Monday, November 27, 2006


How much is enough? Should a writer spend most of her time writing, revising, or should she put more of her time into trying to get her work published?

In the academic arena, writing and revising, thinking an idea through, sharing the writing with her students and other writers, that doesn't seem to be enough. "There's not a lot of turnaround here," the evaluators will say.

No, she has to publish her work as much as possible, in a variety of venues that make the powers that be quiver with admiration/envy.

Working at a small liberal arts college, where teaching is the focus, where undergraduates rule, seems to mitigate against publishing widely and often. Why? Because where does a woman get the time, not to mention the contacts? One has to write a slew of cover letters, get the poems (if that's what they are) ready for send out, find the addresses and the proper names, put everything together, mail it off.

(God, I sound like a whiner of the first order. Dave has to get up at 4:15 AM and leave the house by 6:45, in the dark, to drive 45 minutes to his tech writing job. And he has to sit in his cube doing tech writing for 8+ hours before he drives home again, in the dark.)

Poetry seems to be the worst biz for publishing. I've got a manuscript that I've been "shopping" around for years. It's probably no good. Or, not publishable. (Those two qualities might be mutually exclusive.) Try to get a first manuscript, book length, of poetry published these days (I'm not talking chapbook. I'm talking 56+ pages.) The writer, it seems, has to have infinite patience, has to commit hundreds of dollars to first book contests, and, if she has the good fortune to get her work accepted for publication, must then strong-arm all her friends and relatives and passing acquaintances into purchasing a copy of the volume in order for the publisher to give it a go at last.

What's the secret? Should I be spending more time in my office, listing all the great places to be published, and then shopping my pathetic poems to each, waiting for the inevitable rejections, revising them again, slipping them into a new envelope, and then sending them off to the next place on the list? What should my wish list look like? Should it read:

1. Poetry
2. New Yorker
3. Atlantic Monthly
4. Salmagundi
5. Ploughshares
6. ?

Who publishes poetry anymore? Who reads it? Even I don't read all the poems, or even half of the poems, in any given volume that happens to, finally, publish one of mine.

Maybe I should be writing fiction. But I can't seem to a) think of a story that's not ripped from the dull headlines of my life, b) write the story, c) revise the story, and d) send it out.

When I do stir myself, in a fit of action that happens about once a year, to send out 10 or so batches of work, sometimes it doesn't come back to me for over a year. On the other end, I imagine, are 2 or 3 overworked professor types and their minions, and stacks and stacks of unread poems destined for unread journals.

Perhaps they'll make their way to my poem in 8 months, read through it, and object to the title--"Necrophilia." They'll write me an acceptance letter that slams the title. I will respond, suggesting that they can change the title if it's that hideous, but, gently, outlining my reasons for selecting it. In the end, I would rather submit to their editorial will than lose the publication.

I will never hear back from them again. Since this seems to be a metaphor for the publishing game in general, I won't press it.

Should I?

Or should I simultaneously submit, crossing my fingers against the very off chance that a single poem will be accepted, simultaneously, by 2 venues?

It's because of these concerns that I find myself, mostly, writing and writing -- but not doing much revisiting or revising. And, certainly, rarely sending anything out.

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