Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On Nepotism, Low Self-Esteem, and Compelling Manuscripts

The thing about writing a bad review of someone’s poetry is they might not like you.

But for me, I always think that when someone has something negative to say about me that they might be onto something. There is no greater comfort than when someone doesn’t like you for the right reasons. When my partner of fourteen years stops me in the middle of an argument and says, “When you fight, you’re crazy and insincere,” I know that he knows who I am. I love him even more. He loves me for the right reasons.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were also right. No one really likes to read their own reviews. They want either a thumbs up or thumbs down.


A friend of mine invited me to her class to talk about my published memoir.
I then told them about a bad review I got. My memoir is written in short vignettes, ranging anywhere from a mere paragraph to ten pages.
“One review said that the vignettes became monotone to a degree and ended the same way too often,” I said.
“Did your low self-esteem get even worse?”
“If you truly have low self-esteem, you don’t really notice. Your life is already a piece of shit.”


The personal note “Very strong. Compelling ms” could simply mean, “Thank you for paying your submission free. Send again next year.” Or it could simply mean it’s a strong, compelling ms. As three hundred others are.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Anyone who denies happiness or legitimacy to someone who got their book published through their contacts is mean. Everyone knows somebody who knows somebody. It might even be more difficult to get published if you have a lot of friends. People know you’re going to be there no matter what. What’s wrong with publishing your friends? Who else are you going to publish? Your enemies?


I know it's hard to believe, but I hate cynics. I’ve been going at this poetry publication stuff for a long time. And all I know is that there are a sizeable number of legit contests. And you don’t always need connections. And you can just write good poems and good things can happen.

One of the most exciting times in grad school was watching a poet named Eliot Khalil Wison’s career grow into something big. He had no connections. He always wrote on and off, but never sent things out. One day he got bored and sent a few out. They were immediately accepted, so he wrote more, and those got accepted. Everything was happening so quick, and then he completed a book, and got that accepted, and then he won an NEA, a Bush Foundation Grant, and a Pushcart—

He didn’t know anybody. He just wrote the poems.