OK, a few final thoughts to wrap up my week of blogging. Thank you everyone for reading these posts! I’ll see you back up on BAPBlog in the Fall when my book Striking Surface (winner of the Richard Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press) comes out. So, loose ends:
1) About taking care of each other
Two organizations have been called to my attention (thanks to Elizabeth Macklin & Patricia Spears Jones) that do work to help poets take care of each other. The first is
& the second is
So please donate to these wonderful causes—and remember them should you ever fall on hard times!
2) More on Avatar
I tend to find David Brooks a bit frustrating, but I
actually completely agreed with his analysis of Avatar! Here
it is. The Messiah Complex
OK, so after reading the panel discussion about non-linear
narrative in the current Writer’s Chronicle,
I promise to revisit Memoir with a less reductive eye towards the arc. On my list that I promise to read: Nick
Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City; Alex Lemon’s Happy; and Paul Lisicky’s Master Builder. These were selected for being
books that have hovered on my radar for a long time but that I haven’t gotten
to yet. They are also by people that I know, another of my challenges.
I would greatly welcome recommendations of additional memoirs that would challenge my Sunday morning statement: “Memoirs have a story to tell; they give meaning to chaos (hence the public’s taste fr memoir and my accompanying distaste).” And you get special points for self promotion, so suggesting your own memoir is double thumbs up.
4) Insults, not injuries—how to deal with unpleasant moments
in journal publication
So I've just had the unpleasant conclusion to an unpleasant interaction. Here is the timeline
Spring 2009: I get an e-mail from a friend about a journal that's starting up and looking for submissions. Contact information for Poetry Editor X is included, and I send poems to Poetry Editor X. Poetry Editor X acknowledges receipt and welcomes me to the ground floor of the journal.
Summer 2009: I get an e-mail from Poetry Editor X soliciting poems, and telling me who recommended me. I respond that we'd already been in contact, and resend the poems. He responds that he thought my name looked familiar.
Fall 2009: Not having heard from Poetry Editor X, I ask if he's made a decision about the poems I sent him in the Spring. He responds that he doesn't actually reject poems, he simply lets the poets know which poems he wants as he wants them. I hope that this is not about to become common practice, and check with other editors to confirm that Poetry Editor X is engaged in an outlying practice. Everyone I ask finds this practice as distasteful as I do, but I decide not to send Poetry Editor X a letter suggesting that he correct his practice to fit mainstream journal world.
Winter 2010 (last week): Poetry Editor X tells me that he's rejected my poems, and that he hopes I'll submit poems in the future and read his magazine.
So, I'm inclined to think that my mistake was in Fall 2009. I probably should have just withdrawn my poems, and been done with it. I suspect that I left myself open by letting the poems languor in his inbox. The damage here is mainly to my pride-- I've been circulating those poems since he made it clear that he wouldn't be making decisions about them—and in some ways, I should be glad that he’s come around to my way of thinking.
This is actually what one calls “situational irony”—when the previously desired outcome arrives, but is no longer desired. Most of us are familiar with this literary device from O. Henry Stories (or Jennifer Aniston movies). I wanted a straight-up-yes/no-answer in the Fall. But getting a straight-up-no after I’d been told that I would only ever get a straight-up-yes kind of stings.
I’ve always tried to approach editors from a position of gratitude, and I encourage my students to do the same. Editors are wonderful, and we’re losing them in this instantaneous, blog hungry world. And I think that gratitude for the work editors do is the best bulwark against bitterness when editors don’t want your work. But I’m not bitter here—I’m insulted. Not because he rejected my poems, but because he told me he wouldn’t before he did. And as so often happens, I have nowhere to send my negative affect. Trying to tell Poetry Editor X that his behavior is rude would have no impact. My experience is that telling people of their rudeness generally makes them defensive and hostile, and simply entrenches them in their rudeness (repeating the behavior to reassure themselves that it's OK).
I think that most writers are a bit crazy, and I encourage editors (who are usually also writers) and writers to phrase their correspondence such that the writing is foregrounded, and their own crazy is kept out of it. The less you say the better. Cover letters and rejection letters should be direct, pleasant, minimal.
I'm back where I started, here on the island of misfit toys.