Persistence is omnipotent

On Friday, I made the poor decision of looking up contests I could send my book to. I looked up people’s books I liked, checked out the contests they won, checked out that contest’s other books, and then started looking up fees, deadlines, etc.

Once I started looking at the fee aspect, I didn’t want to write or edit anymore. All my desire just seized up. Really, fear stepped in. How am I going to pay all those fees? What happens if I do and it loses all the contests anyway? What happens if all this work now means I just end up re-editing it next year and the next…?

Oh, fear. It’s hard enough being a poet when there are bunches of us and so everything is incredibly competitive, but load on some fear of being selected and work being for naught in there too…

I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Albergotti at the Southern Festival of Books. His second book, Millenial Teeth, won the Crab Orchard Review Open Poetry Competition. He told me, “Persistence is omnipotent.”

per·sist·ence
pərˈsistəns/
noun
firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

om·nip·o·tent
ˌämˈnipəd(ə)nt/
adjective
having unlimited power; able to do anything.

Basically, if I keep at it, things will work out. That obviously worked for him, so it’s possible it could work for me.

Right now, the manuscript is at 54 pages, and I really think it should be at 60. It may not be possible to do currently since I can write until the cows come home, but are the poems going to be good enough to put in the manuscript? We will see.

I’m also finding that my current work now all has a similar vein, so I’m wondering if it wouldn’t suit me better to give up on this manuscript and start working toward another one instead or do another chapbook.

Persistence is omnipotent…persistence is omnipotent….

Rejection Motivation

Last night, I felt like pumping myself up, so I went through a special email folder I have for every good rejection I’ve gotten so far: the close calls, the personal editor messages, the “please send us mores.”

I don’t know how other people feel about keeping their rejection letters, but I’ve always kept mine. I read a memoir a long time ago about a woman who would decorate her bedroom wall with hers and how she even went to a Halloween party once in a trench coat with a load of rejections stapled to it. Her costume was “a working writer.” Sylvia Plath said, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

Clicking through all of my almosts, I felt pretty proud of myself. I didn’t start seriously submitting until December of 2009, the end of my first semester in graduate school, and in these five short years, I’ve had some fantastic publications, a chapbook, and a slew of almosts from reputable and some thoroughly dreamy journals.

I also believe wholeheartedly that if someone sends me a close call rejection, I need to submit to them again. It’s a call to action, not a mope-in-my-soup-bowl rebuke.
I often send to them pretty immediately and include something in my cover letter thanking them for their kind rejection and hoping they like something from this current submission.

The press I want to be published tv hosts two contests a year. I first submitted to their First Book contest in July 2012. Swallow Tongue was then called Predator Tongue and was very much my recently completed MFA thesis. Form rejection. I did a major overhaul and resubmitted it in July 2013. Semifinalist. I did more tweaks and resubmitted it in October 2013 for their Open contest, got another Semifinalist.

It’s all a matter of time. If I gave up now, I wouldn’t ever get there.

Drafting: “Losing a Baby”

As I wrote in my last post, I started writing again after a 10 month drought. I returned to poetry slowly.

I found myself reading it again sometimes. A poem here or there. Then a handful from a literary journal. Then every poem in a literary journal. Then a collection.

Around the time I started going through all of the poems in a literary journal, I found myself skimming words that rose to the top, and once I had words, the poems were already half-formed.

The first official one I wrote was one taken from a model.

Pick any poem. Use its line breaks, form, etc. as a model, and start rewriting it. Change every word possible, but try to follow the “template” of the original. It’s okay if the framing is similar because, more than likely, this will just be an inspiration for a poem; it will be a little too clunky to be the final.

“Your belly becomes a coffin. Watch

its swells rise like sheets
over a phantom haunting your sleep.”

