trading decorated notebooks of poetry with a Tennesseean. I was initially so discouraged with my try at decoration, what with learning first hand that cheap modeling clay really isn't a very workable covering material. Here is what I don't get--when I was a kid, cheap playdough dried in two seconds flat. Flat. Two seconds. Dried. Like a bone. Like a cover to a book. Like a really cool cover to a book. But not THIS cheap playdough. It's moist after weeks surrounding the little note book. I covered it over with construction paper, wrote something appropriately self-important about the fundamental malleability of the book symbolizing the malleability of the idea (as a poet, I remain a competent business attorney), and wrote in ten poems which even by my standards--which accept the good with the bad and treat wheat as pleasantly leavened by chaff--are entirely creditless.
I do not worry much about the poetry, as life has taught me that what I really like is rarely much loved, and the very few publications or notices I have gotten were by and large with poems I liked less than the ones nobody notices. If I had the appropriate look and swagger, I would turn that into some bohemian statement, but being a rather prosaic person, I will just take it as mild quirk and move on.
I was beginning to try to figure out how to scrape off the modeling clay and try something with paints, when voodoukween, who is an artist rather than an apostle of one dollar modeling clay, suggested that sometimes the best way to soldier on with a flawed idea is more or less, well, to just soldier on with it (my skills at paraphrase do not exceed my skills at art).
I determined to "make do" with what I had done, and turn flaw into supposed virtue. On went the construction paper cover over the modeling clay letter, on went two really mildly hip throwaway camera photos on top, on went a title to the book that made sense of everything, and INTO the envelope went a similar one dollar Dollar Store empty notebook, so that if my effort was not received with gratitude and thanksgiving, at least the recipient would not feel out a notebook. I took it all to the mail today, and now sit and wonder at a world so filled with beautiful things--none of which were made of modeling clay by me.
Lately, I'm tempted to submit poetry once again for potential publication, to those little magazines nobody reads but everybody wishes to be published by. For one thing, it would be neat to make a framed bit of wall art out of form rejection slips. Once upon a time, I submitted often and avidly. I found that getting published was largely a matter of hitting a particular "stride", and then submitting like mad. It was rather like sending out resumes on a job search--maybe one in thirty bites, one in forty. The little magazines, even the well known ones, are mainly places for people publishing or submitting to try to justify their grants or red-letter their "poets' credentials" for their MFAs. I frequently say that the music industry is dead, overthrown by independent recording technology and the internet. The field of published poetry has been dead for generations now, ripe for something new. I wonder if it was ever really alive. Its replacement is more sure, but it is not clear that it was ever more than a husk, anyway.
I remember in law school doing some research on lawyer advertising that required me to review old Arkansas Gazettes from the 1820s. Each paper had published poetry, in the first few pages, like a pastime. Those days are long gone.
Now poetry is largely something which can be vibrant or alive in coffeehouses and Friday evening readings, or a warm inside joke among academics who identify "stars" that nobody buys, write analyses of people nobody reads, and evaluate poems based on the credits contained in the submitter's cover letter. This snobbery happens in every field, but in poetry it makes less sense than anywhere, because there's no fame, fortune, power or even universally recognized aesthetic involved. It's just sustained whimsy. As I write this, I am suddenly a bit less harsh about it. I like sustained whimsy. But sustained whimsy it is.
It's not that I don't find some poetry "good", some "very good", some frankly "bad" and some "non-poetry". It's not that I don't recognize that at least several handfuls of solid critical matrices for poetry analysis exist which have some meaning beyond filler for dissertations. It's just that so often, "official poetry" is a dead letter office, with very little to do with connecting people to the medium.
The "slam" movement did a bit more with that, but was ultimately too limited a reed. In the long run, there are no real fields to plow in the world of small-circulation poetry mags and webzines, and one is "better off" publishing oneself.
Yet still I wish to submit to these very magazines I disparage. I am willing to read the little photocopied
form rejections, to thrill at a kind handwritten invitations to "show more", to gasp at an encouraging note, and to go into exhiliration at the rare notification that in roughly two years (unless times have changed), I will be published, and receive the munificient payment of two copies of the magazine.
Why am I willing to do that in which I disbelieve?
I have a job, the wherewithal to self-publish, and the kindness of friends and relative strangers who will read my work. I do not need a teaching position, an entry for a
poetry award, or to be asked to read at liberal arts colleges. My poetry will never make me famous, or happy, or particularly loved. Why, then, do I have this urge to
be evaluated by people whose work I respect less than they will respect mine? In particular, when I intentionally do not try to write "publishable" poetry, but instead try to write poetry that is fun for me to pen, and easy to read, why would I begin again to try to conform my work to what is "publishable"? It can be a bit dreary, you know, writing about emotions and making one's literary references so subtle that they masquerade as "insight" or "complexity". I suppose I know why I want to go back to submitting again. But my knowledge will not fit in one sentence.
Perhaps I am like one of my dogs, just dying for the validation of notice by "someone who counts". Perhaps
I have some mental resume in my head, ready to be typed up at death into an obituary or a letter of introduction to the Great Recording Angel. Maybe I have some fantasy, deep down, of being "known", and maybe even "loved", for my work. Maybe I just wish I could join some fraternity of intellectuals, like some tradesman who misses university. Maybe I just think I could drink mint tea with more confidence if I were published in "Poetry" or even "Exquisite Corpse".
Maybe, though, it is sheer whimsy, no more important or
wrong-headed than ponying up 20 dollars to play in a weekend chess tournament. I will never be a master, but it is fun to watch the moves, punch the clock, and see just whose king tumbles. I may not achieve checkmate all that often, but
it can be more fun than playing alone.
Besides, I do like to get mail, and to watch my post box,
even if the mail is just a form rejection. So I will continue on my path, publishing in my way, disdaining
the other way, and yet submitting notwithstanding my protestations of disdain to the disdainees seeking publication, and waiting for mail to come in, and dreaming great dreams and thinking great thoughts.
Hmmm....Poet's Market.....must buy.
Sense of perspective....must acquire.