As readers of the latest edition of The Los Angeles Review will have noticed, we at LAR have teamed up with the A Room of Her Own Foundation (which I encourage you to check out if you are a woman writer or have a woman writer in your life; AROHO is the wonderful organization behind the the biennial $50,000 Gift of Freedom) to publish the winning entries in The Orlando Awards in poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction.
This month, it’s my honor to be the final judge for the Orlando poetry competition. I have a thick stack of semifinalists’ work sitting on my desk, waiting for this weekend when I will have the pleasure–and difficult task–of selecting a group of finalists and a winner. I had worried that I might need to recuse myself on some poems if the pieces came in from writers I know. This publishing world seems small enough, at times, that things can get a little incestuous. But when I looked through the semifinalists that had been passed to me, I realized I didn’t recognize a single name on the list.
And that, friends, is really exciting. There’s a bounty of talent in those pages–talent I likely wouldn’t otherwise have come across. As a journal editor, nothing pleases me more than welcoming an excellent poem into the world, and it’s especially gratifying to publish the work of writers I know nothing about.
Sometimes we worry we’re not well connected enough, not popular enough, not known enough to break into new writing markets, to get published, or to win awards (and the cash that sometimes comes with them). Speaking for myself, the dread of being unpopular, unliked, or just not good enough that was so paralyzing as a 14-year-old comes back when I’m sending out manuscripts or–scariest of all–entering poems into contests. Sometimes I wonder whether we writers (perhaps women writers in particular?) actually self-sabotage by not sending the work to venues in which we really want to publish, or shying away from competitions because we feel our odds are too poor as new writers, emerging writers, or just-plain scared writers.
But as an editor who gets a thrill out of seeing a stellar poem by a poet I know nothing about, I’m giving my fellow writers a little Friday encouragement: this weekend, get brave. Send your best work out. Send it to a venue that knows nothing about you. Enter it into a competition, or send it to that journal you’ve been secretly dreaming about publishing in. Sure, you may be rejected. That’s an inevitable part of the publication game. But your work just might be a fit. You just may make an editor’s day by showing them something new, fresh, and exciting, and by giving them the opportunity to enjoy your voice.