A friend popped by my office this morning and said, “I got your poems” (I emailed him two last night). And then he stared at me and nodded. And kept nodding.
“I don’t know what the nodding means,” I said after a few moments of awkward silence.
“Your style is definitely…unique.”
“Yeah, it’s a little odd,” I said. “Take your time getting back to me. There’s no rush.”
We talked a little more about submitting poetry and about the the book he’s working. After he went off to class, I began thinking about something I read yesterday. The article deals mainly with poetry contests, something I’ve yet to attempt (and may not after reading the article):
Typically there are two types of aesthetics (following the MFA division of poetry into two major camps): the narrative/formally uninventive/epiphany-based confessional or memoiristic short poem, and the experimental/avant-garde/language poetry camp, which takes its inspiration from deconstruction and makes a fetish of the insensibility of ordinary language.
While I think there’s room for blending between the two, I find myself more on the experimental side these days. I’m not avant-garde and I don’t fetishize the insensibility of language–there are poets that do, and they usually make me want to bang my head on a table. My poems lately have just become weird. They have Potato People and the Toothy Teethy Sister. They talk about a couple trapped in a masquerade party that only they’ve attended, and another has a man and woman using rib-spreaders on each other to get to what they assume to be treasure but finding doorways instead into which they disappear.
I have a few narrative/epiphany based poems that I’m proud of, but I’m shying away from that style (and it’s my friend’s style, so I’m curious and a bit worried about what he’ll say). I’m not sure if my poems will find homes in “respectable” print journals; I have quite a few out there, so we’ll see in a few months’ time. As much as I’d like to land a poem or two in a print journal, it’s not my sole motivation. Writing and sharing my work is, and so far, my poems have found homes with new, online journals.
The end of the article is quite encouraging:
O ye oppressed contest-submitters of the MFA world, throw away your shackles and start your own collective with like-minded friends, publish poetry you want to immortalize you, not poetry with the maximum chance of pleasing screeners and judges! Start your own press! If nothing else, write on scrap paper and share it with your wife and dog, but don’t dilute your work to win contests! It doesn’t cost $30,000 to publish a book of poetry. Maybe it doesn’t even cost $3! Just as it doesn’t cost $100,000 to “buy two years of time” to get feedback on your writing in an MFA program–maybe it just costs a library card.
Don’t dilute your work to win contests or to fit what others deem to be appropriate parameters. Just write.