Thursday, October 4, 2012

Plume Poetry Anthology 2012

What do Andrie Codrescu, Lydia Davis, Paul Muldoon, and G.C. Waldrep have in common with me? OK, fine, not all that much. But, all five of us have one thing in common and we share it with Rae Armantrout, Rafael Campo, Martha Collins, Tess Galager, Daniel Tobin, and Dean Young. We all have poems in The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2012. I'm still at the point in my “career” where all publications are exciting, and even more so when I happen to share space with some of my favorite writers, but I think this particular path to publication is worth narrating.

I started reviewing poetry for Bookslut in 2006 for the same reasons most people start reviewing; free books and a line on the old curriculum vitae. I decided to focus on poetry reviews because I felt I had enough time to give books of poetry the level of attention I believe books should get from reviewers; basically, with a job, my own writing and reading, and life in general, I felt I could read a book of poetry twice in a reasonable amount of time before writing a review. Knowing the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of hours that goes into a writing a book, it only seems fair to read one twice before passing any kind of professional judgment on it, and I just don't have the time in the day to do that for longer works. This has changed a little bit as I've learned what to look for when reading for a review and so I now do novels and other longer works, but mostly just for my personal blog.

So I had been reviewing poetry for Bookslut for about four years when they approached their 100th issue. I'd reviewed a bunch of collections for them, read a lot of poetry on my own, and write it, so I pitched a “state of American poetry,” essay for the special issue. This essay was one of, if not the, highlight of my critical “career.” (If I keep saying I have one, it means I have one.) Some obsessive googling revealed that a few people in the poetry world actually read it, thought about it, and discussed it. One person even used one of my ideas from the essay as part of the aesthetic groundwork for a lit mag. Another person was Daniel Lawless. (Real name as far as I know.)

Daniel got in touch with me because he was starting an online poetry magazine and liked what I had to say. (If you're wondering why anyone would start an online poetry magazine, well, I asked him.) He asked me to submit some poems and, because I'd been reviewing poetry for a while and because I worked at a bookstore, he asked me for some advice about getting the word out. I gave him some advice. He accepted my poem “Johnny Damon's Vacant Stare.”

Of course, I wasn't the only writer he solicited for submissions. Sometimes you've got to cast many lines to catch few fish. I don't know what Danny wrote in the other emails he sent out but he landed some prize winning catches almost instantly. The first issue had works by Rae Armantrout, Charles Bernstein, Alicia Ostriker and G.C. Waldrep. Number two had Stephen Dunn, Thomas Lux, and Donald Revell. Three had Tess Gallagher, six had Lydia Davis, nine had Andrei Codrescu and Billy Collins, ten Sharon Olds, eleven D.A. Powell. The anthology features works by those writers and more as well as stuff, like mine, that didn't appear in the online journal. If you want to know more about the process of going from an online lit mag to a print anthology check out the interview I did with Daniel for the PorterSquare Books Blog. We've also organized an event at the bookstore with Daniel that I'm going to host with readings from four of the contributors who happen to also live in the greater Porter Square area.

Getting something you've written published (at least short stories, poetry and short essays, hopefully I'll be able to tell you about how it feels to get a book published some day) is a very strange emotional experience. You work your ass off on the piece and then it's finished and then it sits there until you get around to submitting it. Then you wait. Then it gets rejected. So you submit it, wait, and it gets rejected again. Over and over, often for years until the piece itself becomes like someone you got really close to during one summer camp and then never really talked to again. Sure that person is important to the story of your life, but they've moved into a different emotional compartment, one you only access when you're telling stories about summer camps.

And then one time you submit it, wait, and it gets accepted. Then it's like that friend from summer camp showed up at your house needing to crash on your futon. It's awesome and strange. Of course you let them, but you no longer quite know what to think about them. With a poem or story or something, you end up rereading and seeing everything that is absolutely terrible about it as though it were a first draft all over again. Furthermore, if it's been a long time, one can be a very different (ideally better) writer from when the work was composed, with different skills, different goals, maybe even different tastes.

But this was a little different. In this case, Daniel asked me to send him some poetry based on ideas I expressed about poetry. In some ways, it couldn't be simpler. When someone asks you for work with an intent to publish your work, you send them your work. (At least when you're “career” is at the level mine currently is.) It would be one thing if my essay focused on say, development of line breaks, or asked for simple objects of conceptual-linquistic beauty or celebrated the ability of poetry to capture abstract experiences, but given the essay I wrote I had to ask myself, does my poetry do what I ask other poets to do? Does my work have evidence of ambition? Does it reflect a desire to write the next great movement? Is it even just as good as what I ask others to produce? Could I walk the walk? Of course, the real problem is that I can't answer any of those questions myself. I write what I write with whatever ideas, goals, and emotions are in my head, and it is up to the reader to place the work in whatever context, evaluation, poetics, the reader believes it belongs with.

Of course, if the want to put what I write in anthology with some of my favorite living poets and a few others who have won major awards, that'll be just fine too.

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