♥ Lowered Expectations ♥

I'm feeling pretty okay about this blog this morning. Woke up to find that it's passed 50K visits. That said, I know it's not a ton of traffic, around 60 unique hits per day, but I'm happy with it. E. and I recently saw the Facebook movie, so I'm well aware what real traffic looks like, but I feel like I've carved a legit pinhole-sized place for myself in cyberspace over the years, and the email I get from people who have found the blog--poets whose work I've posted, readers who've made discoveries, students who've found poems to write about--have made the time worthwhile.
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As of yesterday I've sent my Praise Nothing manuscript to a dozen open-calls and contests, and will probably send to another five by the end of the year.

A week or so ago and via C. Dale's blog, I came across this Post No Ills interview with Carl Phillips regarding the Yale Younger in which Phillips offers the following:
I believe the biggest problem with the majority of manuscripts that are sent out is that the writers themselves know they have not yet put together a manuscript of work that they entirely believe in. They have often been convinced by many of their teachers that they should put the best work up front, hide the lesser work in the middle, then close with a bang. But why submit a manuscript where you feel any of the work is lesser? I recently spoke with a poet who was pleased to have read a book in which five of the poems were wonderful. That isn’t enough, for me. I want everything to be wonderful. There are many who would say I’m expecting too much. But lower expectations are, to my mind, the reason why there are so many unsatisfying books of poems in the world.
Apparently this has been enlightening to some, and I guess I understand that to a degree. It's not often one gets to read the thoughts of a major contest's judge. But, for me, not wanting to submit something that I don't entirely believe in is precisely the reason I've taken so long to send my manuscript out. Lord knows I've got material, but it's not all part of the manuscript. And sure, I dream that my manuscript, like Phillips' first, will get picked up the first time I send it out, but this is just a dream. In the end, what matters is that I do believe in the manuscript, and that I expect the poems to work hard and get the job done. I demand it. It may take some time, but it is ready, finally, and so it's out there.

I know I'm not saying anything new--"believe in your work...blah blah blah"--but are people sending out manuscripts that aren't done? I suppose some send them out just to get a sense of reception, and if the manuscript gets selected, well, that's just gravy. I acknowledge that I was tempted to do so. And, come to think of it, that line of thought may have played a role in why I've been sending out various chapbook manuscripts over the last couple years. But would you really want a not-quite-there manuscript to go to print? Sure, there's a job market consideration that needs to be made. I get that, too. But would it be worth publishing such a manuscript? This is an honest question, not a criticism. And couldn't the publication of such a manuscript come back with sharp teeth when it comes to moving up in the creative writing job world? What exactly is the strategy?

My own approach has been more rhetorical, and I hope it reads that way, that the manuscript order reflects the logic of the larger arguments about Christianity, and about faith and doubt. And even though it's rhetorical, I've also tried to guide rather than direct the reader's experience. That's been the biggest struggle for me as some of you who've seen the various incarnations of Praise Nothing can surely attest.

Have any of you organized your manuscript with best up front, the middle for hiding the bad poems, and using the end for fireworks? Do you agree with Phillips' assessment of the strategy? Or would you characterize such an arrangement another way?

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The Little Epic Against Oblivion Election 2010 Coverage garnered a lot of traffic and email comments. Here's a poem more or less tangentially related.


Feeling Sorry for Myself after the Collapse of Civilization


I . . . I guess it’ll be okay, all of those winged, man-headed bulls
guarding the temple precinct. Or the avenue

of sphinxes and zodiacal complaints from the ziggurat. Or

the fire altar to Ahura-Mazda and its feathered priests stiff
in their embroidered robes shuffling

through the gold dust and rose petals. It’ll be okay when
King Sargon II and his son

Ashurbanipal the Cruel, with their identical crimped beards
and tiny parasols tilted over their heads by chanting slaves,

compel us to walk in rigid procession down to the riverbank
to cheer the obsidian knives and the slow

murder of captives. Or that morning after the latest debacle

when they have us down at the beach to flog
the disobedient ocean with chains. And I’m okay figuring out

the new calendar, I guess. The new heroes and headdresses . . .

In any case, money’s always money, you know, and a guy’s
got to eat. So I’ll mumble along to the new

songs. I’ll take my duties and instructions
off the side of the obelisk. I’ll kneel and anthropomorphize

things pitiless and dead. Things such as holy crocodiles and
elephants’ skulls, both the setting sun

and the waxing moon, and whatever shadows either casts.


Michael Derrick Hudson
Georgia Review, Fall 2009