Friday, August 18, 2006


The summer morning is so thick with humidity I may as well be swimming. Dixie, our Jack Russell, and Archie, the Italian Greyhound mix, are sniffing about the backyard, enjoying these last few hours before the sky grows too heavy with moisture and opens into rain. In the distance, a neighbor is mowing his lawn, as I should be. A semi, shifting through several gears, lugs its way up the hillside of the busiest street on the block. The mosquitoes are still out, threatening.

Lately, organizing my time has become much more difficult. Ward 6 Review requires a substantial investment, and for this past week, I've had more freelance work than normal. Now, as the cicadas trill in the treetops and sun eases up to burn through mottled clouds, I think it would be easy to stroll, simply, into the house, flick on the television, and lounge the day away on the couch. But there is still work to be done.

Yesterday, I spent the whole of the day, rereading submissions and writing brief notes of rejection. I tried, all day, to keep my own experiences in mind, and to add a personal touch to each note, but by the end of the day, the paragraphs were running together, and I fell into those same formulaic phrases that have graced tiny slips of colored paper that arrive in my own mailbox.

And of course, there are reasons why those formulaic expressions exist. While I completely understand these reasons now (would it not be cruel, after all, to tell someone, likely with skewed views of the quality of their own work, “try harder, read more”?) the notion still irks me. Yet, I realize that once we launch the first issue and our advertising budget kicks in, the situation will be much worse—particularly without assistants or interns. I'll have no choice, but to resort to form letters or spend the whole of my free time jotting notes for some vaguely noble purpose when I could be writing or cuddling with the puppies for a luxurious afternoon nap.


When I was in graduate school, I still had that unshakable faith in just how remarkable a poet I would be. Sure, by now, I recognize how vaguely delusional that might have been, but at the time, I was reading philosophy, poetry, fiction, and anything I could get my hands on that would help that weirdly adolescent goal of changing the world while getting famous.

One weekend, when I phoned my parents back in Texas, my father told me that my aunt's father-in-law had passed away. The next day, between classes, I phoned my aunt's mother-in-law. I had, of course, wanted to somehow use all of that poetic talent to ease her burden somehow, to soften the blow of losing her longtime spouse with the alchemy of a few chose phrases.

But there were no words.

How could there be?

I was reduced to platitudes and the faint hope that the echo of my voice across hundreds of miles of telephone wire might be solace enough for that moment. Some great poet, I thought to myself, stumbling through familiar words just like everyone else.

Since then, I've known more loss, as we all must. And to my mind, there is never anything to say—the alchemy is just a dream. There is nothing, other than the fact of one's presence that can ease the rending away of someone dearly loved.


Last night, while driving home from the daily procurement of coffee, I found myself thinking of the infamous rejection slips from the now-defunct kayak.

A professor in college had once had the kindness to show us—his students—the mountain of rejections he'd collected over the years. While sitting in his living room, we passed around a handful of examples, and I fell in love with the rejection he had from kayak. Indeed, in moments when I ought to have been reading or writing, I've occasionally found myself lamenting the fact that I never had an opportunity to earn my own rejection slip from kayak.

I wondered, as I paused at a malfunctioning traffic light in White Oak, what could Ward 6 do to make our rejections sting slightly less and provoke that same peculiar interest that kayak had for me?

It's too late now for some of the early visitors to our site, but with my wife's help, I'll figure something out.

You see, there are moments when the platitudes just won't do, and alas, there are moments when they are all we have.

I don't think something as silly as a rejection should be one of the latter. After all, there are hundreds upon hundreds of other journals out there that may not agree with me.

Monday, August 14, 2006


In Northern Kentucky, my wife is sitting on a runway, having gone through the more stringent security measures just enacted by the TSA. In contrast, I'm sitting in my wrought-iron chair of choice as our two dogs wander through the tall grass of our backyard, small butterflies weave about the neighbor's yard, and cardinals twitter from the highest branches of the rose of Sharon that obscures our fenceline from passersby.

