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Last year about this time my wife and I upped and moved from Minnesota to Michigan. The move involved selling our home in St. Paul, transporting all our worldly goods across country, finding new employment, buying a new house and gradually settling down in a leafy backwater of Lansing where we could be nearer to our family. It was a maneuver that called for nerves of steel, courage, belief that everything would turn out right, and nerves of steel… I was fortunate enough to receive translation contracts (I work as a freelance translator of French and Italian books into English) one after another for about five months. That helped pay the bills and was enjoyable to do, but also drastically curtailed my writing activity.
So what I ended up doing during odd moments in a busy schedule was penning a few poems. I tried out various different forms and styles, of both rhymed and unrhymed verse, and after a while I ended up with quite a few of them. So I gradually combined them into a book-length collection which I will probably publish early next year when it is finished. The book is called Songs of Hunger, a name that I stole from a title in an ancient copy of Poetry Magazine from 1915 – the one in which T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” first appeared. I liked the sound of this title, since it captured something of the essence of what I was trying to get across in the poems.
Anyway, before I went ahead and published the book, I wanted to see whether I could get any of the poems accepted by a poetry magazine or journal, so I started sending some of them off to various different publications. Nowadays you can submit work online using an system like “Submittable.” That saves on postage, but it also makes it easier for a magazine to wade through the thousands of submissions they get and reject work out of hand if they want to without every having to open an envelope or unfold a dog-eared manuscript. Of course, there are still a number of stalwart publishers who stick with snail mail. Most of these are relatively polite when they reject your work, saying something like “Thanks for submitting. This doesn’t quite fit our needs at the moment. Good luck submitting elsewhere.” The online systems do send you an email when your work has been rejected and also change the status of your submission from “in progress” to a rather dispiriting “declined.” As you can probably tell, I mostly got rejections.
I also submitted some poems to a few poetry contests. To my surprise, I received notification last month that one of my poems had won 2nd prize in the “Paul Laurence Dunbar/Maya Angelou Poetry Contest” run by the Detroit Writers Guild. This came as something of a relief, because I was beginning to think I was on the wrong track altogether. In fact if you read any of the poetry published in the biggest selling poetry magazines, a lot of it at first glance seems to be a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes: much of it is what is generally called “difficult” and can be well-nigh incomprehensible to the average human – all of which can leave you with the impression that poets only write for other poets. I have nothing against difficult poetry, after all a poem can be all the more rewarding for the reader if they have to work at it a little. But surely one of the main aims of poetry is to communicate. If the reader has to work too hard to understand the poem, he or she will simply give up and wander off to read the sports section of the local newspaper. But that is a topic for another post.
If I hear anything back from any of the other submissions, rest assured you will be the first to know.