by other blogs I've read recently that seem to belittle everything I'm trying to do as a poet right now. I never imagined that wanting to publish one's poems in a journal would be a controversial issue, but apparently it is. I understand the principal beind the idea that entering first-book-contests is a bit shady, but I never thought of it as a mark of shame, which is how Ron Silliman characterizes it in his most recent blog. Is it realistic to think that one can be "successful" as a poet without playing the game? I supose it's all about how you define success, and the bottom line is that others will judge you by whay you define as success. Right now, my goal is to publish my manuscript, probably by means of a contest if possible, but I am definitely open to a more "community" oriented mode, if I can find one or one presents itself. I want people to read my poetry, and not just on my blog, which means that I need to publish it in journals. To me, success is sharing my poetry with others, seeing how the world responds to it, and building off of that (to a certain extent). In order to enter a community, one must build their own community or be accepted by another, and while being in a community is a ideal place to be, it's not always so easy to find one, especially one that offers the opportunity to publish and help one's poems BE SEEN. BE read. I don't write poetry in a vacuum. Surely I will be called arrogant for wanting to be read, but I don't care. I write to be read, and success to me is being read.
On the other hand, I would not be the poet I am today without the community I have found here in Chicago. Friends like Simone Muench, Mary Biddinger, Anna Marie Craighead-Kintis, Brandy Homan, Jackie White and new web-friend, Scott Glassman, have inspired me and shaped not only what I write but what I do (where I submit, how I construct syllabi, which book contests might actually read my manuscript before throwing it in the recycle heap). I am amazed on a daily basis by how much people will go out of their way to help me, to guide me, to share with me the difficult lessons they've learned and help me avoid the pain, or just to make the blow less painful when it comes. It is because of this community that I have truly taken ownership of my poetry, come to believe in it, come to actually like the majority of my poems as well as the new direction(s) my poetry is moving. Does this make me arrogant? That it's taken me 15 years of poetry writing to finally believe in myself and believe that I should be being published seems to me an OK place to be. It's the belief that my poetry has something to offer my readers, that I have come here, to this place poetry, to share this.
I feel like I've lost grasp of the "reality" of the situation. Curtis Faville makes a good point in the comments on Ron's blog when he says: "The contest system is designed to provide a means by which, One) Taste can be used to control the structure of literary hierarchies, in their various forms; and Two) Professional discrimination can be made public, enabling literary careers, jobs, and reputations. It is demonstrably NOT about disseminating good writing, or husbanding in avant-garde technique, or furthering "communities" (Ron's favorite pet)". It takes only looking at how boring and mainstream most of the prizewinning books are (aside from a few, of course, like Saturnalia, Alice James, Helicon Nine, Slope Editions)-- nothing innovative or interesting at all going on. Just the same poem, over and over again. No envelope pushing, no paradigm shifting. But where does that leave poets like me and many of my friends (Erika Bernheim comes to mind, an astonishing and amazing poet) who are trying to do something different. . .which more than not is construed as being "too intellectual" even though we're just trying to EXPLORE? Trying to NOT write that same, dry, lyric ego-jacked crap? Any ideas?
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself." Walt Whitman. At least I can be comforted by that.