Monday, July 02, 2007

Many Volumes, Many Voices

Last night (or was it the night before?) I had a dream that an envelope arrived. Inside was a slip of yellow paper in blurred, blue courier type, like a telegram from another dimension. The message, at first read, was as cryptic as hieroglyphics before the Rosetta Stone was unearthed. Smudged typos. Distorted syntax. I read it several times before realizing what it was. An acceptance to Poetry (I thought). Of course, I shouted for my wife so that I could tell her the news. And that's when I woke.

At the moment, Poetry doesn't have a single one of my poems. They do have a batch of Michelle's poems. Now, she has a better chance of letting loose an excited yell that fills each and every room of our Tudor-style home.

Despite its relatively conservative editorial slant (from the perspective of poetics), Poetry remains among my favorite literary magazines. How could it be otherwise? Although the circulation doesn't compare to The New Yorker or People, no small literary magazine can compare.


A siren wails into the distance. Birdsong breaks against the rhythm of the wind in the sweet gum. Archie and Dixie sprawl in sun, squinting in my direction.

Inside nephews and a niece savor canned ravioli on a respite from a marathon of children's movies and cartoons. My sister-in-law, following a day of back-straining yard work, lounges with her children on the sofa. Laundry tumbles in the dryer downstairs. Michelle is off at work.

My mom, between intermittent interruptions, reads a book beside me. The wind, cooled by a cold front, blows through the leaves.

A burst of cicada song trills from a neighbor's back yard, and is gone.

This is sort of a pastoral.


If you tried to count the number of books you've read in your lifetime, would you even approach the truth? I have no idea how many books I own, let alone how many I've read. I've read hundreds of journals, and intend to read thousands more. I've read hundreds of submissions and will no doubt read hundreds more. Yet, I still feel as if I don't read enough. I'll never, no doubt, read enough. There simply isn't time.


There are a handful of journals (like Conjunctions) to which I do not ever plan to submit. And there are a handful of markets to which I plan to submit annually, at least until they decide to take a poem or two. Today, those journals include: Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Bitter Oleander, Mid-American Review, Poet Lore, and The Paris Review.

I'm sure, from my reading, that I have poems that might fit each journal. The editors may continually disagree, but when I send a submission, I feel relatively comfortable with the notion.

When I lived in San Francisco, I submitted one story to Zyzzyva. Since they only take work from West-Coast writers, I was thrilled by the opportunity. I still read the journal when I can.


Many of my favorite poets are relatively minor. A few look to be major poets of their generation. Each time I crack open a volume of verse, I have the opportunity to learn something about craft (and occasionally about life). Few experiences are better than finding an unexpectedly lovely poem in a crevice you'd not yet explored. Over the years, my expectations have shifted. I once imagined myself a soon-to-be major poet. Now, I expect myself to be an interesting minor poet—perhaps like Roussell—with a peculiar following. In truth, after my wife, a few friends, and I have slipped this mortal coil, no one may ever read a single one of my poems. I have no qualms with this notion. My poems (and my wife) might disagree.

But, personally, I'm simply thankful that in the quest to write good poetry, I've discovered the intimate intellectual and emotional intensities that can come with the reading good poetry. Hopefully, you've discovered this as well. Certainly, there will always be someone whose verse makes every syllable you write seem like a beggar in tattered clothes. Certainly, you will find poets whose relative fame perplexes you to no end. It doesn't matter.

Just take a look at a literary journal or a recent book, and maybe, just maybe you'll find one poem that makes you catch your breath and say, Aha! Now this is poetry!


When I was in graduate school, I think I had unrealistic expectations of what a poet should do. A poet, I thought, should be part psychologist, part philosopher, part mystic. Most days, I'll scoff at such ideas. Today, I'd prefer to enjoy them and envision that oeuvre.

That is how I like to imagine myself, sometimes. It is a sort of pastoral.

I hope that someday, you write poems like that—or better, that you write poems as you imagine poetry could be.

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