I’ve never lost a baby, never even been pregnant, but I spent the whole process of writing this poem crying. It reminded me of a quote from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

I felt so inspired about the act of writing again that I immediately turned around and submitted this and a couple other new poems to some reach-for-the-stars journals like The Kenyon Review and The New Yorker. It felt like a wild and impulsive decision since these poems feel very fragile and untested, but it felt good to shove them into the light and maybe even try to give them wings. (They have already received some rejection, but I’m still riding the high!)

fighting against stasis

I feel like I’m in the middle of a drought, but when I really get down to it, I’m not. I’ve been writing, but each act of putting words on paper feels like trudging through muck. Yesterday, I felt a little uplifted when I saw that my poem “Love Fevers” (draft notes here) is up at Waccamaw and shares space with some fantastic writers. This year, I’ve only had two poetry acceptances and plenty more rejections, so it was very nice to see my work up again.

It might be too that I’m in a period of waiting, and waiting sometimes feels like mourning. I’m waiting to hear back from two jobs (both I should hear back from by May 1st), a book contest which is the last one my book is currently at, and several journals that have had my work for a very long time (the most being 342 days!).

On April 14th, I decided to start doing another poem-a-day thing to try to push myself into action. The first day, I randomly chose to write a prose poem that started with the tagline, “In this poem, I’m…”, so the past ten poems have had that same form and opening. What I’ve liked about this exercise is it’s given me some space to imagine: I’ve been a Latin teacher, a gifted carpenter, a perilously thin woman, an obese man.

The thing I love about doing a poem-a-day thing is I can’t rely on the old go-tos: dark farm, myths, whatever; I have to come up with new stuff because  it’s easy for the old wells to run dry if I draw from them every time. It also gives me new work to play with when, for whatever reason, I start to hate that I wrote older than a month ago (which is about where I’m at now).

My real life interjects itself into these poems more and more too when before I always kept a carefully crafted wall between it and my poems. For example, I’ve been keeping track of the April 16th disappearance of a Memphis teacher. Today her body has been discovered and her estranged husband arrested. As a teacher, especially one in Memphis, I hate to read these kind of stories, and in my “In this poem, I’m…” poem from today, I’m a woman who wakes up at the bottom of a pond after being left for dead by her husband.

Things I need to think about in no certain order:

  • My book. (After I hear back from the last contest it’s currently at (the sixth it’s been sent to), I can immediately send it off to some contests with a due date of April 30th/May 1st, send it through another round of edits, or let it hibernate until the summer months when I might feel a little more inclined to look at it again. Book contests are hard. I take the contest results a little harder than normal submissions because it’s not just a packet of 3-5 poems, but 50! Maybe I just need to keep sending it out and the pain will lessen??) 
  • These new poems. (Work toward a second book? a chapbook? Cut my full-length down into a chapbook and start sending it out?)
  • These essays. (Two of my CNF essays have been published so far this year, and I’ve got another out right now, but what to do with them? A friend of mine suggested I think about expanding one into a book, but yikes! Maybe I’ll just keep writing and see what happens.)

I’m slogging and whining. I think I probably just need a hug…

All of you stay well.

Good News

I’ve gotten some good news over the last couple of days, which I’ve been itching to tell.

~

Fjords Review and [PANK] nominated two of my poems (“Philomela” and “Persephone Writes to Her Mother”) for possible inclusion in Best New Poets 2013. This is really exciting because I was planning on submitting to BNP’s Open Competition anyway, and those two nominations allow me to submit up to four poems to be considered for free!

The regular price for a submission of two poems is $4, and from previous years, a little less than half of the poems selected are often chosen from their Open Competition. For all poets that don’t have a book yet, this is an awesome opportunity to get your work published alongside other great new poets!

~

Waccamaw accepted my poem “Love Fevers” (draft notes here) to be included in their Spring 2013 issue! Last year started for me with a flurry of acceptances, but this is only my second poetry acceptance for this year, so I was super glad to get this one.

~

Hope you all have been doing well! Spring may be the time to get rolling with those submissions. 🙂

Building Relationships

Yesterday I read this post and found the topic really interesting: “Why not build relationships with particular journals while also sending to newer ones?” For myself, the answer is pretty simple: There are still so many journals that I want to see my work to appear in that I keep sending new work to new journals, instead of sending a submission on to a journal I’ve already been published in.

