Intimations of Mortality

Lately I’m expending a lot of effort feeling frustrated by the lagging response times of most of the journals I’ve submitted to, fighting the urge to dash off mild yet curious emails regarding my poems. I feel stymied, depressed.

Lately I’m frustrated by my failure to stabilize Aidan’s ever-erratic sleep schedule, my attempts at weaning, my formerly reliable and now nonexistent writing time. My, my, my. Stymied, depressed.

There’s more, there’s always more, especially in the fall. Lovely, the blazing migration of leaves, but I’m not ready for the morning frost. The cold nights. The days with more than just a snap in the air. The early dark.

But really, it’s all a smokescreen. Because my mother is fighting lung cancer, and who isn’t helpless in the face of her mother’s mortality? The reminder that life may be tenacious, but still as frail as cicada husks.

The use of the word cicada is not gratuitously poetic. It was my mother who taught me the correct pronunciation of cicada, who identified that constant buzzing sound for me when we visited family in Georgia.

Since suddenly losing my father in 1993 this has been a fear, because only with that loss did the possibility of further loss even occur to me. It’s not news that youth carries a nearly impossibly impenetrable sense of immortality. Nearly.

I’m writing about this here because even though I’ve been distracted, I have no intention of letting A View from the Potholes become a fallow field. My tenacious life has transformed and expanded, and retracted, too, in so many ways since that night in 2007 I began.

Grave illness doesn’t have to mean that everything else pales in importance. I think that’s a mistake. Perspective is good. Having a sense of proportion. But life isn’t a hierarchy.

In the first episodes of “Lost,” the character of Jack said something to Kate about dealing with fear that’s always stayed with me, though I missed its last seasons. He said that when he’s afraid, he gives in to the fear, allows it its full rein, for five seconds. For five seconds he lets the terror in. Then, at the count of five, he moves on.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five —

 

Sub·mit (səb mit′) — origin: ME submitten < L submittere < sub-, under, down + mittere, to send

It’s September, the first days of autumn — officially here in two days — beginning of migration season — birds & leaves — colder temps and colds. Naturally, my children are celebrating by both of them coming down with whoppers of colds. I’m not the nervous type, but Aidan’s breathing so concerned me last night that we ended up in the ER. Diagnosis, bronchitis, no need for x-rays — at least not yet — we don’t seem to be dealing with pneumonia — at least not yet. Keep an eye on him, etc.

They’re both pretty miserable & subdued, one of the side benefits of which is periodic interludes of peace & quiet, sadly uncharacteristic of our usual household. Which is to say that I’m going to use this fleeting time to catch up on some reading & (gasp!) maybe even do some writing.

But before I go: I always have poems out there, but September is also the month when open submissions begin for many journals, and hence the month that many writers concentrate on sending their submissions, the Fall Submission Blitz (FSB), if you will. In honor of  FSB, below are two witty & simpatico articles on rejection. Let loose the Kraken!

  • Corey Ginsberg on “The Two Faces of Rejection”:  Rejection from the editor’s side and, of course, the writer’s — “You rock fetal on the floor next to the SASEs, and wish you had other life skills. What about juggling?”
  • Claire Guyton on “Fondling Failure”: Because I’ve saved every one of my rejections since the very first submission I made at the green green age of 19, and I’m so glad I did. They’re historical documents, that history being mine. Rejections aren’t, unfortunately, irreplacable — as long as you submit there are bound to be more — but if I’m doing something right, hopefully they’ll be at least unique, with small pen indentations of encouraging words. And that’s definitely worth saving.

Submission Fees: A Manifesto of Sorts

C. Dale Young has a poll going on at his blog asking what, if anything, we various and varied poets would be willing to pay to submit poems to a journal electronically. The comment stream is long and full of thought-out and reasoned opinions. Based on the results of the poll, an overwhelming majority would be unwilling to pay any fee at all. I lean that way myself, and I’m trying to organize my thoughts to explain why.

