The Story Behind “The Damage”

Today, one of my dreams came true, and I say that without exaggeration: a piece of mine, from Inch magazine, is featured today on Poetry Daily.  I found out about this a while ago but didn’t really believe it was actually happening until I saw it today, and I’ve had to look at it again and again to make sure that I’m not just dreaming.  I mean, I’m not, right?  You can see it too?

Here's a picture of the beheaded cherub.  I miss it, still.

Here’s a picture of the beheaded cherub. I miss it, still.

I thought I’d write a short blog entry about the piece, since I’m always curious about the poems that pop up on Poetry Daily and, well, like, everywhere that poems tend to pop up.  I won’t tell the whole story behind it because a.) I already did that, and b.) then where will the mystery be?  Suffice it to say that the story behind this involves a huge move, which is a new beginning, and a huge break-up, which is, of course, an ending.  Besides the relationship, a few things were broken during or missing after the move: a couch cushion, my bicycle, and the head of a cherub on this terrible and beautiful planter my grandmother had used as storage for cotton balls.  It was a strange time, a time when beginnings were muddled with endings, and I could hardly tell the difference between the two anymore.

Flash to September of 2012, over a year later.  A friend and I had just finished a stint on The Grind (explained beautifully here by Grind founder Ross White) and were following it up with a submissions grind.  We promised each other that we’d send out at least one piece a day.  One Saturday, I was poking around for places to submit short essays and I came across Press 53, (which, as it turns out, published a remarkable collection by fellow Grinder and all-around amazing poet and person, Shivani Mehta — Useful Information for the Soon-to-be- Beheaded) and then Press 53’s Tumblr, with their weekly 53-word story prompt.  The prompt for that week was to write a 53-word story about moving.  I read the prompt and the rules and then promptly shut down my computer and headed to Hobby Lobby for some emergency crafting supplies (the emergency, as always with Hobby Lobby, was just that it was Saturday, and they’re closed on Sundays, which always sends me into a crafting/quilting/crocheting tail-spin — what if I need very fine glitters on a Sunday?  It happens more often than one would think).  As I wandered around trying to figure out why there were so giant zebra-striped flowers, I found that my mind was working on a poem.  When I got home, I wrote it: and word count showed me that it was, miraculously, 55 words.  I cut two, and submitted it.  Boom.

Of course, the micro-essay (though I guess now I should probably call it a prose poem) was rejected.  I revised and sent to another magazine.  Rejected.  Repeat.  Rejected.  Then, I saw a call-for-work for an all-micro-essay issue of Inch, one of my favorite magazines, and I sent to that.  Miraculously, it was accepted — and so began the road to Poetry Daily.  I’m especially happy that this is the poem that made it, since Inch is a journal I really love and a journal that shines light on oft-ignored micro-forms, and since they were willing to give this triply-rejected piece a fourth chance.

Sometimes, I’ll end up with a poem or essay that just feels like a gift.  It feels like a well-made thing, though I don’t feel like its maker.  This poem/essay was just such a thing: I hadn’t intended to write about this part of my move — ever, really — and I didn’t set out to focus on the beheaded cherub.  But there it was, and then it was on the page, called into being by forces which didn’t seem entirely under my control.

I suppose, when I think about it, it does make sense that I wrote this poem at this time.  It was a time when everything seemed to be changing, again.  My relationships changed, my friendships changed, my health changed and therefore my body changed, and therefore my world and the way I lived in it changed.  I didn’t make a move, but the world around me moved.  It was a time of muddled beginnings and endings, and I again couldn’t tell which was which.  It was the beginning of a moment of great change, from which I am only now starting to emerge, to look around, and to assess what was damaged beyond repair and what remains.

And this, I suppose, is the greater gift, the greater dream come true: to have a poem that acts like a lens and focuses on what damage is, and what beginning and ending, for me at least, really means.

On What I Was Doing When I Wasn’t Blogging

Dearest denizens of the blogosphere! You might have noticed a Serious Blog Drought here at A Century of Nerve, and wondered what I was up to. Well, apart from trying not to die, I was up to writing. Here are some of the fruits of my labors!

I spent a lot of time this year working on an essay about the Salpetriere, which was just published in the Freud issue of Blossombones.  Make sure to download the PDF at the end!

I also spent quite a bit of time with the witch poems, two of which just appeared in the latest issue of The Cortland Review.  As a bonus, you can hear me read them!

