Monday, November 3, 2014

Calling All Writers: On How to Read a Poem and the Inevitable Art of Rejection

The Time Has Come by Joel Rea


Two articles of interest to poets this week. The first is an Atlantic Monthly piece listing 20 Ways to Read Poetry: A Step by Step Guide by Mark Yakich.  I'm especially fond of numbers 19 and 20. I'm less fond of the idea that getting drunk will help you understand a poem but that's just me. Here's a few steps to whet your appetite for the whole list.


3. Try to meet a poem on its terms not yours. If you have to “relate” to a poem in order to understand it, you aren’t reading it sufficiently. In other words, don’t try to fit the poem into your life. Try to see what world the poem creates. Then, if you are lucky, its world will help you re-see your own.

4. Whether or not you are conscious of it, you are always looking for an excuse to stop reading a poem and move on to another poem or to do something else entirely. Resist this urge as much as possible. Think of it as a Buddhist regards a pesky mosquito. The mosquito, like the poem, may be irritating, but it’s not going to kill you to brave it for a little while longer.


There's also a piece by Graywolf  editor Jeff Shotts, on the Art of Rejection. The sobering, humorous, and stunning truth is that we writers who send our work our into the world will be rejected. We will be rejected again and again. The statistics on how many manuscripts Graywolf accepts out of what they receive sent chills down this writer's spine. The essay includes sassy poems on rejection. It also includes the fear editors have of missing the next great writer. How many publishers rejected The Clerk's Tale before it won the Bread Load Prize, for example. Over 200 times -- that's a lot of stamps. These two articles together comprise a sort of instruction manuel into the world of poetry.

I wish one of these articles had made the point that creating a literary community in your town: starting a writing series or a literary festival or a poetry reading group can also help a writer create the kind of writing life she wants to live. But that's another article. One I will be writing soon.

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