In Which I Propose a Little Project for National Poetry Month

Last Friday, I gave a co-presentation with Kobbie Alamo on artistic citizenship at the Biz Art conference. (Biz Art/Self Employment in the Arts is a great family of conferences with events in numerous cities. Check them out.) We had a great group, and I really enjoyed talking with artists across various disciplines about easy ways to engage in the art world, build contacts and relationships, and strengthen the arts community.

Kobbie and I talked briefly about Blake Butler’s fantastic piece at Brevity, in which he coins the terms “an open node” for the person actively engaged in and giving back to the literary community, and “a turd person” for, well, a person who acts like a turd to others. Coming off the high of that conference and having gotten jazzed up about about increasing my own citizenship in the literary world, I was feeling great.

I sat down at my laptop, ready to plow through the slush pile for The Los Angeles Review, send as many personalized responses as I could, and get decisions to writers as soon as possible. In short, I was ready to be an open-node editor. I clicked into the first email in my box, and, what do you know! It was from a turd person.

The email was nasty, rude, mean-spirited and apparently intended to do nothing but insult my publication. It was apropos of no submission, of no slight real or imaged. I’d never heard of this man before he sent this message impugning what I and the rest of the editorial team do at The Los Angeles Review.

It sucked. I had to read the note several times before I could actually believe that any aspiring writer would treat an editor–and a stranger–in such a weird, rude way. As if on cue, my cat sauntered up, crouched down on my rug, and extruded a massive, literal turd. It was a double-turd day.

Days like that really stink for editors. As I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past, some–not all–writers forget that editors are, in fact, people. We just happen to be strange enough to spend all our free time and plenty of our money and creative energy publishing other people’s work because we love it, because we want to support the arts community, and because we believe in the importance of providing venues for creativity. We don’t put our emotional and spiritual persons away when we sit down to read the slush pile.

Later that same day, I heard from another writer–an open-node writer. Again, I didn’t know the man, but he complimented the magazine and our work. He didn’t want anything from me–didn’t ask me to consider his manuscript or to introduce him to any movers and shakers I might know in the poetry world. He just read something he liked, and he spoke up about it. And it made all the difference for me. The literary world runs on goodwill, and a kind word gave me the morale I needed to get through another 95 submitted poems that evening.

Writers, during National Poetry Month (which begins tomorrow, April 1), let me suggest a citizenship project. Find a poetry editor or a publisher (maybe he or she’s published you, or maybe you just like the work you’ve seen) and say something to them. You don’t have to gush, and you absolutely don’t need to kiss anyone’s behind. But I guarantee you: a simple, kind word and a little positivity will do wonders for an editor, for a magazine, for a press, and for the entire literary community.

5 Replies to “In Which I Propose a Little Project for National Poetry Month”

  1. After meeting a man at a conference last year, he sent me a query that systematically insulted everyone at the agency, myself included. I only work with people whom I respect, so I kindly turned him down. I saw him again at this year’s conference. He carried with him a suitcase full of his self-published books, which he could not give away, even to fellow authors. Karma. That shit is for real.

  2. Thank you Kelly! They’ve proven that for every ONE negative comment someone says it needs 100 good ones to make up for it. So here goes…

    1. You’re cool because you like string cheese.
    2. Awesome
    3. You’re a great editor
    4. Great Writer
    5. Your blog rocks
    6. Beautiful
    7. Nice
    8. Caring
    9. Giving
    10.I envy your hair

    Okay, I don’t want to take up to much room on your blog so 10-100 would be…YOU ROCK THE FREE WORLD! 🙂

  3. Well thank you, Naomi! I didn’t mean you needed to say anything nice to/about ME, but I certainly appreciate it. 🙂

  4. Like your comments about poetry very much. Didn’t think about writing an editor of a publication that publishes poetry. Good idea! What I did was invite the editor of a newspaper (in which I had a column for a few years) to join Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry project. But alas, my former editor said she didn’t have the space. Well, shucks, but she would have the space if so many other things didn’t trump the importance of poetry. Is poetry itself the cause of the apparent decline in its popularity with general audiences–Mary Jones and John Smith? Too many enigmatic poems? Too many poems “free” of rhythm and rhyme? Or is the problem the public’s perception of contemporary poetry? Whatever the cause, what could poets do to reverse the trend? Is it even true that poetry is less popular than it once was?

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