Booking It: A Quest for Publication - Part 6: This Is Not an Uplifting Piece
In the world of poetry publishing, September is a kind of sweeps month. Many literary magazines waive their reading fee, and presses open their mailboxes to unsolicited manuscripts, and the poets and novelists and storytellers across the nation furiously dot their I’s and cross their hearts and hope to sigh when their words find a sympathetic editor.
It’s go time. It’s open season. It’s all hands on deck.
A week in, and I’ve already grown exhausted: with my dinky poems, with stodgy university journals and alt-indie zines who think they’ve got something new, with publishers small and large, with overly-clever submission guidelines and overwrought “About Us” pages, with writing cover letters and author bios and poem titles and chapbook themes and, and, and… It’s boring. It’s insular. It’s futile. It’s hot!
Welcome to the dog days of the Napa summer, and the dog days of Booking It.
I keep thinking, can’t there be another way? Can’t somebody do something different? To make this process interesting, to make me care, to change how poems are shared and read and published? Is there anything out there in the world of publishing that excites me?
I don’t mean to drag you down into this with me, but I wonder what you do, in your perspective creative fields, when you grow fatigued and disillusioned with the structures of access (the gatekeepers, like editors and agents and gallery owners), or with “paying your dues,” or when you don’t see your work as fitting into the existing system, and therefore your work seems powerless.
Do you pull out? Do you become an anarchist trickster, thumbing your nose at the institutions of your craft? Do you recede to your studio as a recluse?
How do you keep swimming? And how should I?
I remember the moment I was turned on to poetry. I mean, I had been writing what someone might call poems, but they were a primordial form, they were DNA without the blood and guts and breath. And then, in the A.P. English informational meeting sometime in the spring of junior year, we were given copies of Sylvia Plath’s “Cut”:
What a thrill—
My thumb instead of an onion
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge
A flap like a hat,
Then that red plush.
I was enamored by how that dash at the end of the first line set up the entire mood of the poem. That dash, like the knife itself, sending the poem into fascinated shock.
That dash was the big bang that motivated my writing to develop lungs and opposable thumbs and climb out of the soup of sad sack sophomore soliloquy.
…Before You Wreck Yourself
[Have you been counting the metaphors here? There are many. One more:]
What’s scary about putting my work out there is recognizing that outside my small pond, I am not a as large a fish as I thought: the literary world is teeming with life (and yes, a few floating islands of garbage), and there are many fish just like me and you: decent artists, wanting a stranger to take delight in their art. And the fear of being eaten, or ignored, causes frustration, stagnation, anger.
In that anger I have forgotten the schools, the leaps, the splashes—and dashes—I made to get out of the small pond.
We press on.