I'll scratch your backlist if you scratch mine

from Hitchcock's I, Confess
Here's another entry as part of my off again / on again commitment to publicly exploring my life in poetry, though right now I wonder what the point of this whole blog project is several years since its inception. Any more, this space seems like an archive for poems I've liked, or a place to refer people on my poetry email list for further reading. Maybe that's all it ever was, with the occasional rant or therapy moment.

There are so many formats and platforms for posting links, and I don't want the blog to become another URL depository. My concern is there's not as much content here as their should be, but I'm unsure how to walk the line of adding more (if I need to) without transforming this blog into an online confessional, although even as I write this the whole thing feels more and more like a reality TV moment of truth: "This is the true story... of eight strangers... picked to live in a house...work together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World."

Or if not The Real World, then something more in the style and mood of Annie Hall.

Apologies in advance if this entry comes off like a pity party. Not my intent. There's no fishing for support or encouragement happening here. This is more of a test case to see if I can string together a regular sequence of posts describing what first-time manuscript submission has been like for this submitter. Perhaps it'll be worth reading for others out there in the same position, others who suffer the same neurosis and anxiety, others who are looking for camaraderie within this lonely process.

I don't know how long this project will last. I don't know how much longer this blog will last. I've got to finish my dissertation this year, get on the job market, and we've got a baby due to arrive in a few months. Blogging may become an indulgence I cannot justify. We'll see.

But, anyways, here goes.


Last week, I updated my latest manuscript news. The short of it: submission results have been mostly what I'd expected with a bonus number of a few positive responses. People keep telling me I have reason to be more optimistic. I hope they’re right and their support means so much as I continue working and writing.

A couple weeks ago, Keith Montesano posted a new First Book Interview, this one with Bobby C. Rogers who won the Agnes Starrett Lynch Prize for Paper Anniversary. I've posted a few of Rogers' poems on this blog in the last year, and if you click the tag for "Bobby C. Rogers" at the end of this entry, you can find them.

You really should read the full interview by clicking here, but I’d like to call attention to one of Rogers' observations about the process of submitting one's manuscript.

Here's an excerpt of his response to being asked what advice he'd give to people deciding between submitting to contests versus open reading periods:
The advice I would give is envision your book on the backlist of whatever publishing house you send to—it’ll be there soon enough—and ask yourself, “Is this good company to be in?”
I think this is compelling advice. How many backlists did I go through before deciding to send? Dozens and dozens as I narrowed my list. I spent many, many, many hours doing research online, tracking down small press books, reading reviews, reading books by judges, stalking blogs. But what I’m coming to realize now is that when I did check backlists, I was mostly sizing up the previous winners to see if I felt like I could stand with them, and that’s somewhat different than asking if I'd be in “good company.” And I think this distinction has to do with my own self-confidence.

I don’t mean “stand with them” in terms of, “Are my poems as good as theirs?”—though there’s probably some of that. I guess I mean "stand with them" in terms of style and aesthetic, poetics, checking to see if my voice, subject matter, and approach fit with the press’s tradition, history, catalog, etc. And I feel confident that I can stand with the backlists of all of the places to which I sent my manuscript. But then, wait a minute.... I was talking about self-confidence. Hmm.

It’s an odd acknowledgement. I've long known that my neurosis and obsession over the submissions process isn't about the quality of my poems, but in last few days I’m starting to see that my anxiety over this submission process comes from a lack of faith in something else.

I believe in what I can do, that I can write and will continue writing. I believe in Praise Nothing. That’s not at issue. I think, though, there's something going on here more akin to that Annie Hall Groucho Marx joke: "I don't want to be part of any publisher that would have me for an author."

Obviously, it's not all that dramatic, and it's not true. I'd be thrilled to have my manuscript taken by any of the places where it is currently under consideration, and I'll be doing handsprings down the driveway and out into the street if I get "The Call." But, still, how terrible is it that I can identify with that joke?

That said, this little moment of public therapy and acknowledgement of weakness is something I can build on. I need to keep thinking about this. I don’t doubt the value of my work, but maybe I doubt the value of, well—Bishop in my mind saying, “Write it!” —maybe I doubt the value of me. And that's nothing new for poets. It can be hell at times for us and those around us, but I know I'm in good company.

I guess what I need to work on is concentrating on the “good company” part of Rogers’ answer. I need to concentrate on being a good neighbor in poetry, rather than researching to find out why I'm not worth enough to move into the neighborhood.