In mere moments, the airliner where she sits reading a recent literary novel will lift into the sky and veer east, out over the chopping waves of the Atlantic, before banking toward South Carolina. She'll land at the tiny airport in Charleston, search out colleagues, before taking a shuttle to an exclusive resort on the Barrier Islands where two days worth of business meetings await her.

Now, with solitude, broken only intermittently by the puppies, I can focus on crafting one or another works is into my own facsimile of a masterpiece. I can devote hours to the marketing of the online journal we're building together. Or, I could lounge about, unaccustomed to her absence, flicking through empty channels, until a meaningless football game finally begins.


A cool wind fills the morning air, rustling the sweet gum tree overhead. The mottled sky blocks out the sun, threatening rain. I slept diagonally in our bed last night, nestled between the two puppies, and surrounded by a wealth of pillows.

I chose to watch the football game. Yet, despite the comforting sounds of the crowd and the thudding hits from on the field (just a few miles away, perched on the banks of the Ohio), I recall little about the game. Instead, it was background as I surfed aimlessly around the Internet, searching for something, and waiting, I suppose, for a voice—mediated by technology—to filter through and, somehow, remain with me.

Eventually, I turned to a manuscript of my poems. I read through the work, looking for lines that could be improved and trying to discern which poems were the weakest and to correct them. The book was better than I thought it would be, despite myriad flaws.


The canines are cavorting about the yard, savoring the coolness of the summer morning mist. Archie is sniffing the dirt around the sweet gum tree that was once covered with hosta. Dixie is peering out at the yards behind our house, where a rabbit earlier dashed across the thick green grass. We are waiting.

I, personally, am anticipating a full day's worth of contract work. The puppies, I suppose, are awaiting the arrival of squirrels that they can attempt to corner.

As I think about that collection, I suspect that I could gather up the poems and send them all off to be read. If I chose the markets carefully, I imagine the majority of poems would be taken to be posted on the Internet or for a tiny print run in this or that literary journal.

Given, this may be an example of that necessary self-delusion a poet needs to keep writing through difficult years, but let's assume for a moment that I'm correct. Imagine that all 45 poems could be published in one venue or another by the end of the year. Sounds great, right?

So why am I so hesitant to send out a batch? I could argue that prestige is a factor or that I'd prefer to make the few thousand dollars that would be vaguely possible if the highest-paying markets would take those poems. More, I could admit, simply, that it's fear of rejection masquerading behind nobler ideas.

While I will admit that these factors are likely spicing the stew of my contemplation, they do not constitute the broth of this decision. Instead, I think the quality of the poems is my foremost concern. You see, poetry, to my mind, is a bit of a collaborative process. Each time I read a poem, regardless of who penned the initial incarnation, I must filter those combinations of phrases through my own experience, my own psyche, my own relationship with the world. Misreading—at least compared to the author's likely original intent—is a marvelous part of the process—two minds, straddling space and time with the sound of a few syllables. As a reader, I appreciate those poems, like Robert Frost's "Birches," that allow the reader's intellect to participate deeply in the formation of meaning, but don't necessarily require it. If you look at Birches (and much of Frost's work), you can easily read the poem as a folksy anecdote—and nothing more—but still enjoy the poem. If you care to, however, there are layers of meaning to traverse.

By contrast, a number of my poems seem to lack that invitation for further study. How does one make a poem that can offer a simple interpretation without the poem becoming so trite that it isn't worth more than one read? How does one make such a poem with enough clarity that an editor, with a cursory read, will move your poem out of the slush pile?

I don't think there are any easy answers for those questions. If I tried, I'd be offering formulaic nonsense—like someone selling a real estate course through an infomercial. Instead, each of those questions must be answered separately with each poem. And, if I answer each of those questions for each of the poems in my collection, perhaps they will be slightly easier to place, but more importantly, perhaps they will be read more widely and enjoyed by more people. And that, frankly, is all one can ask of their poems.