The Gambling Poet

I'm a pretty frugal person. I hardly go out to eat and I wear my clothes till they practically walk by themselves. But, the three years I sent my book out, I became a gambler. The $25 - $40 slots were also known as "poetry book reading/contest fees." Every month, I rolled the dice and sent my book out another few places. There were places that had no reading fees, or you could buy a book or two in exchange for reading fees, but, most of the time, a first book award or press I loved was just too tempting. Copper Canyon? Of course. Yale Younger Poets Award? BOA? Omnidawn? You bet. I couldn't resist the thought of winning something and getting my book published. I would see my credit card bill each month and shudder. Another $100 and, a few months later, another 4 rejections in my inbox. Or, worse, a finalist or semifinalist in my inbox, but no publication. Those semifinalist emails made me bolder or dumber, depending on your point of view. 

I revised my book dozens of times. I kept sending it out. I read more and more books by my peers. I researched and developed strategies and watched my bank account dwindle. Most presses would send me the odds: 866 manuscripts or 580, or, the worst, 1600 manuscripts for 1 published book.

Still. I couldn't stop. I had come so far. So many finalists. So many "you were one of three, but we went with the other two." So many, "we loved your work, please try us again." There was no logic at all to my persistence except raw desire to see it all through. And, as more and more of the individual poems and poetic series got published in journals I became more determined. Half my book was accepted in journals, then, three-quarters of my book. Surely someone would pick up the full thing soon. Right? 

The month after I got a brutal rejection (really, 8 paragraphs of what you hated? whew. rent a movie or take the dog on a walk.) And, then, it happened. The lovely publisher Spuyten Duyvil, out of Brooklyn, took my book, Bruising Continents. The publisher loved my long poem. Loved my eccentricities and rawness. Such a gift. 

Of course, after over 70 rejections, there were no reading fees needed. But, of course, all those rejections made me revise, reconsider, rework the book. All those rejections, all those reading fees, made me work harder so that the next time, maybe, my luck would turn. Jackpot.

Alice Notley Wins the Ruth Lilly Prize

My dear teacher, Alice Notley, who I spent three weeks with in 2007 at the Atlantic Center for the Arts just won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. It is huge and it is long overdue.  Alice is, in a word, a genius. The kind that works incredibly hard and lives her art every day. The kind that is so innovative that you can’t keep up–every book something new, exciting, unexpected. Reading her and seeing her read you are left crying and breathless.

I’m so happy for her today and for poetry. Sometimes it feels like the true radicals are always relegated to the margins. What bliss to see someone so phenomenal and uncompromising given the kind of spotlight she wildly deserves.

Congrats, Alice.