Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Any Americans out there?

This morning I am searching for links to American poetry magazines, or literary magazines in general, who invite submissions from new, and young, poets. One of my former students has sent me several of her poems and they are quite brilliant. She is not yet 25 and she writes amazing stuff. I just don't know enough about the American periodicals to know whom I should recommend that she submit to. I can send her some Canadian links but I would sure appreciate it if any of you have some recommendations in this regard.

I have been immersing myself in a number of Canadian poets again, in preparation for my upcoming departure for the Glenairely Retreat. I find that I can't, or shouldn't, write poems myself immediately after reading one or another poet. I just get too derivative. This tricky question of voice is always a little frustrating, particularly in view of the fact that my propensity is towards philosophical, narrative poems. I like to think out loud, which of course is a cardinal sin with most current publishers. I had a very thoughtful reply from one poetry editor this week, at Grain magazine in my 'home' province of Saskatchewan. He (Gerry Hill) took the time to explain a little of why he wasn't accepting my poems...saying that he liked "the range of formal gestures in the poems, but on the whole the poems don't get quite far enough." The rest of his letter had to do with other and more personal issues (turns out that we are both CUSO P.N.G. veterans).

I am giving some thought to what this might mean. I remember maclennan saying that he had submitted to Grain something like fourteen times before an acceptance...and I've only been turned down by them three or four so far. I will keep sending, keep writing, and one of these days, hope for a "Yes!" from them, or Event, or Fiddlehead, or Prairie Fire, or CV2, or Descant, or Arc, Vallum, The Malahat Review, Geist, The Antigonish Review, This Magazine...or even a manuscript acceptance from someone would be rather exciting. I am very glad to have a poem coming up in Room of One's Own. Subscribe! Subscribe! No doubt there are many others...but these are bookmarked on my computer and I have subscriptions to most of them now. I also refer you, as always, to Leaf Press, Ascent, and bywords, in my links, for their encouragement of new Canadian poets.

As a poet, I do not always speak in the same voice. Sometimes I have a 'hard' tone...something of powerful import to me makes its way through my subconscious and it is almost as much of a surprise to me to read what I have written as it is, probably, to anyone else I share with. Other poems emerge from the soft spaces, from the places within myself that I rarely allow myself even to look at. It is not a world conducive to softness. Yet, there seems to be this post-modernist desire for angst, and I don't have so much! (knock on wood) I have a good life. I am grateful for this. But perhaps it leaves me more thoughtful than edgy...and magazines seem to want you to be more edgy than thoughtful.

Of course, there are exceptions. I find that the storytellers, if they are telling the story in language that draws you in enough, can find press (although this may be because of where they have come from rather than where they are going). I really enjoy, especially, the storytelling poems of Don McKay, for example. One just wonders..."go far enough". Where is far enough? I am not going to go and find my poems in a bottle, and Patrick Lane has written an eloquent memoir which touches on this subject. I am not going to find my poems from a life experience which I do not have, but I continue to believe that there is room for a poet whose life experience, whose reflections and stories, could be brought together in a way that has meaning for others, too.

So far, however, the general feeling seems to be 'too much philosophy, not enough angst'. Or, perhaps, it is just the language. There are times when I read someone's poem and just gasp with the sheer stunning words of it. There are also the debates between those who think that "poems should mean something" and those who seem to prefer "if there is too much meaning, there is too much poem." There are the poets-who-write-for-obscurity and the poets-who-write-for-laying-it-all-bare-from-the-guts. I tend not to enjoy either of these too much; I want a balance between having to figure out deep meaning, realizing there is no particular meaning, and wishing that the poet had not supplied quite so much information. And then, of course, there are the poets of Hallmark greeting cards and ditties...some of which are genuinely moving but many of which leave me running back to Wordsworth for a taste of a different kind of daffodil.

Let me give you an example of a poem that tries to accommodate to what I think magazines want, but which I will not submit again because it is not authentic voice from me. This poem is an experiment from my 'dark side', as distinct from my series of 'inner bitch' poems (which have some bite). I don't want to compromise like I did in this poem:


those people
who think
they’re all that
cat’s meow shit don’t stink
the world’s plaintiffs

wonder why i
can’t weep at
Quentin Tarantino’s
funeral. suttee begins
to look more attractive

so build pyres
for someone seen those
flames. yawp for the old
imaginary (fucken)

This poem gives you some of my cynicism (it is true) and language I don't usually use (although the gratuitous use of profanity still seems to me somewhat juvenile as an approach). And of course there are a couple of things you have to know in order to 'get' this poem: what is suttee, what is an apocalypse, and a nod to Whitman's use of 'yawp', among other elements. I assume that I don't have to explain Quentin Tarantino (who, incidentally, directed a couple of amazing segments of CSI, in which Nicky gets buried underground, a very fine piece of acting from George Eads). But.

This poem is attractively short (for magazines which prefer sound-byte poems) and decidedly acerbic (at least for me) but is it true? Is it an ironic feminist protest against? And if so, against what, or whom? I think that's where it came from, when I wrote it (quite some time ago) but as happens often, when a poem just 'comes', I'm really not sure where it came from inside. Maybe the subconscious carries more than I think. Of course it does.

Anyway, I will keep you posted on reflections from a poet coming back from Glenairely, at the end of this month. I am hopefully going to continue climbing this steep learning curve...and one of these days, maybe philosophical ruminations (in tight language) will find their day. Maybe I just need to write skinnier poems. I am a Rubenesque woman in an era of anorexics. Maybe I just need to throw up.


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