I’ve also been working on a new project, which I’m planning to release this weekend — stay tuned!

On the twelth day of blogging …

Ah, fair readers and citizens of the blogosphere, I have let this blog go to waste!  As usual, a dreadful combination of end-of-the-semester stress and bizarre medical anamolies pushed me into a routine involving a lot of sleep and a lot of caffeine and a lot of trying to sleep and being unable to, thus staying up too late and then, of course, oversleeping the next day.  Today was the last day of class, however, and the medical anamolies seem to be finally (finally, finally) receding from the “Oh my dear Lord” category to “huh, well, that’s just really odd, isn’t it?” category, and I’m ready for some re-dedication, re-purposing, and re-charging.  I’ve decided to begin this process with a return to the blog: in honor this this horrorday season, which usually means that I punch my alarm clock after it wakes me up with Christmas music (this may, incidentally, perhaps explain some of the oversleeping), I plan to have twelve straight days of blogging.  Then, of course, I will hibernate for the holiday season — and, really, if there is one gift I can give my students, colleagues, friends, family, and random drivers who happen to go below the speed limit or who don’t use their turn signals, it’s my getting some sleep.

This entry consists of a hand-out I shared with my dear poetry students on this our final workshop.  Compiled from many weary years as a submitter of poetry and a weary year and a half as a poetry editor, these are my tips for submitting poetry to journals.  This was inspired by an encounter yesterday in, of all places, the waiting room for Bluegrass Pediatrics and Internal Medicine.  After seeing that the object I was hunched over was, in fact, a blue book, a fellow patient asked me what I taught.  When I told her that I taught creative writing, she and another fellow patient began talking about their lives as writers, and about submissions.  After hearing them talk, I realized what a truly terribly confusing business submission is.  These are some tips that’s worked for or with me; hopefully, some will be helpful for you!

(A NOTE ON THE TITLE: my poetry class this semester consisted entirely of female students.  And everyone in the room was a brunette.)

A Girl’s Guide to Publishing

How to Take Your Work from the Word Processor to the Page

You’ve written your poem.  You’ve revised it.  You’ve revised it again.  You’ve ripped it apart in despair and thrown it in the trashcan.  You’ve fished it out of the trashcan, wiped off the coffee grinds, taped it back together, and revised it again.  And again, and again, and againx, until, finally, you know it: it is ready for that poem to find its way to the world.  Here are some tips and tricks of the trade from a poet and an editor that’ll help your poem on its merry, winding way.

1. Read, read, read, read, READ the journal!!!

This is a tip that I cannot stress enough.  You may have a perfectly beautiful sonnet, but if you only submit it to Fence magazine or a journal devoted to Flarf, that sonnet will never see the light of day.  Try to get your hands on a copy of the journal itself: your local college/university library or library database will be helpful in this regard.  If you can’t find a copy of the journal, poke around on the Interwebs: at the very least, you can read the poems posted on the journal’s site, or you can find poets they’ve published and look at their work elsewhere.

2.  Read, read, read, read, READ the journal’s submission requirements!!!

Again with the not being able to stress enough.  You may have the perfect poem that’s absolutely perfect for a journal, but if you send it outside of the reading period, it’ll come right back to you, unread.  Be sure to carefully read and follow all of the submission requirements to avoid this terrible fate!

3. Always include a cover letter.

This is very important, as it shows a knowledge of the culture and the art of submissions.  Therefore, the editor will know that you not only know what’s up, but that you also care enough to take the time to craft a cover letter – and, hopefully, one individualized for the journal (see points 1-2 ).  I’ve attached a copy of my cover letter.  The usual order of events is: a list of poems submitted, a short biography including awards and publications, a nice word about the journal and poems the journal has published, and a fond farewell.

4. Always use the poetry editor’s name.  And get it right.

This also shows that you care about your submission.  And this is not always as easy as it sounds!  Make sure that you find the name of the current poetry editor of the journal.  Also, make sure that you find out that editor’s gender – if their name is, say, Pat Riley, use The Googles to find out if that’s Mr. Pat Riley or Ms. Pat Riley (I can already tell you that it’s not Miss or Mrs. Pat Riley).  If all else fails, try Professor or Dr. Pat Riley.

5.  Unless have received a nice rejection (see point 8) or the submission guidelines specifically tell you to do so, don’t use the name of the poetry editor on the envelope.

