Poets who have poems accepted frequently tell each other, "...and from the set of poems I sent, the editor picked the one I liked least," or "the one that I thought was weakest," ....thereby creating a "Can I Get a Witness" moment:
"That happens to me, too!"
"They never take what I think are my best poems!"
"They took the one I sent as 'filler'!"
"I sent that one just to patronize them, and that's the one they printed!"
"They always do that!"
This phenomenon needs a name. Why do editors single out your least favorite submission when fellow poets, your teachers, and critics (who may or may not know you) zero in on the best ones right away? Is this a "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Come On-a My House" thing, where the artist freaks because his lamest song becomes the biggest hit?
In my case, I notice "they" "almost always" select the shortest of the poems I send, and then they always want changes in it. Either that, or it will appear with a typo or misprint (most recently: "indefinitely" instead of "infinitely"). It seems to be a joke that the universe plays on poets. But I say that only because otherwise I must conclude it's a joke poets play on themselves.
Usually I refrain from offering the information I am a writer, and recommend this practice to all writers. "English Teacher" is so nicely cut and dried. But walking on the wild side this week I said "Writer" to a shoe salesman who said he's been in the same business since 1954. He asked what I wrote. My mom chimes in, "Oh she just wrote a book on St. Louis writers," pegging me as a local in a place rather far from St. Louis. Shoe salesman begins recalling many trips to St. Louis to Brown Shoe and International Shoe headquarters, 15th and Washington streets. I tell him that area has changed, is mostly loft dwellings now. "I'm a poet and an essayist," I added rather desperately. "She just won a poetry prize," my mother chimed in. "Yeah. This poetry stuff," I joked, "is really paying off," and I escaped with my new sandals, however sheepishly and lamely. Next time: English teacher.
Annie Dillard, a prolific essayist, wrote about having a writing schedule, concluding that it's a net that traps that fleeting commodity, time. So I embark tomorrow (not today! Too busy today!!) upon an entirely scheduled writing week as an experiment. I think four hours a day, in the morning, let's say 8 to 12, is reasonable for writing and writing-related duties (writing in journal does not count; reading literary magazines does count); two hours a day for exercise, housework or yard work; two to six hours for paying work; & the rest open. I will let you know whether rigidly dedicated writing time turns out to be productive -- so many writers have said it is -- or if I can't make myself do it for seven straight days, and why.
I tend to start with unfinished material, tinkering and thinking, and within a few days get totally in gear, ready to draft new material.
Sunday, May 30. Wake 5 a.m. in dread (nothing's really wrong). Coffee on porch, paging through a friend's poems. At 7:30 a.m. decide I must use the cool of the day for brushcutting and lawn mowing. After three hours of that, I shower, lunch, create no-knead bread dough and set it to rise, then, unbelievably, needing to escape the house, I go to the gym, grocery, and gas station. After dinner look at a friend's poems. Decide it's now or never to do my scheduled work. So tired I feel poisoned, but that has killed the dread. Taking up a copy of Rattle, Summer 2010 issue, I find exceptionally good poetry and interviews with Carl Phillips and Aram Saroyan. I read also the author bios. Gemma Mathewson's includes this: "Poetry is, for me, a kind of skywriting. It involves melding the twin vertigoes of altitude and disclosure, in the medium of vapor. " Good read. Want my work in that mag. Bed 9:30 p.m.Monday, May 31. Wake 6:30 a.m. Feed birds. Bales of straw are required to complete my yard project, but it's too early to shop. I could plant tomato plants, but remembering yesterday, I halt myself and at 7:30 a.m. begin assembling chapbook for Midwest Chapbook Series competition run by Laurel Review, litmag from Northwest Missouri State University. Deadline is June 1; do it now or never. First chapbook competition I have ever entered, following my own advice to attempt the local before I try national. Picking up the contest guidelines I see I've scribbled on it a possible chapbook title: Soviet Life. I like it and use it. Manuscript and mailing package assembled and finished by 11:30 a.m. Manage to do it by literally gritting my teeth. Relieved it's done.
First in a series. Do you have an image -- inner or outer -- of a dream-place, ideal place, for a writer to write? Email them, if you would like to, and I may post them. Please give a photo credit. This one taken by me on a desert-blooming morning in Mesa, Arizona.
