Thursday, April 26, 2012

I love you, I forgive you

The first quarter of my year long nothing-but-my-own-writing sabbatical is almost through and I'm thinking yeah, maybe this needs to be a 2-5 year sabbatical. I haven't written as much as I hoped and dreamed, but I'm writing and happy with the direction. I'm allowing myself to remain open too all sorts of direction, no matter how dopey or unsettling. Create first, discern later is the new motto. Since God Damsel, I became too critical and kept stalling myself before I even started. The negative voices were in major overdrive and sometimes I couldn't write more than a sentence before dropping a piece entirely. Now I reply to those voices with simply I love you or I forgive you and keep plowing on.

Yes, that's right, I'm regularly loving/forgiving her, them, er, me. Whoever it is I'm responding to.

I'm not sure if these voices have quieted because they feel acknowledged and accepted or if they just find my responses excruciating and no longer wish to communicate, but hey, whatever works. My demons are my new bffs.

So far I've only sent out a handful of submissions, just to a few places that invited me. Testing the waters so to speak. The work is bizarre, demented, fill-in-the-blank. Yesterday somebody on FB was going off on poets who don't use proper capitalization in their poems and that brought in a bunch of comments like "guess those cool avant garde kids were too busy skipping English class." That hurt my feelings. First of all, eschewing standard capitalization in a poem doesn't make one avant garde. I'm not exactly sure what does, but I'm pretty sure it's a bit more than that. Second, I was a good student and I didn't skip English class and I wasn't especially popular in high school either and I don't go around calling myself avant garde because I use my own set of grammar rules for my poems, so project your high school insecurities somewhere else. We're grown ass poets, so let's live and let live.

Speaking of going back into time, recently an editor from a new magazine that hadn't yet published its first issue invited me to send work. Now magazines with no past issues put out by editors unfamiliar to me can be tricky because it's difficult to surmise what the final product will be or what it is that they're looking for. After "That's Not Butter" appeared in BAP years back, I got a lot of invites to submit from newish magazine editors who, as it turns out, were only familiar with that one poem. When I'd respond with my latest and greatest, they'd often be like uuuhhhhh . . ., you know, like they responded to my profile on a dating site that only had a picture of me from 10 years/400 pounds ago and I showed up to our date as the Stay Puft Marshmallow in drag. That's OK. An invitation to send work is just that, an invitation to send work, nobody is promising anyone publication. In more cases, I do better sending work unsolicited because I take the time to discover and get to know receptive venues.

Despite these past experiences, I still work under the assumption that an editor who personally invites me to send work, is to some degree familiar with my work. This particular editor's inquiry did demonstrate that he was familiar with some of my more recent work so I sent some for consideration. I heard back not too long later saying that he and his co-editor wanted to take one of the poems but had some editorial suggestions. I opened the file to find that they basically workshopped my poem like I turned it in for an undergrad intro CW class. They standardized all the capitalization (of course) and cut out entire sections dealing with an icky penis monster (yes, I believe my poem passed my test and earned its penis) and the only other monster with references to sex.

Now, I'm not a magazine editor anymore, but back in my day, I wouldn't have accepted a poem that I felt needed such extensive editing. I would have passed. I didn't have to think very long before I wrote back and thanked him for his consideration but I was not interested in making the edits. I went on to write that if they didn't want the poem as it is, I'd rather pull it. I got it, the poem didn't fit their editorial aesthetic. It happens. In my case, it happens a lot.

I received 2 guilt-trippy responses from the editor. He told me how disappointed he was. He said the edits were to start a conversation with me about the poem. That's all fine and good, but by the edits they suggested it was clear that they wanted to change my poem into something very different and I didn't want that. I would have been receptive to editorial suggestions that approached the poem for what it was trying to accomplish, but not suggestions to give it some socially-acceptable makeover colonic. I didn't know what else to say except my vision for my poems comes before publication.

If changing my poems meant $$$ for my mortgage, I'd be more willing to sell out. But as it stands . . .

I'm probably going to distort something Rebecca Loudon commented on Kevin Andre Elliott's blog years ago, but I can't find it now. It was something like, you get to a point as a writer when you know who you are and what it is that you're trying to do -- it's a point where influences that don't really belong no longer carry the anxiety they used to before you knew.

Ok, she said it a lot smarter and better than that, so Rebecca if you remember what it is that you said 12 billion years ago when people used to keep poetry blogs, please note it in the comment field.

Whatever it was exactly that she said, the idea made a deep impression and I feel like I've been slogging to that point over these past few years. Yes, deep down I want everyone to think I'm brilliant and love my work, but it has to be my work, not someone else's idea of what it should be.

That's right, I love you and I forgive you and Damn girl, you smell gooooood.


  1. Reb, love your post. Love that you're doing nothing-but-your-own-writing, and that you're not workshopping your poems with journal editors. When I was editing *jubilat,* on rare occasion we asked for small edits, but never anything that shifted the poem's direction. When we found ourselves discussing lengthy potential edits, we took it as a sign that we should simply ask the poet to send some more poems instead.

    The people who were hating on non-capitalizers were probably talking about me. : ) It's nice to think that my (or our!) aesthetic choice is interpreted as wanna-be-coolness. Previously, I'd heard it was a sign of the writer's lack of self-esteem. (Nothing says ego like a capital "I"!)

    Wishing you all the best as you explore the various sex monsters haunting your personal demonology --


  2. I'm having a fantasy of a movie called Mean Poet Girls where the Non-Capitalizer clique makes bitchy comments about grammar and give those poor suffering Capitalizers wedgies in gym class. Then a giant penis monster emerges from the depths of hell and eats the entire cast.

  3. Late to this post, but it's fantastic. Rebecca, as usual, nails it. I remember that line, too, but can't remember when it posted. I think you summarized it well.

  4. Hi Reb! I haven't read your blog in a thousand years because of your sabbatical, and because of all the drugs I've been taking, and don't you hate it when people use a thousand anything in a poem instead of like one hundred fifty seven?

    But you're right. You've earned your penis and your right to capitalize if you want or not and anything else you want to do in a poem. I'm glad I wasn't privy to that particular thread or I would have grown paranoid that they were writing about me. My Henry Darger poems not only have random CAPS (in what I think of as Henry's voice) but they lack punctuation. ALL punctuation. I could respond to the punctuation thing as a matter of style and also as a matter of tendinitis in my left hand but it's nobody's business.

    I sent some poems to a journal I love and they wrote back that they were looking for the kind of poems I was writing when they first published me ten years ago. WHOA! Some poets never get past the POETRY BOARD MENTALITY or I GOT AN MFA mentality and change scares them and they remain mediocre. You however are not mediocre and you shouldn't listen to those who push you in any direction. (Except me.)

    Seriously. This is why I constantly question the idea of community when it comes to poetry. There is a strong swing toward a hive mind that is debilitating toward ones' art.

    Okay. No coffee yet. Hi Collin! I'm crawling back to bed.
    The Other Rebecca

  5. Thanks for chiming in, Rebecca and hello Collin!

    I dream of questioning community.