  1. One argument for fees is that $3 is what you would pay for a postal submission anyway, why not put that money toward supporting a journal? To which I say, Wha?! Maybe in your spendthrift universe, but not here!  I just bought two reams of paper for a penny per, and I’ll make them last, too. Toner was more, but still purchased at a bargain.
  2. And if you want to argue that time is money, it’s actually quicker to print up a hard copy submission than it is to copy & paste different poems into a single new document to upload to a submission manager or attach to an email. I do it because it saves me money in postage.
  3. And what makes submitting online so free, anyway? I’m paying a goodly amount per month for my internet connection, more than I ever spent on stamps. I do so because it makes my job and home office possible, and endlessly enriches my poetry community. It’s a necessity these days. But it’s sure not free.
  4. The idea of paying a fee for the honor of a form rejection rankles. A lot.
  5. Would this mean that journals would start paying for poems in cash money instead of comp copies? Somehow I doubt it. I’ve never minded receiving comps as payment for my poems — I’m a fan of the journals that publish my poems. To my mind, it’s a deal we’ve struck: I won’t charge you for printing my poems, and you don’t charge me for reading them. Without submissions, a journal would have little to print.
  6. Subscriptions and donations are how a journal should raise money. Reading fees are coerced donations and feel predatory. And punitive.
  7. And for those of you who say, But $1-3 isn’t too much to ask to support a journal you like, $1-3 adds up! How lovely for you if you can afford to spend money on air, but when I send a journal a check, I like to receive an issue in return. For those of you who have that marvelous, ephemeral thing known as “discretionary” or “disposable” income, I’ll put that $1-3 in perspective for you: my 18 month old’s primary food group is yogurt, he eats two 6 oz. containers a day. On a sale day I can find his favorite for 49¢. For $1 I could put him in yogurt for a day, for $3, three days. That’s not nothing to me.

I love literary journals. Anyone who’s been a reader here for a while knows I subscribe to many. But I won’t submit to a journal that raises money on the backs of writers who make little or nothing for their work as it is. I probably wouldn’t subscribe to one either. If you need to raise money, get creative: print up some broadsides from poems you’ve printed, have the poets sign them, &  sell them on your website. Hold subscription salon parties. There are many journals making a go of it without university support, and they do it with great heart and without taxing would-be contributors.  I suggest the folks at hard-up journals have  good long conversations with those editors if they want to keep on keeping on.

We’re all on the side of the angels here. What happens next could change everything.

Thanks for the memories, Rejection Edition.

One of the other things I neglect in order to focus on poems is this blog, and blogs in general. Sorry about that. On the up side, however, I wrote a new poem. I have one more small edit to make — which I’ve been thinking about since last night when Lance read it & pointed out that a line was confusing — and, okay, there’s an image near the end that I’m not entirely happy with yet & is acting as more of a placeholder until I come up the right-er one. But it’s pretty close to done, and I’m pretty close to happy with it. Which makes for a pretty perfect sort of day.

*

Literary Rejections on Display today is highlighting the new book, Other People’s Rejections by interviewing its author, Bill Shapiro. It’s an interesting interview, and he closes with this piece of advice:

Risk rejection… and save your rejection letters. No, no—not for me. For you! Not every writer will have the story about the 30 publishers who rejected them before landing on the best-seller list. That’s not what this is about. You’ll look back on the letters years down the line and see them as markers of your passion, your bravery.

Now I don’t know from bravery, but I’ve saved all my rejections since I began submitting too long ago.  I do think of them as “markers of [my] passion,” indicators of the seriousness I take my writing. As unsettling as the idea is that my poems are actually getting out into the world & being read by strangers, I consider finding an audience for my poems part of the work of being a poet.

