Thursday, May 12, 2005

One important rule and two tidbits

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.


the machinist said...

Anne--can you e-mail me at

I've got news about forthcoming midwestern implants.

Garbo said...

I liked the part about dissing our own work being like offering food and saying it might be spoiled. The other part about self-dissing is that I never know if the self-disser really is having a low-ego moment or secretly thinks this is the greatest thing they've ever written and they're afraid I won't realize this. Then if I have a bit of critique meant to be helpful, it might not go over so well.

By the way, somehow I got pulled into blogsplot and now I not only have a text blog but I tried out the audioblog service too. Cool!

jenni said...

sometimes when people say, "This Sucks" I think they are fishing for a compliment, kinda like when a skinny girl tells her friends, "I'm so fat"

other times i believe they believe it--because i know that i go through these rapid cycles of loving my work and hating it.

hey Woody, I wanna know too! I visit Bloomington all the time! Forward all gossip here:

Radish King said...

I don't think it's as simple or clear as fishing for a compliment when a poet talks down his or her poem in a workshop. I don't engage in this, at least I try not to, and I discourage it in the workshop I teach, but I admit to having an intense love/hate relationship with my poems, often adoring and loathing them within the same 2 minutes. I think other poets may be the same, and sometimes it's tempting to give voice to these little demons, to let them rattle out of their boxes, especially when one's work is on the dissecting table.

Emily Lloyd said...

Well, I've never been to Indiana, and I want the gossip, too. [grin]

Rebecca, your comment resonates with me a lot.

And Anne, I'd be kind of glad to get a "sorry," even more so than a "try us again." I've gotten quite nice "try us again"s from Poetry and The New Yorker, but makes me not want to try them again. I'm a lousy sender-outer. It was my New Year's Resolution to send out more this year. I have. But that means to 4 or 5 places only. [grin] I think if I lived only, I'd be better about rejections. But I just hate it when Mel sees me getting rejected, the little envelopes addressed to me in my own writing. Dumb, I know.

Emily Lloyd said...

Um, I meant "if I lived alone," not "if I live only." Living only. Eek.

Anne said...

Mmm, some good comments on the "apologizing for your work" thing -- thanks! Yes, I think it can be a bit of a low-ego, fishing-for-compliments thing. It can also be a genuine dislike of your piece. I hasten to add that this dislike is often a healthy part of the writing/revising process. I know that sometimes right after I've written a new poem it's all shiny, it's my new toy, I'm utterly smitten with it and I keep looking at it like some glamorous model gazing at herself in the mirror. That attitude doesn't get much rewriting done, to say the least -- and sometimes turning around and hating the piece is the only way to get enough distance & objectivity so that you can start revising.

Believe me, I know about that love/hate relationship with one's own poems! It can be a bit crazy-making. I tend to love or hate whole huge chunks of work all at once. Right now I pretty much hate about 90% of everything I've ever written.

But, but, but. "This piece sucks" and "this is the best thing you're gonna read all year" -- neither of them has any place coming out of your mouth when you're sitting down to have the piece workshopped. It's just not constructive. And being attached to either adoring or loathing can keep you from being open to the honest critique your fellow group/workshop members can give.

Garbo -- welcome to the blogosphere!

Em -- you could always sneak off and get a p.o. box without telling Mel, and then she wouldn't see the rejection envelopes! *grin* (Other women sneak around to get love letters ... poets want their rejections undercover. There's something deliciously twisted about that.)