Brecht Never Taught at Podunk College

Two staff messages the other day led me to compare them. One went like this:

yourmothers, yourfathers, yoursisters, yourbrothers,yourvacuumcleanersalesmen

I have a colleague who reads manuscripts for a literary magazine. Recently, I spent two hours looking at the contributions she has to vet. God, the bulk of them are awful. Actually, what makes them awful is their mediocrity. None of them are spectacularly bad, illiterate, crazy, or demented. That would be ok. Instead they’re all submitted by these guys with MFAs. They all teach at some podunk college someplace. They all straddle a line between conventional novels and a sort of postmodern equivalent of “lite FM.”

Every cover letter said something like, “I teach writing at Nut Sack Community College and I’ve been published in Snot Nose Review …” It made me desperate to see some freak say, “I grew up strangling chickens for fun then turned to killing hookers on Route 66. I stuff their bodies in the dumpsters at the Internet cafe where I write self-serving descriptions of my basest impulses. PUBLISH ME OR I’LL KILL YOUR DAUGHTERS.”

The other message went like this:


Bertolt Brecht

When the Regime ordered that books with dangerous teachings
Should be publicly burnt and everywhere
Oxen were forced to draw carts full of books
To the funeral pyre, an exiled poet,
One of the best, discovered with fury, when he studied the list
Of the burned, that his books
Had been forgotten. He rushed to his writing table
On wings of anger and wrote a letter to those in power.
Burn me, he wrote with hurrying pen, burn me!
Do not treat me in this fashion. Don’t leave me out. Have I not
Always spoken the truth in my books? And now
You treat me like a liar! I order you:
Burn me!

Postscript: “The American writer as often as not is a middle-aged man with a wife and children two or three books behind him and eleven dollars in his pocket. He’s up against a conglomerate that deals in millions. He will take what they offer.” — Nelson Algren

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