Wednesday, January 21, 2009

over the transom and under a bus...

Over the past couple of days I have amazingly managed to get a few submissions out, and I have to admit, I feel a little rusty after not doing it for a year . Almost self-conscious about everything from the actual work to the font, the paper stock, to what I say in the cover letter. I decided early last year to take a bit of a breather from the submitting, only sending poems when somebody asked for them. Since I was so busy with the press and the shop, let alone parceling off time to actually write, I had to let something go, and it was a little freeing somewhat, to not be checking my e-mail, my mailbox continually, obsessively. As long as I can remember, I’ve had work out in various amounts, ever since I started doing it (rather unsuccessfully) when I was 19. That’s 15 years of obsessing about it, and truthfully I’d gotten a little weary of it. I remember hauling around a big box full of Writer magazines (I hadn’t yet discovered P&W), and carefully typed drafts (all done on wafer thin typing paper on the electric typewriter I’d bought with my high school graduation money.) The poems of course were beyond awful, but I of course, thought they were awesome. (I still have some of the original drafts I pull out every once in a while to amuse myself..) This sort of continued throughout college, my cluelessness, the occasional poetry workshop, poems in the college mag, but not really anywhere else..

By the time I made it to grad school at DePaul, I had at least graduated to a more respectable writerly magazine and a word processor. I was writing and submitting feverishly those two years, the same two years I was talking myself out of an academic career and into just being a poet with a day job. The lobby of my apartment building in Lincoln Park will forever be associated in my head with the hopeful excitement (and subsequent crushing devastation) with which I approached the wall of mailboxes daily. Finally, at some point, I actually got something accepted at a small litmag . (I say this nonchalantly, but I can tell you the exact sort of weather outside, what time of day I checked the mailbox, where I was when I opened it, the exact thing I made for a little celebratory dinner afterwards , the exact feeling of overwhelming excitement that someone (not someone I knew) took an interest in my work. ) That was the same winter I was doggedly putting together my first “manuscript” a collection of poems with no more in common really than that they were my very best work at that point, but I was certain of its genius--certain that I could win the Yale Younger Poet’s prize with it, even though I wasn’t very well read in contemporary poetry , even though I only had one real publication, even though I was basically na├»ve and completely clueless. And of course, beyond the P&W discussion boards, which I stalked, there wasn’t much of a writers community, online or physical, I could become part of easily to even realize how terribly clueless I was. Still, what I lacked in talent I made up for in enthusiasm. And I was getting better, thank god, reading more, writing more.

By the time I landed back in Chicago and was starting to spend a lot of time online in 2001, I was writing halfway decently, dare I say, even competently enough to start getting published more regularly. . Thus began the mostly online submission frenzy which continued for about 6 years with varying intensities, with a few print submissions in there when I had the inclination and stamps. The more I published the more I was driven to publish. I was so on the ball in terms of sending things out as soon as they were finished and only rarely did the work pile up before it went out.

In the last year or so, I’ve gotten rather lazy about it, though. Complacent maybe. Part of it goes back to that self-consciousness I can’t seem to shake since the MFA program. The feeling that I want to hide my work away forever. The feeling that there were too many cooks in the kitchen and I lost something in those four years that I want back. To be able to write without constantly looking over my shoulder for a response, for approval, for acclamation. To stop avoiding doing things in poems just because I know they are things I’m not supposed to do. I also perhaps know too much about po-biz and it makes me disolusioned. To feel so much like there’s too much calculation in my approach to things—where to submit, which publications are “legitimate” or “important.” . Maybe it’s too much experience as an editor myself who knows what a crap shoot and how capricious it all is and subject to whim and chance and who’s friends with who this week.. Maybe I’m just jaded and I want to be that girl just throwing it out there waiting anxiously at the mailbox....

2 comments:

B-Ho said...

I've been thinking about what you're referring to as "self-consciousness," I think, here lately... Stephen King has a great metaphor for it in his book On Writing. Sometimes, he says, we write with our "door shut," going from our gut, trusting our instinct, etc., and other times we write with our "door open," with others' opinions and voices in our heads. I think a MFA program, by definition, forces you to write with the door open all the time... which has resulted for me, and it sounds like for you, in a partial inability to shut the door as completely as before... Anyway, interesting phenomenon, the MFA...

Pity Reached by Sound said...

there were interesting places to hide in the mfa program. like, since i was always reading, i just kept my face in a book. maybe this never let the door open...and maybe that's too bad.