Nobody wins all the time

Full disclosure: At the end of this post, I’m going to provide a link to a poem of mine that was recently published — but I wanted to say some things first.

In a lot of ways, the poetry world has become the Internet world; in a lot of ways, this has saved the poetry world. The Internet allows us a place to promote and share our own work, to talk, to bond, to work together. It gives us a space to share what we’ve read, the small miracles of language that can make very big changes in the world. The story of how Maggie Smith‘s hauntingly, searingly gorgeous “Good Bones” went viral serves as a testament to the power of the online world when it comes to getting good poetry out into the real world — something that itself seems like a miraculous resurrection of what many saw as a dying art.

In other words, the Internet has given poetry and poets something important, something necessary to achieve the goal of keeping one’s “career,” as it were, as a poet — and even the art of poetry itself — alive: exposure.

Damian Rucci makes some excellent points about the causes and consequences of this drive for exposure in this blog entry, which led me to think about how this drive for exposure has affected the way poets act and interact online. We all post about and share poems we’ve gotten published, which is an awesome thing. Lately, people have also started announcing their acceptances. That’s also an awesome thing. It gives us a chance to celebrate with that person twice.

I wonder, though, if this gives a not-so-accurate vision of what the writing life is about, because if the writing life is about anything, it isn’t acceptances. It’s about the twenty times the poem was rejected before that acceptance. It’s about the twenty times you revised that poem between each rejection. It’s about the fact that you still had enough faith in yourself and the art and the language itself to keep revising, to keep submitting, and to keep submitting again.

A confession: sometimes, especially after rejections avalanche through my inbox, looking at my social media feeds makes me feel very happy for other people but very bad about myself. It’s like the creative writing version of FOMO: POMO, if you will, which may be the natural product of a shift in focus to the product and not the (very long, often incredibly painful) process.

I can’t help but wonder if this has also led to a shift towards the dark side in the poetry world. Maybe the thirst for exposure opened a space for predatory presses to pour in. Maybe POMO has played a part in the countless poetry battles that have spread over Internet territory for the past few years. Sometimes, the battles are definitely and absolutely necessary and for good reasons, like calling out predatory publishers, abuse, racism, misogyny, homophobia. Sometimes, though, things just get unnecessarily ugly.

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The trolling in question.

My own personal tipping point happened last week, when I got trolled by a figure a lot of people in the writing world have trusted with their work (and out of respect for that, I’m going to keep this anonymous). It was crushing and nasty but what made it even worse is that it wasn’t exactly shocking. It was just like the comments I’ve seen in writing world fights before. Debate and discussion is important and vital to the health of this art that we all love. Aggression, trolling, and abuse? Not so much.

Here’s the thing about poetry: we need community. We need to work with each other, and we need each others’ work. We’re a sparse and diverse group, so we need online spaces for our work and in which we can work together. And we have to work together. We are a group of people struggling to keep the love of our lives alive. We are a group of people united by the unbelievably important task of keeping the art that we love alive. We will gain nothing by tearing each other apart in the process.

In the end, the trolling didn’t crush me, but it did make me reconsider the way I behave in the online world (and, of course, the real world). I’m definitely guilty of focusing on the product: I’ve stopped writing blog entries about process altogether and started only posting about publications. I’ve been focusing on the exhibition, not on the art.

I’m going to work on that. I’m also going to work on representing my life as a writer more honestly and authentically. Here’s a start:

I’ve got a poem called “This Is Not A Poem For You” up on Switched-on Gutenberg. I wrote the first draft of the poem ages ago, in April of 2012, at the end of a thirty poems in thirty days project. I’d been writing about the same thing for months and I was sick of it, so I wrote this poem as a way to tell myself to stop. It was a good goal that the poem didn’t reach — in the end, it’s totally clear that it’s totally a poem about a you. Still, it was the beginning of a new phase, not just in my writing but in my life. It’s been rejected, revised, and resubmitted more times than I can count. There are a lot of things I don’t really love about the poem and I could probably ramble on for thousands of hours about those things. Even with its flaws, I love the poem for the place it holds in my life: it marks the moment when I started down the process of taking ownership of my life, when I started to stop looking for someone else to save me and instead started to save my own damn self.

In other words: yes, the publication is something, but the process was everything.

Also, so what if my cat is my best friend? I mean, look at her. She’s awesome.

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Mid-South Book Festival: This Weekend!

impossible-languageI am beyond excited to say that on Saturday, I’ll be reading in the Impossible Language reading series at the Mid-South Book Festival. I’m thrilled and honored and especially excited to hear the three other poets read. Thank you to Aaron Brame and Ashley Roach-Freiman for giving me this opportunity! Playhouse on the Square, September 10th, 1:00 PM. You will probably want to get there early because I hear that the Hot Mess Taco Truck is going to be there, and you are going to want to experience those tacos. Believe me.

Also, it just feels like the right time to revisit a post I wrote a while back about how being alone doesn’t meant being lonely, and how cats are awesome. Enjoy.

Here Are Some Announcements and Also Photographs of Cats

I’ve got a lot of writerly announcements for you, Internets, but in the interest of breaking things up, I also have a lot of cat photographs for you, Internets. Without further ado …

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  • My mixed media/hybrid piece, “I Absentia,” is up at DIAGRAM. It’s hard to describe so I’ll take a break from the cat photos to offer a preview:

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  • My short prose piece, “Good Girl,” is up in Issue Two of Panoplyzine.
  • Lastly but not leastly, I’m extremely excited and proud to say that I’m joining the staff of Tupelo Quarterly as a Senior Reviews Editor. I’m looking forward to working with the amazing staff and shining a light on some great new writers. Stay tuned!

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Tell your mama, tell your pa …

… tomorrow, I’m going to be reading in Arkansas!

I’m sorry, but it was physically impossible for me to avoid that physically painful pun. To be honest, I’ll probably make a lot of equally painful puns tomorrow, June 14th, when I read in the Open Mouth Reading Series in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s at 8:00 at The Nines and if you’re in the Fayetteville area, I hope to see you there.

If you can’t make it to Arkansas, you can still meet me online and in print. In the Interwebospehere, I’ve got two poems up at IthacaLit and they’d love for you to visit. My review of Cassandra Smith’s ethereally beautiful u&i is up at Tupelo Quarterly this month. In the printosphere, I’m proud to say I have two poems in the latest issue of Quiddity and four poems in Handsome, the literary journal of Black Ocean Press. My poems have some very good neighbors, so I hope you’ll swing by this literary block party and stay for the karaoke.

See? Bad puns, poorly-executed extended metaphors — and many more await you should you meet me at The Nines at 8:00 tomorrow!

See Me in Salem and in Quiddity!

(I’m writing this from the airport in the midst of an hour and twenty minute delay, so forgive me if there are more typos and less cat photos than usual!)

  • I’m at the airport because I’m headed to Salem, Massachusetts for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I’ll be a presenter, along with Kathleen Ageuro, Karen V. Kukil (editor of Plath’s journals, which !!!!!!!) (I mean, she’s like the literary Beyonce) and our fearless and awesome moderator, Emily Van Duyne, on “‘She was come back to her early sea-town home:’ Sylvia Plath and the North Shore.” I’ll be talking about witchcraft, alchemy, American history, and invasive species. I’ll also offer a series of important reasons why the patriarchy should be smashed.
  • If you’re not going to be in Salem tomorrow, you can find my words in the latest issue of Quiddity, in which I am proud to have two poems.
  • Also, this morning, I walked out to find a stray black cat stretched out in front of my car and I’m pretty sure she was there to wish me safe travels to the motherland.