I’ve appeared in two literary journals twice: The Los Angeles Review and PANK

My second publication ever was in The Los Angeles Review, and I was screaming-call-my-boyfriend-and-my-parents excited when I got that acceptance e-mail from their wonderful poetry editor, Tanya Chernov. At my first AWP, I got to meet her and Kelly Davio, the current Managing Editor, and it was a moment I still cherish because I was a wide-eyed first year MFA student and they were really really nice and they liked my poem! my little poem! That moment shaped for me how I wanted to be as an editor. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many contributors while I worked for The Pinch, and I hope I’ve even once been able to be as kind and gracious as Tanya and Kelly were to me. 

A couple of years after they accepted that first poem, I decided to send another packet onto them. The work just seemed like it fit their aesthetic. They accepted another poem, and I got to see them again at AWP the following year. I am also now friends with them on Facebook, and I just like them. They’re good people. L.A.R also has a special no-fee “Previous Contributor Submission” category on their Submission Manager to support this sort of thing.

My relationship with PANK has gone differently. In September 2011, I sent them a short story. Less than a month later, they sent me an encouraging rejection. I had no fiction to send them, so I sent some poems their way in December. I received another encouraging rejection to which I sent another packet. Got another encouraging rejection. I waited a couple of months and sent them a new packet in March 2012, shortly after being too chicken to talk to the editors (especially the particularly fancy Roxane Gay) at their AWP table but having enough of my wits about me to at least buy one of their classy t-shirts. They accepted three of my poems for their June 2012 issue a surprising ten days later.

That short story I sent to them back in September of 2011 was still waiting to be published and I had spent a ton of time editing it, so I decided to try to re-submit it to them as well as some other journals in October 2012. They accepted it for their February 2013 issue less than a month later. That marked my first ever fiction publication too.

I like the idea of keeping up with a particular publication. L.A.R. opened doors for me and kissed some confidence into my fledgling writer status. Once I got that acceptance, I really felt like I could do this crazy submitting-and-rejecting thing. Yes, I could do it. PANK published three of my poems, the most that I’ve had accepted at a time, and my first fiction story, a story I’d worked on for over a year and had submitted 41 different times!

Sandy Longhorn wrote a post about getting second and third “dates” with journals not too long ago. How do you all feel about it? You snagged that journal credit and are off seeing if you can get another one, or do you still send submissions to those journals you’ve already seen your work in? A little bit of both?

An Extended Metaphor For Those Who Have No Idea Why Writers Submit To Litmags

You live in a land where everyone walks around inside hug-blocking force fields. Hugs are the most awesome things in the world, but in order to get one, you have to apply to receive one from various hug service centers. Each of your cover letters needs to be more inventive than the last to really get the attention of the review committee at each of these hug service centers. You want your cover letter to make one of the review committee members stand up and say, “This person needs a hug!”

Sometimes, you are flat out rejected: “Thank you for applying. We appreciate your interest in Hugs 4 Love. The review committee has carefully read your application, but you will not be moving further in the process. We wish you the best of luck in getting your hugs elsewhere.”

Sometimes, you nearly make it: “Thank you for applying. We enjoyed reading your application, but after careful consideration have decided that we cannot give you a hug at this time. Please feel free to apply again to us in the future.”

Sometimes, your application gets accepted, and it’s the best thing in the world! “Thank you for applying to Hugs Build Lives. We loved your application and would like to give you a hug in Fall of 2013. Contract will be sent on soon.”

You receive the contract and gratefully agree: “In accepting our, Hugs Builds Lives, offer of a hug, you, Hug-Receiver, affirm that you agree to the following terms. Hugs Builds Lives will assume First North American Hug Rights for giving you a hug. All subsequent rights to receive hugs revert back to you, the Hug-Receiver. Hugs Build Lives should be acknowledged as Hugger, should you seek to receive hugs by anyone else. You, Hug-Receiver, will receive a hug in Fall 2013 at the address provided by Hug-Receiver following agreement to these terms.”

You then wait patiently at your door during Fall of 2013 for your hug to come. Finally, someone arrives and embraces your touch-deprived body tightly. It feels so good it’s almost painful, how much you’ve wanted and worked to get this hug, and how quickly it’s over and how much you want it again. Then, you return back to writing cover letters and submitting them…