Big News in My Writing World (But Not a Manuscript Acceptance, Let’s Not Get Crazy)

It’s chilly—44 degrees out, and blustery.  There are few leaves on the trees, but they rattle as the wind blows, and somehow the weather is fooling me into believing it’s October.  I want to believe Halloween is right around the corner…because it would mean that November was right around the corner too, and that would mean it’s time for another NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been missing the energy of NaNoWriMo.  I’m still in the early stages of Hecate Applebough 3 (still untitled), and part of my lack of progress has to do with a weirdo persistent migrainey exhaustion I’ve been suffering for the last month (and which my Mom has nagged me about going to see a doctor for—ugh), and also not feeling that compulsion to write every day those 1,667 words because I have nowhere to chart the progress, no pep-talk e-mails from the NaNo people coming every few days encouraging me.  It’s just me now, and it’s harder to write, without the community.

But, a couple of days ago, a fortuitous tweet put me on to an app called Writeometer, which exists only for Android (sorry iPhone folks) and which gamifies the writing process, kind of the way NaNo does—you can set a daily/ monthly/ word goal, use its timer, enter your daily word count, and get reminders about writing, and you can earn “guavas.”  I don’t know all tricks of the app yet, so I’m not sure what earning the guavas can do for you, but I’m sure I’ll find out as I become more familiar with the app.  I’m looking forward to using it—I need the motivation.  So I’ll let you know how it goes.  (If any of my Five Readers have tried the app, I’d be curious to know what you think about it—but I suspect most of you are Apple users.)

Other than working on Hecate, I’ve produced a few short pieces lately—a few honest-and-for-true prose poems—one of them came out so well that I’ve “given” it to Hecate, and shoehorned it into the second book…although if I can get it published on its own, I will—and a few bits of flash that I want desperately to be prose poems, but I knew they aren’t.

Prose poems have a certain surreal quality—and so does my flash, except that the surrealism of prose poems is its own little thing.  When I try to do surreal flash, it just comes out as nutty.  Like maybe I’m trying too hard.  But hey, two pieces of just such flash were accepted by a journal on Monday, so I guess nutty works too.  In general, I just have a little “heart on” for prose poems, because they’re hard to do well, and because I think, in my mind, I still privilege poetry over prose as being Important and Worthwhile… while fiction just seems like something you do for cash.  (Not that I have received any cash for ANY bit of fiction I’ve produced—not ever—but you take my meaning, I’m sure.)  And of course, even as I write that, I know that’s a false dichotomy—but there it is.  The poet’s bias against fiction writers.  Hmm.

How’s this for burying the lede?  In other news, now that Dan Veach is passing the editorial reigns of The Atlanta Review over to Karen Head, she has asked me (WHAT????) to serve as the managing editor.  OMG OMG OMG.  This is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to sit down with her and discuss all the ins-and-outs, and really sink my teeth into this project.  Reading some brand-new poems (that aren’t mine—haha) that are searching for a home is exciting.  It’s been a long time since I did any work on a literary journal, and The Atlanta Review is a Big Deal—this isn’t any dinky fly-by-night online journal, this is prize-winning print journal with an international following.  The work that Dan Veach has done on the journal (founding it and running it) is amazing and impressive, and I’m so thrilled that I get to be involved…and so grateful to Karen for asking me to assist her.  Read Collin Kelley’s article in Atlanta INtown, about the transition of editorship to Karen, because it’s interesting and offers some history about the journal.  (As my first order of business as managing editor, I propose we update the website!)

What else is there to share?  I’m still working on reading those three books of poems I mentioned in my last blog post—I got a little distracted by my manga habit, and my weirdo exhaustion that makes me want to fall asleep at 6 p.m.—but I hope to finish them this weekend (in and around the 85,000 tennis matches I’ve scheduled).  And, I’ve gotten yet another rejection on my poetry manuscript, but I sent it out to two more places, and I’m crossing my fingers. At some point, SOMEONE is going to want it, right?  Maybe I need to “attach a few more zeros” onto the contest fees I send off… maybe bribery would work?  (You never know!)

Faux Pas?

I’m a firm believer that when I submit poems to journals, that I am entering a kind of conversation with the editors.  I’m not just sending my work and hoping for a publication–I’m really looking for my work to resonate with another human being.  If it results in a publication, that’s wonderful, and I’m pleased.

But more important, I think, is that moment of connection–or disconnection–when the editor decides Yes, this is good poem, or Eep! No chance in hell.  What is that moment like?  What is it about one poem that speaks to an editor, where another completely fails?

And what would it be like if an editor, recognizing this conversational moment, responded to the poet with some thoughts about the work the poet sent, either with publication acceptance contingent on suggested revision or just some candid and constructive (but generally kind) thoughts about the work?

Of course, most editors are too burdened down with work to bother to send more than a form rejection or acceptance.  But today, we read a poem that the first half was brilliant and absurd and very intriguing–spoke to us on a level that none of the other work submitted in the batch did.  But it was ruined by the second half that contributed nothing to the inner (absurd) logic, and moreover was offensive and clearly lacking that which made the first half so impressive.  In other words, the second half completely obliterated the first half, and we were terribly disappointed.

So we wrote the poet a note and (in kinder terms than what I  have expressed here) asked what he thought about ditching the second half.  I know, it was a terribly presumptive thing to do–and we did mention that our journal’s aesthetics were by no means the “right” aesthetics, blah blah.

Needless to say the comments  went over like the proverbial lead balloon.  I wonder why I’m even surprised.  Poets can be sooo touchy and territorial about their words.

But I think about the few times editors have asked to make changes on my work and offered a rationale for the changes.  In all but one case, the editor’s change improved the poem.  Now, to be fair, no editor has ever asked me to cut a poem in half, and again, I admit that was a pretty ballsy change to suggest, but it seems to me, if the submission of a poem is a conversation initiated, wouldn’t it be more useful to really talk about aesthetics and what we think makes a good poem?

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just naive.  Maybe it’s simply not done to share your thoughts about a piece of writing, like editorial trespass,  though I’d still argue they invited it by submitting work in the first place.  Maybe it’s better to send form letters either way.

All I know is I got into editing because I like to read poems and I like to see what people do with language and I want to share the poems I like with others.   However, from now on I think  I’ll just confine my conversations and insights to myself.  At least I’ll spare myself the wrath of an indignant poet .