Thursday, November 10, 2011

The time has come for me to say "I disagree"

It's a song.  No, it's a stone.  Well actually, it's a river.

The fact is I am writing again, though I have gone a few days without drafting anything, but I wanted to get into the discussion as of late about Erika Meitner's journal post here and which has been touted around the bloggy blogosphere and Facebook.  If you haven't read it, it's all about what she learned while reading manuscripts, screening the first round of a contest and forwarding the best to the next level.  Meitner talks about the various 'types' of manuscripts which seem to be in vogue and the hundreds of manuscripts she was happy (I think she at least implied she was happy) to read through as part of this gig.

The problem is I wasn't as wowed as everyone else seems to be at reading this article.  In fact, I really hated it.  Now before you go there, let me tell you I did not hate it because of anything Meitner said, or even how she said it.  I hated it because I am already terrified enough as it is over the prospect of poetry contests without knowing what goes through a screen-er sees.  I really have no use for knowing that all of my efforts in trying to put together a manuscript have been reduced to one of seven stereotypical classes of poetry manuscript "kinds."  Getting away from the Creation theories for a moment, I already know there is nothing new under the sun.  I just don't want to be reminded of it as I am trying to feel good about what I am doing as a poet.  The truth is, as I pointed out with the whole BlazeVOX ruffle, it's right there on the shelf among laws and sausage: I don't want to see how poetry manuscripts are made.  I think there should have been some kind of spoiler alert because what I thought was going to be a discussion of how better to order my manuscripts really became a discussion of how unimaginative I have been with my latest manuscript, and after reading the article I genuinely felt like I should do all of the following:

1.  Delete any file with any association with my second manuscript (which would now include deleting this blog post).

2.  Bury or burn every scrap of paper which is testament to my manuscript's existence.

3.  Walk away and never speak of said manuscript ever again.

I also have to say this.  Of all the people I saw praising the article, all have thus far been women.  Now before you go there again, let me say I bought Erika Meitner's book, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls, and I am enjoying it.  She is one helluva poet and my making the comment about those who praise her article has nothing to do with misogyny.  Meitner is a far better poet than I will ever be and I have no problem saying that.  What I am getting to is that Meitner has probably revealed something women poets think of as an essential key to the process of understanding contests and has said it in a way women poets can identify with more readily than male poets.  There is also the distinct possibility that I am simply a jackass for thinking and/or saying it out loud.

However, the truth still remains---my truth.  I don't like it when I see my efforts minimized to a trite classification, even if it is done to survive reading several hundred manuscripts in a short span of time.  Does Erika Meitner owe me an apology?  No.  In fact, Hell no!  I do not take offense in what she says or how she said it.  Remember?  My hang-ups are my own.  I simply felt so strongly in the negative, I had to tell someone, anyone, I do not like it.  Now you can go there if you want.


  1. If you read "Ordering the Storm," which is basically a whole book of different poets talking about organizing poetry manuscripts, then your mind will be really blown!!
    In all seriousness, I think it's good to know how others (say, contest readers) are looking at your MS. Maybe not as you go about writing it, but definitely as you're putting finishing touches on it. I don't think you have to be unoriginal; I think there is such a thing as a collective unconscious that applies to things such as "trends in poetry manuscripts"; and I think there are some dominant paradigms (such as the three section rule) that are good to think about and good to question.
    Questioning doesn't mean doubting; it just means thinking about the reasons why you're doing the things you're doing.

  2. Thank you for the suggestions and comments. I appreciate it.

  3. Like I said in my post: A lot of what I am feeling is my own anxiety. In particular, I feel a huge gap between what I see happening in poetry and what I am capable of doing. Articles like Meitner's make me feel all the more inferior because it exposes the lack of originality on my part.

  4. Don't psych yourself out. Originality may not be the most important thing about a manuscript. Especially when it comes to organization. Sometimes saying something simply is the best strategy.