I know – you’ve just done all that work to find it!  Still, simply write “Poetry Editor.”  Why?  It’s as complicated as the average university’s mail system.  Just trust me.

6. It’s quality and not quantity that counts

Be sure to check the submission guidelines carefully, and never send more poems than they ask for.  There are a few journals, such as Verse and The Missouri Review, which only accept submissions of and publish longer, sometimes chapbook-sized collections of an author’s work.  However, most accept 1 poem from your 3-5 poem-packet – and even if the submission guidelines do say that they accept more pages, in poetry, quality is more important than quantity.  Most poetry editors can only really handle submissions of 3-5 poems from each poet.

7.  If you get a nice rejection, send back (after, of course, checking the guidelines to see how many times you can submit in a submission period)!

If there’s any handwriting on that rejection slip, it means that your poems made it past the slush pile and to the poetry editor’s desk.  This means that they’re interested.  Always try again, especially if the journal asks you to!

8. To multiple-submit or not to multiple-submit?

This is perhaps the biggest question a poet faces.  Basically, if the guidelines say that they do NOT accept multiple submissions, only send the packet to them.  If the guidelines say that they DO accept multiple submissions or don’t mention it either way, DO submit the packet to multiple journals.  Let’s face facts: acceptance rates are low, and, for a poet in academics, at least, a lot is riding on publication.  Whatever you can do to improve your chances, do.  This does, however, lead me to my next point …

9.  Keep very careful records!

Some poets use spreadsheets.  Others, like The Boulder, use old-school Word documents with old-school highlighting.  Regardless, it’s essential that you keep a record of what you’ve sent where and when, and what’s been rejected and accepted.  If you multiple-submit and land a poem from a packet, you’ll need to withdraw your submission from the other journals.

10.  Be wary of contests.

As we discussed with Flarf, some are scams.  All have high fees, and entering too many can easily empty your wallet.  Follow all of the rules and target your submissions.  If the fee entitles you to a subscription or a book, though, it may not be too bad!

12.  Find your submission rhythm.

Some poets put together packets of poems before most submission periods start (September, with the school year).  Others tailor each packet to each journal.  Find what works for you!


Rejection may be what led you to poetry.  Sadly, rejection is also an integral part of what it means to be a poet.  I’ve gotten fifteen rejection slips in one day.  Does it sting?  Yes.  Do you mope?  Yes.  Do you cry and then go out with the girls?  Yes.  Do you get up the next day and do it all over again?  Yes, yes, yes.  It’s all part of the process.

“Feel like letting my freak flag fly / Oh I feel like I owe it to someone”

After spending an hour and fifteen minutes making phone calls to increasingly hostile insurance representatives, I found myself inspired to write an entry about one of my favorite activities: fighting The Man.  How can one fight The Man, you may ask?  Well …

