Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Jess has been at work for twelve hours now.

Two days ago she had to drill into some guy's brain. Late last week she had to operate on a woman's husband, and when the doctor was telling her what was going on in the waiting room, she was screaming hysterically.

Though I'm proud of what I'm doing and all I've accomplished, I'm starting to have more respect every single day for people who work in the medical field. The true people in the medical field I'm starting to think are destined to do that work. I don't think there are many fields that can claim those words.

It makes talking about poetry seem, well, not that important. But alas, I do it anyway.


I brought in two poems from the new manuscript into workshop last time, one which is published, and one which is going to be published in the next issue of a journal.

Before you say or think anything, keep in mind I understand that turning in a "finished" poem into workshop makes everyone a critic.

However, my goal was to hopefully prove something, and after a few weeks of thinking about it, I did.

I've mentioned before that many of the poems in this new manuscript have been seen by no one thus far except myself and the editors who (somehow) decided to publish them. That's certainly not dangerous, but it should make you realize that you need to show your poems to others, especially others who may know what you're going for. Or not.

At any rate, these two particular poems also lead off the manuscript. I've changed them up, and I think they're much better. And a lot of the specific advice for those poems I've been able to use as I've been revising other poems.

So each day I'm happier, it seems, to work on this manuscript, with hopefully a much keener eye.

A handful of contests I'm sending it to in a week or so.

I decided that if I end up sending to about 15-20 by the end of 2009 and I don't get even a pull on the poetic line, then I'm going to get restructuring and writing again.

The first time I sent out Ghost Lights over two years ago, when it was, quite honestly, a pretty horrendous "book," it was a finalist. I think this one's better, so we'll see if I have any clue in the least.


I started reading for Harpur Palate today. Considering I'd only met three PhD poets in the program officially before then, I figured it was time to meet others and get involved with our graduate journal, something I really didn't do at VCU.

Already, after just two hours of reading today, I want to make a How To Not Make An Ass Out Of Yourself When You Submit Poems To Journals list...

Here are a few things I'd mention to folks, in no particular order:
  1. When you clearly haven't read over your cover letter, and there are a bunch of repetitions and misspelled words, you're not going to get someone excited to read the poems.
  2. When you name the journals you've been in (of course that's fine, and I think editors like to see that), 6-8's a decent number, and some may even say more than enough. But seriously, 19? 19! I kid you not. I wondered if I should write down her name and call her out on my blog, but I decided not to. Not cool probably.
  3. No one cares about "anthologies" you've edited (or "interned" for).
  4. No one cares about residencies you've been to (especially if you have to name way too many of them and still don't have a book to your name).
  5. Under no circumstances should you include a long blurb from an "established" author about your work as the bookend of the cover letter. You shouldn't do this even if you have four books out. Seriously, I was absolutely blown away by this, and never thought I'd see anything like this. Ever.
  6. The more your build yourself up, almost always unnecessarily and inexcusably, you're giving readers and editors more of a reason to immediately shut down your work. If readers and editors don't like your work, most of the time it doesn't matter who you are or what you've done: you'll be rejected.
  7. If your work's good enough, it'll find a home. Read more journals. Send out more. Take advantage of the journals who accept submissions electronically. Etc, etc, etc.
I've been sending out for a while, and as someone who hopes to be an official editor of a small magazine someday, this is what I adhere to, and this is what I'm looking for on a cover letter:
  • The date
  • Name and contact information on every sheet
  • Titles and number of poems
  • A handful of the journals who have published you
  • Books you have out or books that are forthcoming
  • Briefly: what you're up to now
That's it. And then you don't waste ink either.

Considering this has already been a learning experience, I'm looking forward to getting more involved, and I'm also looking forward to meeting and hanging out with more of my fellow classmates.


Finally, if you read this blog, you may also read my First Book Interviews blog.

I've been thinking about this during the past few weeks, and I decided to ask some questions here and see what people think.

I've had some poets with great books recently get a hold of me and ask for an interview, and the books are, of course, piling up at this point, especially when you add in the ones I've received in the last year or so.

Considering the semester is not getting any easier with time constraints, here's my question to potential readers: Would you be opposed to seeing more "stock" questions in the full interviews if that meant they were posted more on a regular basis?

As much as I wish I had the time to sit down and read through these first books, while giving them the attention that every single one deserves, I have a lot of reading I need to do while I try and keep my funding here and whatnot, which is at least slightly more important. The books will be read, but I feel like the more time I spend trying to gather questions and hone questions to each particular book, the less interviews that are posted. And I'd rather have more for people to read. That's what I continued Kate's project in the first place.

Not to mention that four poets, who have all the interview questions, still haven't given me their interviews, and they've had plenty of time to get them back to me. That frustrates me at least a bit, because I did spend that time reading their books and getting questions ready for them for nothing at this point, when I could have four additional interviews posted right now from four other poets.

I think the point of First Book Interviews is to ask about the first books. The site isn't dedicated to Third Book Interviews, after all.

I guess I'm wondering if you trust me to trust the poets to answer even the questions which go out to everyone with care and attention and not clipped and one-sentence answers. I'll still read through the books, and there will be questions tailored to each book, but I just won't have as much time, and I really do want to keep them going and start getting them posted again on a regular basis.

Please please please let me know your thoughts if you'd be willing to share them on any of the points above.

Thanks in advance.