Two rejection slips this week (so far). One had a scribbled "sorry" with the editor's name, which isn't as encouraging as "we liked this but" or "try us again" but I choose to be encouraged by it, dammit. Especially since it came from a relatively prestigious mag. Also in the mail today: an oversized postcard from the Fine Arts Work Center advertising their summer gallery schedule. In honor of the exhibit "Stanley Kunitz / The Wild Braid: A Celebration of Stanley's 100th Birthday," the front of the postcard is a lovely photograph of Kunitz in his garden, seen through a haze of unfocused leaves. I assume this photo is by Marnie Crawford Samuelson, whose exhibit it is. Too bad that exhibit doesn't open until three weeks after I'll be there. It's a neat photograph -- I may try to find a little frame that fits it, and hang it in my study. I was fortunate enough to hear Kunitz speak (it wasn't exactly a reading, more like a talk with some poems in it) two years ago in Provincetown. It was such an event -- the buzz in the room before he entered was palpable, and his energy/spirit was absolutely incredible. I thought, here's a man who has loved his life. And I realized that one of my own goals is for people to be able to say that about me, someday.
Well, not so much the "man" part. You know.
Today's newspaper, in the "weekend" tabloid section, has a nice article on poet Kevin Young. When he started winning prizes right and left a couple years ago, I predicted he wouldn't stick around Indiana much longer, and sure enough, I was right -- he's packing up and moving to Atlanta to teach at Emory. As I recall, Komunyakaa left right after he started scooping up prizes too. Go figure. I wonder who they'll recruit to replace Young -- if nothing else, this probably means there will be several worthwhile readings next academic year, since they always have their two or three top candidates do a public reading when they come in for interviews.
I may pick up his new book, Black Maria -- at least check it out from the library. I liked Jelly Roll quite a bit.
In my post about writers' groups last night, I forgot to write about one of the most important rules we had in Source. The rule was, "Do not apologize for your work." Which means: Don't bring a poem to a meeting saying, "Well, this isn't very good, but..." If you really don't think it's any good, don't bring it in. And don't be afraid to own the goodness of your work. It can be really hard -- especially for women, who are taught to be self-effacing -- to say yes, I'm a writer, what I write is worth reading and worth the effort I put into it. It can be hard to do, but it's important to learn how to do it. It's important to learn to believe in your own work.
This doesn't mean you can't bring in a poem to the group and say "look, this is just a first draft, don't spend our workshop time picking on misspellings and comma faults." Because, sure, you can do that. Sometimes you have a piece that's a first draft and all you really need to know is whether it's worth working on or not, where its energy is, whether it makes any sense whatsoever. Sometimes you have a piece that's particularly difficult for you, whether it's because you're working with difficult content or whether you're trying out a new voice or whatever, and over-workshopping it will be damaging. It's important to be aware of this, and if you're in a group that's okay with this, to let them know. In Source we talked about "heart" and "craft" and sometimes we'd ask for just a "heart critique" -- trusting the writer to go back and polish the craft later on. I don't think the two can be separated quite as easily as this makes it seem, but I think there's validity in recognizing those two aspects of writing and honoring both of them. I've been in workshops that focused heavily on craft and never stepped back to say, "hey, what you're writing about here is important material" or "look, you're writing about this relationship you had, but howcome the other person never shows up in the poems?" You can skate dangerously close to therapy, and the dynamic of that is different in an academic workshop vs. the "chosen-family" feeling of a writers' group that has been together for years, but it is still valid to spend workshop time talking about what we write about in addition to talking about how we write about it.
Anyway. Don't apologize for your work. Don't say "This sucks. Please read it." Because, I mean, that's kind of like saying, "Here, taste this. I think it's spoiled." It's just not nice, either to you or to your reader(s). Just bring the work to the table and put it out there. Give your own work that much respect. That's all.