Tuesday, June 1. Morning errands that should have taken one hour took four hours. Workout at noon. Lunch on foods that need only warming up so I'm not distracted by cooking, which is my third-favorite activity and a great way to waste writing time. Afternoon, try to read Puddn'head Wilson. Fall asleep, waking in time to watch Judge Judy. After that, read a friend's essay draft, being very judgmental. After dinner, begin to sort through papers, throwing away drafts, duplicates, and obsoletes. Online I find an excellent writer's resource site, www.newpages.com. Read some of their very pointed and frank reviews of litmags. Check in with St. Louis Writers Guild and my publisher. Yoga before bed. Didn't write.
Wednesday, June 2. After a half-hour with journal and one hour of yard work I clean myself up and sit down at computer. Wondering what to start with, suddenly I'm in every writer's dream: I open up a file drafted months ago, one I thought was dross, and re-read it for the very first time. Darn, it's good! It wanted for nothing! Tinkering with it only ruined it! I printed it out, added it to packet I mailed to Southern Poetry Review (their contest closes June 15). Now every decent poem that I have written is circulating. I am aware that some people would prefer that I write essays, and while the poems circulate, am considering topics.
Beautiful! From Lynn Obermoeller, who says: "Here's a picture of my back yard - if I sit out on the deck (which you can see in the upper left corner), I can hear the waterfalls from our ponds and see this tiny botanical garden, that I created myself (okay, well landscapers actually put the ponds in, but I did all the planting - okay, 85% of the planting. The other 15% between my sister and husband and nature itself). Norm (husband) took the picture."
Gaye Gambell-Peterson writes, "Picture 1 is a collage/painting done by me. My extended family has two beach houses, one in each Carolina. I've always found my muse sitting in one of the old wooden rockers on the respective porches. Those chairs not only prompted lines of poetry, but inspired a whole series of Portraits of Rocking Chairs. Photo 2 is my real writing spot. The Poetry Chair. I sit here (alone during the day, except for Rossi Cat) and write longhand. Once I've got a computer printout, I sit here and edit, and re-edit. You can see my clipboard, with dictionary and thesaurus in easy reach."
Thursday, June 3: About 2 p.m. I plop down into a place at home I don't normally write in, and write prose for two hours. I realize I do need to change places now and then, and that I require a computer that boots quickly, because once I am ready to write I'm impatient to start.
Friday, June 4: Half the day, great pleasure. Cheered by lunch with writer friend at a groovy new venue. Errands and exercise are joyful. Differences threaten another friendship. I try hard to tell myself it's not my problem, to distract myself, to cage and tame my feelings, to put it in perspective next to the Gulf oil spill. But I'm overwhelmed and I don't write. Up much of the night reading Puddn'Head Wilson.Saturday, June 5: St. Louis Writers Guild holds a poetry-writing workshop outdoors at the Botanical Garden, 10 a.m. to noon. About 20 people met, heard some poems, then separated and each went off to sit alone and write, and then met again to hear the results of our exercise. Interesting and entertaining. It is an exercise in hope.
I have found a rigid writing schedule to be intimidating, and it is not for me at this time. But trying to adapt to it, I assembled and sent out a chapbook, wrote some prose and some poetry, mailed out some poems, and astonished myself by registering for a course that is waaaay out of my comfort zone: Adult Beginner Ballet.
My late husband, Robert H. Kneib, wrote fiction and nonfiction, and published two essays (one, "My Last Great Reading Binge" nominated for a Pushcart Prize) during his lifetime. But I always liked his short stories, was sorry they never found a publisher, believe he quit trying too soon. I thought Bob's fiction had vanished along with his computer, but in cobwebby boxes in the garage, I found hard copies; he had kept all manuscripts which had workshop comments on them. Re-reading for the first time in ten years, I see that two of the five extant stories are excellent, and one nearly so; for these, successive drafts exist, showing ever-higher levels of polish. Only now has it occurred to me that they ought to be published and shared.
First I thought to set up a blog. But considering there are two excellent stories of significant length, a fiction chapbook would be ideal. Fiction chapbook competitions exist. I will see if being a living author is always a requirement. Failing that, nothing stops me from publishing such a chapbook myself.
While I consider what to do, I'm typing up the stories, digitizing, so that his best work may survive him.