Had we but world enough and time

April 3, 2009

How long to wait before assuming a piece has been rejected? When do bad manners or sloppy practices or simple overwork slide over into the world of too long, allowing a conscientious writer or poet to submit her work elsewhere? How do we decide where to send our poetry?

As to the latter, well, I went through a stage of deciding merely by name. I thought that if a journal had an imaginative title, it was probably likely to publish interesting work. Sometimes I did this sight unseen, and have been very pleased. Shakespeare’s Monkey Revue, for example, attracted just because of that title, and the journal didn’t disappoint when I saw it.

I have been advised to take a more sensible approach to where I try and place work. I am grateful for that advice, from a very well-respected and, more importantly, accomplished poet. There is a definite hierarchy of literary journals in my homeland Australia (and elsewhere of course). But I am not a poet because I want to build a career, or because I want a sparkling CV. On the contrary; poetry should be an escape from that type of world. I love the idea of people who like poetry reading my work, rather than worrying about status.

A similar question is: how much time should one put into trying to receive funding for one’s artistic endeavours? Some poets seem to spend as much time writing applications as sonnets. They might as well get ‘a real job’ and write in their spare time, so relentlessly do they work at chasing the Government dollar. And the whingeing! It’s as if they think they’re Shostakovich and the funding body is run directly by Uncle Joe, when they lack both talent and any real cause for grievance. (For my mythical foreign reader, most funding in Oz is public, not philanthropic.)

One would be mad to ignore the possibility of assistance in pursuing one’s art, but equally insane to sacrifice art for the pursuit of money.

But here’s a funny little one about the way poets often work for free:

Will work for print

I can do sarcastic.
I can do elegaic,
but controlled, you know,
no red hearts or roses
strewing graves.
I am indeed bereft
of the word bereft.
I’ve dabbled in spiritual.
I do a very good dog:
snuffling, truffling, worshipping
at a scented shrine, one leg cocked.
I can even do decent rhymes
if pushed. And if there were time
I’m sure I could run to a novel
in verse. (But that might be cheating.)

So for all your poetic needs
call the number on the little
paper tags fringing the bottom
of this hula page. And ask for me.

P.S. Cottier

Joy (or at least a certain satisfaction) should be the poet’s main reward. If one is lucky enough to have enough, why complain? People write poetry in jails and where there is virtually no hope of publication. This, surely, is what any art should be about? Something that even the sloppiest journal editor can never steal? (Let’s end where we started, with a bracing question mark.)

Thoughts? Carrots? Sticks? Comments? Go ahead!

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