30 December 2010

Something I Like: "Our Lady of the Electrical Substation"

This week's poem at Linebreak is "Our Lady of the Electrical Substation" by Jeffrey Schultz.

It's the sort of beautiful and startling poem—"the hum of it, the substation's carcinogenic / Psalm, seemed to cycle at the same rate as the soul"—that I've come to expect from Jeff since our brief time together at the University of Oregon. To make a good thing even better, Linebreak features a reading of the poem by Joshua Robbins, another poet whose days in Eugene overlapped with mine and whose poems are no less extraordinary.

There's always a lot of talk about creative writing programs, but this is all I'll say: more than ten years after arriving in Oregon, I'm still grateful for the community of writers I found there. In the past week alone, I've exchanged emails with a couple of classmates, spent an afternoon with a poet who remains one of my closest friends, and found Jeff's poem and Josh's reading of it. As the holidays wind down and I think about the start of another year, I can't help but feel grateful for all of them—for their friendship, for their support of my writing, and for their poems and stories.

Music at the moment: Iron & Wine, Walking Far from Home

09 December 2010

On writing & rejection (sort of)

Almost exactly a month since my last post. Apologies to the handful of readers who have stopped by and found me missing. Apologies also for not having very much to offer now.

The reality is: I'm only posting now so that I don't officially go more than a month without posting something. I'm not sure how it's worse to maintain silence for thirty-one days rather than thirty, but I'm pretty sure that it is. I'd planned on writing a mini-essay on writing and rejection, but that plan got lost in a month of grading, conferences, holiday stuff, toddler sickness, and revising and submitting a stack of rejected poems. Whatever I'd planned to say is long gone and likely wasn't very original in any case.

One thing I will say: last week, in one twenty-four hour stretch, I received five rejections. Now, like most writers out there, I've grown used to the rejection that comes along with sending out manuscripts. I recognize that it's part of publishing, that the process is more-or-less subjective, that it doesn't and shouldn't reflect my relative worth as a human being. I even make my lame little jokes—mostly self-deprecating—as I (over)analyze the scribbled-in-ink message (or lack thereof) on each lame little slip of paper. But five rejections in one day? That's rough. So it was nice to get a handwritten letter from an editor—in pen, on full-sized paper, with a legible signature—tucked into yesterday's SASE. Of course, it was tucked in there with the usual lame little slip, but that's not the point. It was nice.

Then there was today's form rejection, which is the real reason I finally sat down to write this post. A two-line email message from "The Editors" that begins typically enough:
Thanks for giving us the chance to read your work; unfortunately, it doesn't meet our needs at this time.  
Then, the next sentence begins with "However," which has me thinking "we enjoyed your poems and invite you to submit again" or something along those lines. Instead, the next sentence reads:
However, we promise that if you keep writing, we'll keep reading.    
I laughed out loud. I love it, though I really shouldn't. There's that conditional "if you keep writing" which basically offers the opposite of encouragement—the editors, in fact, aren't even sure that I'll continue writing poems. If I do, they'll "keep reading," but notice they don't say what they'll be reading—probably not poems by me (which, remember, I may or not keep writing). It's a brilliant rejection. What appears at first glance to be a generous little moment of encouragement is really nothing of the sort. It's an easy letdown. I'm walking away from the woman of my dreams thinking "She's awesome" when I suddenly stop and ask myself "Wait, did she just break up with me?" Yes. Yes, she did. Of course, I'm free to keep writing (or not), and they'll go on reading (poems that meet their needs in ways that mine can't), but there's no mistaking (it is, after all, a promise) that it's over between us.

Music at the moment: Josh Ritter, So Runs the World Away