  1. Subscribe to a literary magazine. Due to increasing postal rates, the down-the-toilet-and-through-the-pipes economy, and the general difficulty of getting people to subscribe to literary magazines in the first place, the literary journal is in trouble.  A group of poetry-loving people on Facebook laid down a challenge to subscribe to at least one literary journal a month.  At first, I thought, as you may be thinking, that there’s no way I could afford this.  I then realized that if I didn’t buy a Diet Coke a day, I’d have the subscription fee, and as Diet Coke is really and truly a tool of The Man (who else could cause my shameful addiction?), the literary journal wins.  And, as a start, may I suggest a subscription to the Georgetown Review? Five dollars for more fun than you can imagine — and, though it won’t clean your soap scum, as Diet Coke will, it will not give you kidney stones, as Diet Coke does.
  2. Make your second subscription a subscription to OR. This Otis College of Art and Design journal is on the front lines of the battle against The Man.  In refreshing rebellion against traditional publishing, which so often considers not so much what is good as what is marketable, OR is a “literary tabloid” distributed nationally — and absolutely free of charge.  And the content?  The list of writers published, from Laura Moriarty to Martha Ronk to Ray DiPalma, speaks for itself.  Sign up for a free subscription and give The Man a kick in the pants.
  3. Start visiting online poetry mags. For years, people warned against the online poetry magazine: they’re not legitimate!  They’re just blogs!  They’ll do nothing for your CV!  Think of your CV, for God’s sake!  Think of your CV! However, back in 2005, Bob Creeley told our workshop class that the online poetry magazine was the way of the future — and, due to #1 and a host of other issues, I think he just might be right.  Many online journals are pretty amazing, to say the least, and, most importantly, they take risks which many print journals can’t, especially when it comes to composition.  Some of my favorites include Waccamaw, the Country Dog Review, DIAGRAM (though I continuously send the wonderful Mr. Monson poems, which are promptly rejected, much to my great sorrow), and 5_Trope.
  4. “Carry on!” Those of you who are as obsessed with Project Runway will recognize this as the right honorable Tim Gunn’s catch-phrase.  Those of you who are as obsessed with Project Runway as I am will also feel as torn to shreds as I do about Pro-Run‘s departure from the Bravo network, its subsequent existence in some terrible between-stations limbo, and the absolute disappointment that is Bravo’s erstwhile replacement, The Fashion Show (seriously.  The challenges on this show are not challenges.  I bet that next week they’ll have to make a pot holder from scraps).   Thankfully, Dustin Brookshire has found a way to fight The Man and fulfill my need for Pro-Run with his Project Verse.  I admit that I’m cheering on Emari DiGiogio, who just may be the next Austin Scarlett.
  5. Become Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Though this doesn’t technically fit under the category of “literary stuff,” I must give a type-out to Tori Amos, who has been fighting The Man since her 1988 debut with Y Kant Tori Read.  Her new album sucker-punches The Man, though the punches aren’t as low and dirty as the classic that’s gotten me through more break-ups than I care to mention, Boys for Pele.  Tori’s new sound is ambient, and low and creeping, and her voice is higher than usual.  Here’s where I must make an embarrassing admission: I have never been to a concert.  Ever.  Seriously.  I’d planned to make my first concert a Tori Amos concert — however, Tori Amos didn’t plan to come anywhere near Lexington on her tour.  I’m absolutely certain that The Man is somehow behind this, and shake my fist at the heavens and at him.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

First of all, though the Georgetown Review‘s current poetry editor (yours truly) was not able to make it to the AWP conference due to a traumatic head injury (see Head Trauma Drama Llama below), she is happy to announce that the Georgetown Review itself did make an appearance!  My eternal gratitude goes out to the wonderful and fabulous Ms. Jessie Carty, who did a beautiful job setting up our table and spreading the word about the journal.  Thanks also to everyone who grabbed a copy and spread the word!  This is one of those moments during which I’m overcome with gratitude.  Truly, thanks to everyone (and, seriously, everyone should send Ms. Jessie Carty all manner of delicious baked goods, thank-you notes, positive vibes, and good wishes for being my guardian angel).

Secondly, two plugs!  The first has to do with the overwhelmingly awesome awesomeness of one Mr. Ross White, Official Poetry Superstar and founder of Bull City Press (which publishes amazing chapbooks, which you must buy, and the amazing journal Inch, to which you must subscribe.  Now, please.  You can follow the links.  I’ll wait.  [Cue elevator music.]  Thank you.  You have done a good thing).  Mr. Ross White has two beautiful poems in this issue of the New England Review, which were also featured on Poetry Daily, a sure sign that Mr. Ross White is soon going to be ruling the entire poetry world wearing a crown of awesomeness.

The second plug has to do with one of my greatest obsessions: Project Runway.  Frequent readers of this blog may remember how each upcoming season sends me into a frenzy of joyous anticipation.  I love Pro-Run so much that the phrases “make it work,” “that’s fierce,” “hot mess,” and “I mean, you tailored chiffon!” have entered my daily lexicon.  My dear friend R. and myself have often discussed how their needs to be a poetry version of Project Runway, complete with death-defying poetry challenges, fabulous judges who can determine whether or not one’s verse is “too Paris Hilton” or “just a Missoni knock-off,” and electrifyingly eccentric contestants.  It appears that the always-amazing Dustin Brookshire might just have been tapping our phones, as he’s asking for entrants to Project Verse, the poetry version of Project Runway.  Enter, or, at the very least, follow this competition as obsessively as yours truly follows the career of the fabulous Austin Scarlett (is it wrong that I have overturned my 28 year old decision not to have a wedding solely because Austin Scarlett now designs wedding dresses?).

More to come soon, including a plug of my own for The Sad Epistles, which made its debut at AWP, and an announcement about my incredibly exciting summer job (which will possibly come with embarassing photographs of The Young Emma wearing a Spam t-shirt).