Some evenings I pull out the bulging file of rejection slips (while also noting with no small satisfaction that the acceptance file is gaining weight too), and, in an act my husband considers masochistic, I page through the papers. But I do this for two reasons. First, it reminds me how far I have progressed: the early days of peremptory slips have given ground to many more personal notes. Second, it reminds me of those encouraging notes, of journals I haven’t tried in a while that I need to send work to. I find that I tend to get in submission ruts, forgetting certain journals for periods of time. My rejection file is a great resource, an archive of journal contact history. I hope I always have it.

*

The First Annual NaPoMo Poetry Giveaway was very good to me, to my neverending surprise. My winnings:

  1. from Jennifer Gresham at Everyday Bright, a copy of her chapbook, Explaining Relativity to the Cat. This just arrived today — thank you, Jen!
  2. from Ron Mohring at Supple Amounts, a copy of Deb Burnham’s chapbook, Still.
  3. from Ronda Broatch at After Artist’s Way, copies of her chapbooks, Some Other Eden and Shedding Our Skins.

It was great fun meeting so many new folks, though I’ve been so wrapped up in my own work since then that I haven’t explored the blogosphere much. Thanks again to everyone for making poetry month so much of a real celebration.

Draft of the Week, #10.

Did you know there’s going to be a partial lunar eclipse on December 31, 2009? I was already working on this poem yesterday when I read this — there are amazing websites that list all the upcoming celestial happenings, and run graphics that show you what the sky/moon/sun will look like during the event.  Because these events always seem to happen at ungodly hours on cloudy nights.

Lots of Collected Poets Series doings right now, keeping me ultra-busy — check out our excitingly full slate for next year — but I hold out hope that I’ll still fulfill Mary’s “3 New Poems before 2010” challenge — and I received a welcome extra boost yesterday in the form of an acceptance from The MacGuffin.  The last couple weeks have seen many long-awaited rejections, a couple personal & encouraging, the rest little form slips.  Sigh. Thus this acceptance has taken on greater significance by virtue of (presumably) being the last word on the matter this year. And this is the 4th NaPoWriMo 2009 poem to be taken so far, nice assurance that the angst was worth it.

This poem will stay up the usual couple days, and then [poof!]:

[poof!]

Pleasures of the Quotidian.

After what has been a time of submission silence, and week of personal strangeness, this evening I received a clutch of emails from journals, and not an actual rejection among them.

  • One acknowledged receiving my submission (sent 44 days ago), and assured me I’d hear from them again with 4-8 weeks.
  • One apologized for the delay in responding to my submission, and assured me that I’d hear from them again soon.
  • One apologized that I never heard from them last spring (I learned they rejected me from an emailed response in June to an emailed query I’d sent in May — their records indicated mailing my SASE o’ rejection in March. I never got it.). And although I was still rejected, they would love to see more of my work.

And each of these emails was sent utterly without provocation — I promise I’ve been patient, and have done no prodding & poking of editors. Curious, these sudden displays of courtesy!

All in all, an apt bookend to my week — the holding pattern holds.

*

In other news, today I received my copy of Anne Haines‘ new chapbook, Breach, from Finishing Line Press — very elegant! Into the queue it goes — I can’t wait to spend some time with it.

Cave Wall 2.

I did at last receive my rejection from Cave Wall (www.cavewallpress.com), and I have to say, if I weren’t already happily married with child etc, I would totally fall in love with the editor. Seriously. That was the single greatest rejection ever! — loaded with comments & praise — subscribe now, Rhett (the editor) is awesome, she deserves beaucoup rewards for such generosity! And as I mentioned earlier, it’s an excellent journal, too.

I won’t go so far as to say a great rejection is better than an acceptance, but I’ll be carrying this envelope around with me for a while.

Cave Wall.

