Today I light a fire, for the first time this year, as the temperatures plummet, as the reds and oranges of autumn give way to the grays and browns, and I think to myself, it is good to read some poetry to heat me up from the inside out. So I pick up a few of the manuscripts which pile up in my living room (which is also my dining room, kitchen and writing room) and allow the flames to surge and snap and glow.
I am thankful so many have sent in their precious work–it seems I have many treasures in my hands–that I am entrusted with–to honor and give my entire attention. We are approaching sixty-five manuscripts now–which has been the result of so much outreach, so much creative spreading of the word not only by Elliott and myself, but by the women I have spoken to in acknowledgement of their manuscripts. I thank everyone who has told a friend, mentioned it in a poetry group or MFA program. If QuillsEdge is to make it, artistically and financially (ah yes, nothing grows without green–even the Goddess Udjat, the Goddess of the Eye’s name means green) we need to spread our fields wide, as the psalms say.
I am a person for whom poetry is like slow food, a person who needs lots of time to appreciate flavors, textures, visions– hence I start leisurely contemplating the manuscripts. And it occurs to me that when in the past I have sent out my work, the process of how it has been evaluated has remained a mystery. And rarely does a rejection slip or an acceptance, for that matter, lend any transparency as to what it was about the poetry that made it special or resigned it to recycling.(No not even a hint or a shred of what it had or lacked for my readers.) So I have decided to say a little here, and say more in other posts, about my adventures in reading and my process reading your work.
My co-conspirator Elliot, wild of red hair and sprit, says when she reads excellence, extraordinary-ness, she always exclaims “I wish I had written that!” It is the quintessential Eureka and she has, I think, hit the ultimate gold nail on the head. Yet because I tend to complicate things to infinity (just saying–obsession is a priceless pathology for a poet) I write down pages and pages just noticing what I need to notice in every manuscript. Of course this is about as likely as me memorizing the all of the Holy Sonnets or the Books of Moses (or the Books of Mrs. Moses or Grandma Moses) but still, it is something that is my process. Nonetheless, realizing it will only get in the way–I give it up immediately after I displace the yellow dog (gently, with a milk bone) off her (my) chair to read in the living room decorated by pictures of Navaho women weaving. First, I read the title. (How linear–but a title is important) I usually feel and smell the manuscript (I grow to maturity in the touchy feely days) and I pop on my seriously electric blue reading glasses. I sit down for the time it takes, minus pacing and pee breaks I keep reminding myself–Jane look, see (See Jane, see Jane read) now deeper and now again. So I read in and then aloud since that is the heritage of our craft. I had some learning differences, still do, as a child. This is allowed me to feel fine about taking twice the time and doing half of what normal people do. It allows me to look at the craft deeply and delight in it, to recognize “ah, a Sestina or a Petrarchan Sonnet, an Ode or an Elegy . It gives me permission to consider content and complexity–individual,historic, common and uncommon, earthy and ethereal.It allows me to take journeys into exotic places. And incredibly important for me, it opens up the music of the poetry–that music that propels and pulses the words.
Because comparing manuscripts is impossible–so much greater than simply comparing apples to oranges–we are talking not merely planets here, but solar systems, galaxies,nebulas and black holes, quasars and pulsars–I know I am in for the ride of lifetimes. Not only your’s or mine…
Yet the evaluation itself is truly subjective in its least definable. It is individual and cellular–our reckoning of poetry. And if I don’t get chosen or choose one manuscript that does not mean it should be discounted in any way. Each work has a validity, a reason and right to be–it has its own beauty,courage and expression. To quote Sweet Honey and the Rock, “It is the sons and daughters of life (your life) longing for itself.” It is bread. It is meat. It is fruit. It is.
So as I head towards Thanksgiving, I say a blessing for each dear poets, in a conspiracy (conspire means to love) of abundance and creation. After the turkey flies off your table– before the maids come a milking, I write again. Until then and always,savor your own unique and juicy possibilities. In common measure, Jane