be? Shouldn’t political writings be done by political scientists?
Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinions, I know this, but politics needs (need? My first instinct is singular, but I’m thinking about it and it’s driving me crazy) to be kept out of literary magazines. If publishers of these literary variety magazines want to make an impact, write some serious and DIVERGENT political commentary and make it available through public and university research databases. What Tin House did in their political issue is just about worthless. I’ll read a story by George Saunders with political undertones, but I couldn’t care less where he or any other writer stands politically. I really couldn’t.