The Winter/Spring 2008 issue of  Cave Wall (http://www.cavewallpress.com) arrived in my mailbox today.  This issue’s contributors include Charles Harper Webb, Tracy K. Smith, James Harms, and Jennifer Grotz, and art by Hector Ruiz.  I really like this new poetry journal (this is their 3rd issue), it’s one of the many I subscribe to.  The poems are accessible and absorbing, and I often find myself finishing a poem only to go right back to the beginning again.  From the beginning of Jennifer Grotz’s “The Tulips”:   How individual they become when they die:/ I love the vase of tulips most then./ Each one relinquishes modesty and withers/ into its last expression.

And Cave Wall is cheap, only $5 per issue!   Yes, I like them very much.  I’m awaiting my rejection from them even so.

Enough to break a poor mother’s heart.

It’s taken me a few days to process, deal, & forgive, but the story is this:

I came home from work on Sunday to find that my darling husband had given our precious son a haircut. And not just any haircut, but….a mullet!

He cut my precious baby boy’s soft blond curls & transformed him into a miniature 1980’s power balladeer. Marriages have foundered for less.

Clearly I could not let this stand, could not subject my boy to the ridicule & shame, so I was forced to take scissors in hand and cut his hair myself. The results are not bad, hair-wise, but oh, my baby is gone, and a little Christopher Robin-boy stands in his stead.

Only with better hair, I promise.

Is there a poem for this?

*

It’s textbook rush season, so I don’t have the time to write it out, but I haven’t forgotten about my forthcoming-poetry-books round-up. I’m stockpiling catalogs, or ripping pages from otherwise uninteresting catalogs, and will start posting the ones that interest me most soon.

*

And I forgot to mention–I learned that my chapbook manuscript was a semi-finalist in a contest–this on its very first foray out into the dark dark world! Hurrah!

Are there other breeds besides poets who can find encouragement in so little?

To Submit…

For some mysterious reason that has something to do with my browser, my old ibook, or combination thereof, I cannot comment on Word Press blogs from my home computer-no field shows up, nada. I say this to let all you fine fine people who comment know that I’ve read your comments with glee & will respond from my work computer (on a break, of course) as soon as I can.

*

I once had a poet friend who did not send poems to journals because he found the entire process of “submitting” demoralizing and demeaning. He was only partly kidding.

By way of C. Dale Young’s blog, I found this post by Jackson Bliss. It’s a very funny rant. A couple excerpts:


if it takes you a year to reject me, you need to send me your home address with the rejection letter so i can drive to your stuffy apartment and smack you across the head for wasting my time and feeding my irrational dreamworld.

now i’m only gonna submit my stories to the best lit journals (defined in my own way), journals that accept online submissions, and journals that give me good rejections.

new yorker: what the hell is wrong with you? does it really take you over 6 months to send me this as a rejection email:

“dear author,

we haven’t read your story and we never will because we don’t know who you are and your name won’t attract readers, so why don’t you stop sending us stories until people know who you are.”

okay, they don’t say that but they might as well. . .

I rarely submit online, because of said computer and the fact that, as I expressed re: Subtropics, I can’t tell sometimes if my rejection is a form or personal, and it goes without saying that that matters, and, as a bricks and mortar bookseller, real physical paper matters to me, too, and real physical mail, and notes with ink on them, i.e., “good rejections.”

I enjoy the process of submitting, enjoy looking through journals and deciding which will be the lucky recipient of my “artful poems” next. You’re right, Emma, it is a hopeful thing.

But holy moses, what follows, the interminable waiting, well, I gotta go with Jackson on that one. I understand the whys and wherefores, and I do my best to do my share, subscribing to many journals & buying many more off the shelf at independent bookstores (though with the demise of De Boeur’s {sp?}, the distributor of the lion’s share of literary journals, I don’t know how often that will occur anymore), but months & months of an empty mailbox can wear a body down. I know the smart tack is to send ’em out & forget about ’em, get to work on other poems. But while I get to work, I can’t help keeping another eye out for the mail.

*

The good news is that (I’m almost afraid to say it out loud) Vincent is honestly & truly well again. Knock wood. He’s a skinny little young ‘un, he can’t afford too much of this sort of thing!