Dorothy Parker said (supposedly) “I hate writing, but I love having written.” I can totally relate to that, but what is even more true for me is that I hate sending poems and manuscripts out to be published (or more likely rejected), but I love having been published. A conundrum.
For me, the joy of writing poetry is in the invention, the discovery, and the solving of whatever the particular puzzle of that poem is. Once I’ve done that, I’m kind of done with it and ready to move on to the next puzzle. This is a problem, because I also like to share my work and have readers connect with it, and (less so, but still) have publications and stuff to add to my resume. If there were such a thing as an agent for fledgling, unknown poets, that would be great, and I would happily pay a percentage of all my exorbitant poetry earnings (cue hysterical laughter here) to someone who would take care of this end of things for me while I scribbled away and tossed each finished poem into hands other than mine to deal with, not to be handled again by me until I was called to make some kind of grand acceptance speech. The rejections, in the meantime, would be handled by the agent, and I would never even see them. I would not even know I had submitted to The New Yorker or Poetry Magazine until the congratulatory messages started showing up on Facebook. An idyllic existence. And like most purely idyllic existences, impossible.
This has been an issue for me for decades, and the fact that I have anything published at all is kind of miraculous. I remember Bill Borden, a dear departed poetry friend, chastising me at a reading about not submitting. I said to him “I think if I just keep quietly writing poems, and they are halfway decent, eventually The Paris Review will call and say ‘Hey–we heard you have some poems. Can we see them?’.” We laughed at how dumb that was, and then, right in the middle of our laughter, Liz Minette, who was editing North Coast Review at the time (the Duluth , MN one, not the other one) approached and asked if she could publish the poems I had just read to the (sparse, in that poetry reading kind of way) crowd. I hope I didn’t injure Bill with the elbow-in-the-ribs I gave him at that point. That experience, however, as Bill knew, is the exception, not the rule, and I guess if I want publications I am going to have to get off my duff and send things out.
Just yesterday, in fact, I got a gently nudging message from one of my beloved poetry mentors and thesis advisors, the wonderful Laura Wetherington, asking if maybe I had dusted off my almost-two-year-old thesis and sent it out.
Her message was accompanied by a very tempting, pie-in-the-sky-ambitious call for manuscripts and an offer to look over a revised version of my thesis. Totally sweet and generous. So sweet and generous that I can’t really say no or ignore it, can I ?
I’ve committed to writing something here weekly after a long hiatus, and I suppose it’s time to commit to sending out the poems I have moldering away in the back corner of my office. I mean, they are already written and everything. Which is why they bore me. But I do like having been published, and there is only one way to get there.