Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Today I Wear My Poet Hat
There is a lot of pressure when self-employed. The scramble for work, the constant follow-up, the volunteerism, the press to market and generate income, the bills and deadlines are enough to make for constant anxiety. Sometimes even panic.
My poetry is taking second chair to all the other needs at this time. I am getting a little itchy but other priorities are leaving four cycles of poems dormant in my binder. But I am one to take my time with a poem anyway. I described it today as "worrying a poem to the bone." I am not satisfied with the first draft; in fact, I am rarely satisfied with the tenth draft. I am one of those poets for whom the act of honing, revising, dallying with the image and language is a joy as well as a vital obligation.
As an editor for many years, I read hundreds of submissions annually. Now I am making the final decisions for a poetry journal. This is rather daunting. I know what it feels like to get the "not this time" letter in the mail so I have empathy for the human on the other side of the SASE.
As an artist educator and workshop facilitator, I witness how difficult it is for someone to translate one's own experience and emotion to the page, and then to take the step to place that work in front of a reader, much less to throw it into the arena of publishing and, thus, critical judgment.
There is so much space between the moment a person commits their humanness to the page and the competition for pages in a journal. Editors have to consider that there is a tender spot in each writer's heart that yielded the poem we are screening, critiquing, accepting, or sending back.
On the other hand, the poet has to remember how many people are out there, sitting at their computer or over their notepads, pen in hand, creating something significant to themselves. They have to reflect on how many poets are taking their five poems of the moment and placing them in the mail for consideration. The competition is keen. We can never underestimate the sheer numbers.
So often, I feel that poems we consider for publication are a few steps short of their own capacity. This is disconcerting. The push to publish sometimes blinds a poet. The delight in creating a poem may often veil our eyes from the opportunities to shift the poem from competent, or even good, to marvelous. So will the desire to see our names and verse in print.
I continue to ask, "What is the rush?!" Certainly the contest and reading period deadlines are motivators but why not sit with the poem a little longer and notice that a word has been repeated three or four times, with no true purpose to the repetition. Or notice that the whole first stanza is not only editorializing and telling the reader what the poem to follow is about, but that it is burying a spectacular line that would open the work up with true panache, and thereby engaging the reader immediately in the experience rather than narrating it? Or perhaps the poet can take the time to proofread the submission and avoid the sloppy typos that shed a callous light on their professionalism? There will always be another reading period or contest. In fact, the plethora of such is diminishing the whole and making the whole business entirely too confusing.
Now I will say that I am honored to be in a national community of poets and to serve them with my efforts, as are my colleagues who work together diligently to publish our journal. I admire the commitment of our entire staff, all of whom (including me) are volunteers.
I also want to say that often I contact a poet whose poem is so close to stellar to suggest edits that will take it to its fullest potential, based on comments as the poem circulates through our ranks. The poets are always gracious and the usual comment is, "Wow, thanks. I did not even notice that."
But that not noticing is another problem. We are charged with the responsibility to notice by our nature and post as Poet. If we do not give the poem ample attention to observe the blemishes and missed opportunities, we are failing the poem, the potential audience, and ourselves. Every syllable should count. Every syllable should earn its way into the piece. And every syllable should sing.
We also have to remember that we are limited thematically by the essence of human nature and the human condition. Although we may be feeling the excruciating pain of a parent with a critical disease, the heartbreak of loss or abuse, the joy of a newborn child, the bliss of a bird in flight, so are thousands of other people who may be poets as well. We are motivated by our own pains and pleasures to create art. But we then are well advised to step away from the creation emotionally and take a good hard look from the points of craft and uniqueness. How have we described that circumstance or individual in ways that make our own voice and vision unlike any other?
This is the finer element of making a poem and making it our own. It is also the key to more publication. Lastly, it is the path to fullness and satisfaction as a writer and creative being.