Sunday, March 9, 2008

Building Grass Huts

I have a bit of writer's anxiety these days.

On one hand, I have one creative nonfiction and two poems that are due for publication in 2008 and early 2009. I've been through this before and until the book is in my hand, I won't believe it. So I will let everyone know.

On the other hand, I've received a few rejections last year. To make me feel better, the editors send me a complimentary copy of their journals. (Gee, thanks!). They send this to you so you can learn what they're looking for next time. When I see the work that's being written, it's not like mine at all. It's more structured. I feel like they're writing skyscrapers and I'm writing grass huts.

While grass huts have their charm, they lack durability. I'm not sure how much of my style I need to change. I send my work hoping editors will see me as a "fresh voice," free of the MFA commanded styles. One editor suggested I refine my endings a bit. I reworked a few points she had identified and I agree it's better; those points always bothered me, but I left them. I would love feedback on my work!

So, I'm willing to refine, but I can't change my voice. Poetry is so personal and I write as it comes to me. My confidence wobbles when I read the bios at the end of my complimentary journals and see the MFA and other academic credentials.

Poking around on poetry sites, I came across a letter from Ted Kooser, the poet laureate. He wrote the following correspondence:

Your statement: "So many writers I've talked to refer to office work as the enemy, as if it's impossible to be anything except poet and teacher at the same time" engages me.

Where, I wonder, or at what juncture in history, did we get the idea that work would be our friend? For many of us, it is essential that we be writing against something, rather than for it. The writers who are teaching and going to the AWP meeting, etc., are in this sense writing for, or writing in support of what they're doing. Their writing is an extension of their livelihood, teaching, and the writing supports the work. And if this follows, where among these writers is the writer who questions this way of life, who writes that we should not be teaching creative writing, that we should not be encouraging people to consider careers in support of the creative writing industry? Every year there are hundreds of jacket blurbs that suggest that this or that poet is "courageous," but where is the courage in working as a poet on a university campus? Where are the dangers in this? The fear of not getting tenure? OF getting assigned to teach a class in composition? (For that matter, I'll admit that a poet need not be courageous anywhere. It's far more courageous to work the night shift in a quick stop.)


I wrote about the poet laureate Ted Kooser and how he's inspired me as someone who kept a day job and sustained his poetry. From the same site, there is another great blurb from Kooser:

You asked what I'm working on . . . I never feel as if I'm working toward the next book. I just keep writing poems as I come upon them and eventually, after maybe sixty of them have been in magazines, I start looking to see if they'll make a book. My books are getting further and further between. The last one was nine years in the collecting. Things are hectic here at the office, so I'd better get back to work.

Thank you! I will hang in there and keep collecting the grass for my huts.

1 comment:

Brent Goodman said...

I'm happy to discover you've found these letters as inspiring as I have! Thanks for stopping by.