The poetry collection that I mention in this post, and the poem I include, have still not been published, as my focus turns, once again, to my novel. Plus, the poems need more work.
Also, having read some poetry in magazines, I no longer agree that being published in a magazine means that your poetry is of high quality (though I contradict that initial claim later in this post).
(originally posted January 15, 2009)
So it’s been a while since I wrote a blog, but now I feel compelled to vent. I have often vented before in actual diary entries in relation to my present condition, but they have always been followed by more concrete observations, such as my work status, living status, sanity status. ;-P But here, I shall wrestle with my future, with no reference to the situation that I am in now. Well, maybe just a little.
Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Noble to check out Poetry Market 2009,which deals with how to submit and publish poetry. Unlike with novels, there is so little perceived support for poetry in this country that you either 1.) have to be very famous (not necessarily as a poet), or2.) have to have been published in several major magazines, before someone will agree to publish a collection of your work. There are exceptions, of course, but the logic makes sense. If you’ve been published in several magazines, editors know that 1.) you write high quality work, and 2.) you have an audience. In fact, building an audience, even locally, is one of the focuses of the book.
Now, I don’t know what they do in Europe, or in countries in other parts of the world where poetry plays a more central role in people’s lives. Perhaps there, too, it’s best to get published in literary magazines or “glossies” so that agents and editors are coming to you, not the other way around. It’s just frustrating, though, that after having put together a collection of poetry, I now find out that it may all be for naught, and not in the same way as it is with fiction. In fiction, sure, agents like to represent authors who have published short stories somewhere, and certainly that will get you noticed, but a great novel will attract an agent, no matter who you are. A great poem may not, maybe because poetry is more categorized than even fiction, with all of its genres, is. There are numerous styles of poetry that go in and out of fashion, and so your poem getting published in a major magazine may have as much to do with your style or which “school” you emulate as it has to do with your talent. Of course, it’s easy to say this when I haven’t been published yet, and many talented authors–some much more talented than me–have had to send out ten times the amount of stuff that I’ve written before they’ve gotten anything published, and then perhaps ten thousand more before the next piece was published, which makes me come across as a whiner, something that I really don’t want to be, but perhaps is hardwired into me genetically. Yet when faced with a daunting task, shouldn’t I find a way around it? Or through it?
I guess what bothers me the most is that the business aspect of writing takes out most of the fun of writing, and it doesn’t have to. I mean,what better heroic narrative than that of a struggling writer, who sends out volumes and volumes of work and gets volumes and volumes of rejection letters before getting one of his poems published, then another, then another, his fame slowly spreading through the land. And yet I focus instead on all of the years of shit that I’ll have to go through before I can get noticed, and then I’ll be controlled until I can prove my worth in literary awards or in sales.
Ironically, it’s probably the fact that I don’t want to have anything to do with magazines, and yet may have to, that bothers me more than anything else. And yes, literary magazines do filter out truly bad writers who insult their parents’ good names every time they pick up a pencil, but as a merit system, it’s imperfect. With the talent I have now, I could probably get published in a magazine were I to have numerous poet friends who were published themselves helping me to get an in. Or maybe not. Maybe they would offer me the practicalities of the profession, and then see how well I learned. And maybe perseverance is more important than talent, even.
It just seems odd that the most corporate enterprise in America should be involved in finding and nurturing artists. If I wanted to work for corporate America, I’d be picking out cubicle furniture right now. And I could try to go the magazine route and get connections with other poets (Connecticut has a poetry society with dues being only $25 a year), while in the meantime shipping around my novel to agents (don’t get too excited, people. it’s got a long way to go before it’s finished).
The problem is that it makes more sense to publish my college poetry now, rather that later, since it forms a companion piece with my high school poetry,which is already six or so years old. And while I could go the vanity press or print-on-demand route, I feel that these poems are too good to be published in limited release. And there lies another problem, for by including all of my poems from college–minus some really bad ones–I have created a narrative, yes, and one that’s better than that in my high school volume, but still one that is handicapped by not picking the best of the best. Or the worry that, by bringing it to a respectable publishing company, they will want me to cut the poems that aren’t so great, or that don’t make much sense to anyone besides the people to whom I wrote them (nine or so poems in the collection). I also should get rid of my footnotes and place all of that information in the introduction, but that is easy enough. I only hope I will be allowed to write an introduction.
Of course, another truism is that the best way to get published, either in magazines or in manuscript form (for poems especially) is to enter the work in a contest. There’s usually a reading fee, but it guarantees that there’s a place for your story, provided it’s better than all the rest. Otherwise, more established writers tend to hog the pages of magazines,which makes sense for readership, and for promotion of the author’s next work, but cripples efforts to promote new talent, since less space is reserved for the new ones. But, then again, one may have less say over the format when your work is published. In magazines, that is not a problem: the poem and the story are what’s most important, and the format must follow the rest of the magazine. But in a manuscript, I’d like to have some say in how my finished project looks, while also gaining the authenticity that is reserved for those books that have gone through a filtering process, thereby making them (most of the time) better than if they had been self-published. Until the author has written enough stories, poems, etc. to be able to edit the work based on his strengths and deficiencies. Which never happens. You always need someone else to look over the work after you’ve finished writing it, so long as they know what they are doing.
Then perhaps that is what I should do. Due to the nature of some of the poems in that collection, I really don’t want my parents to proofread it. They can read it after it’s published. I could ask one of my friends, but they have to know me pretty well and be able to detach the poem they are reading from the man who is the poet.
So then, my desire to publish this collection of poetry as other books which we buy are published has to do with feeling that my work is at a level where the general population can enjoy it, and my wish to be heard by those people who fall outside of my circle of friends. And, so that I can get some feedback in this format, here is one of the poems that will be appearing in that collection. From my senior year:
Lady in white, where have you gone?
To chase the leaves and the sun’s rays, I suppose.
With your camera in tow, you came to photograph the dawn
And revel in Mother Nature’s repose.
You came to dance with fairies and join in their games,
Your virgin white dress swirling ’round as you go.
You do not take pictures for money or for fame
But do it because of the whiteness of the snow
Or the color of the flowers or the breadth of the trees.
You enjoy the attention that nature give to you
In the song of the robin and the flight of the bee.
Nature doesn’t lie; it always speaks true.
But now you’ve gone, and I don’t know where you went.
I’ll keep searching till I find you, or till my energy’s spent.