Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Poetry I’ve Been Reading:
1) Becoming the Villainess by fellow blogger Jeannine Hall Gailey (An interesting take on the condition of women through the lens of mythology and comic book characters. A real page turner for a collection of poems. The collection is both playful and serious.)
2) My Brother Running by Wesley McNair (The title long poem is very good. Not as crazy about the rest of the book.)

There’s some interesting reading at Sycamore Review about what goes on behind the scences when it comes to submissions.


Some Things I’ve Learned about Poetry and the Poetry Business
· Like athletes, it is a good idea to warm up before trying to write. Examples: Listening to a poetry CD, reading poetry, journaling, or thinking about the poetry writing tasks you have ahead of you to accomplish before you sit down at the desk.
· Keep some form of a journal. This will help you notice things in life, improve your memory, and give you more conscious knowledge at your fingertips. A journal is also a way of learning about yourself--learning about the interior you. Keeping journals over the years is an interesting record of your life that you can read later on and see how you’ve developed as a person.
· Keep to some kind of writing schedule that works for you. The idea here is to make writing a habit and to have the muse expect you to show up on certain days or at certain hours. If you do this, the muse will usually have something for you during your “appointments.” What works for me is to write about every other day and for three to four hours every Sunday morning. Writing every other day keeps me from burning out on poetry and allows me to enjoy other aspects of my life.
· Use your subconscious to solve creative problems. If you get stuck on a poem, give your subconscious “marching orders” to come up with a solution to the problem. If you are patient, your subconscious will eventually supply an answer. This is what I call needing a “creative solution” to a problem because you’ve wracked your brain already trying to solve the problem with your conscious knowledge and failed.
· As a conscious solution to a problem in a poem, the answer is often already suggested earlier in what you’ve already wrote. Perhaps you need to reuse a previous image or metaphor in some manner. Perhaps you should use repetition on something you already said. Perhaps you need to perceive better the form or the narrative arc the poem is suggesting and continue the poem using that.
· Have interests outside of poetry so that you have something interesting to bring to your poetry. Examples: philosophy, history, Tarot cards, drawing, mutual funds, and travel.
· Your powers as a writer will be commensurate to your powers as a reader. In other words, read and think about what you are reading. Read as much poetry as you can, but also read widely in other things.
· Related to reading, expand your vocabulary as much as possible. This may include learning the vivid and interesting names of specific trees, flowers, fish, rocks, constellations, insects, etc.
· Get yourself a good dictionary that has multiple definitions for a word and contains etymological information on words. The American Heritage Dictionary and Oxford English Dictionary are two good examples. I’ve found it helpful to have a good dictionary and thesaurus on my computer so that I can look up words quickly. If your computer dictionary will pronounce the words for you, all the better.
· Be patient and stubborn when it comes to your writing and trying to publish. Do whatever you can to keep writing and submitting regularly while minimizing your frustration and impatience. Put another way, never give up.
· If you keep writing you will get better at it. You get out of writing what you put into it.
· However, sometimes you do need a break or respite from writing so that you can get over writer’s block or fertilize your subconscious in order to write future poems.
· Learn creative techniques such as brainstorming, listing, tree branching, etc.
· Revise. Revise. Revise. Be obsessive about revising. Be obsessive about revising the small things but also be willing to take risks in revising large things and see where that takes you. Be mindful that sometimes a revision can damage a poem and what you had earlier was better. Try to learn to love revising. It can be as interesting as the rush of creating the first draft.
· There seem to be as many ways to go about writing as there are writers. In Rilke’s Advice to a Young Poet, Rilke says that no one can help you. You have to find your own way that works for you.
· Some helpful quotes from famous poets/writers that rattle around in my head: “Make it new.” “Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” “No ideas but in things.” “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”
· Read as much poetic theory as you can stomach. I find it can be dry, but it is usually very helpful.
· In this day and age, submit to literary magazines simultaneously, especially early in your career. With so many MFA programs and English majors out there, there are a lot of talented people submitting poems. Submitting poems is as much a statistics game as anything else. You increase your chances by submitting your work to more places. However, don’t submit to more literary magazines at one time than you are willing to write immediate letters or emails to notify them that one of your poems has been accepted by another literary magazine.
· Always be researching places to submit your work. I like to thumb through as many current literary magazines as I can get my hands on, and I like to read any poems offered on a literary magazine’s web site. The idea here is to seek out places that seem receptive to the kind of poems you write.
· Cover letters should be brief, professional, have your contact information, list the work you are submitting, and tell a little about yourself. Follow strictly the most current submission guidelines you can find. If possible and appropriate, address the poetry editor by name in your cover letter. It is probably a bad idea to list more than 3 to 5 of your previous publications.


At 2:41 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

This advice seems very good to me, especially the submission suggestions.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger jeannine said...

Thanks for the Becoming the Villainess write-up, Gerald! PS I finally added you to my blog roll.


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