Poems are never really “ready” and if I even peek at them, I want to edit edit edit. This is probably true of many poets. Prose pieces are sometimes the same, but as most of my prose these days are lyrics of some sort, it’s easier to get to a good dismount—just nail it and move on. On other sorts of essays, straight let’s get it out just say it essays, I don’t do so well. But I can commit myself to working on those a little at a time. But short stories I can put a finished stamp on, and in all these years of submitting I have never had an editor accept a story that they wanted me to revise before publication. That sounds quite egoistic, but it’s true. Back in the days of Northwest Review, John Witte only wanted a few tweaks on my first prose publication with NR, which was “Soaping the Stream.”
My experience has been this—very often I will submit to a journal for the first time and they pick up what I send them, the version that I send them. This is almost always the case with prose, and it is usually the case with poems, but not always. The editor of Free Lunch, a tiny but well-respected magazine back in the 90s, well, he worked me to death on poems. He returned them in the mail with all these little yellow sticky notes with teeny written comments. I worked with him on “White Bird” and he eventually published it. The editor of New Orleans Review actually called my house to discuss a poem on the PHONE and after that discussion, she published the poem. But as for editors asking for edits on anything—not so much. They either nix or take. And it has so often been the case that when I first submit to a journal I get a bam!, especially with prose. And if I don’t get a bam! that first time, I get rejection after rejection on and on and on.
Steven Corey and I worked on a poem together for The Georgia Review until we got it right—but there were few actual changes in the end, just minor things, and the changes made the poem better so I didn’t mind them. When he accepted the poem and said he would get back to me with “edits” and “suggestions,” I figured he would rip up the thing, but that isn’t what happened.
I sometimes get rejections with comments, snippets of advice—“we found the voice repetitive,” things like that, or this last rejection from Carve, where they kept the story forever and it made it to their final “round of readers,” and then rejected it. They gave me extensive comments from the readers, some of which were dumb, like “I didn’t understand the Nazi reference,” or “some of the sentences didn’t flow well for me.” The comments annoyed me because the language has never been the problem with the story—the action/plot/resolution is the problem with the story. In any case, responses like that are rare.
I have submitted over and over again to New Yorker. Alice Quinn called my house and left messages on my phone. She wrote me a personal, hand-written letter. She couldn’t have been more encouraging, but I eventually gave up and now she’s gone. (My dumb dumb dumb dumb, sorry if you’ve heard this story before. If any of you know how to reach her, please let me know. I’ve tried to find her and have but have not been able to get an email or office number. I want to apologize to her for being rude and not responding to her letter. I was mad because I thought she said my poems were “interesting.” I’ve looked back, she didn’t say that.) But I expect rejections from NY. I have submitted to Mid-American Review, over and over again, and over and over again—it just ain’t gonna happen. I will not submit there again, or I hope I don’t. I have submitted over and over to Missouri Review, with a lot of encouragement to “please send again,” etc., but I’m done with them.
With my novel—New Rivers Press accepted it and pretty much didn’t want me to make changes. They actually stopped me finally, because they had “fallen in love” with the book as it was. This, I think, is rare. This means I am lucky and I am one of those people who writes prose that just flows out in streams of joy and fury. Yes, I did do revisions on the novel, some, before I submitted it, little tweaks, but no rewriting the ending, no jerking it through hoops and hurdles and hammering it to death. This, too, means I am lucky, at least with this novel. I don’t think the next one will be so easy and perhaps this means that the novel is really not so good.
In any case, submissions, in spite of submittable (thank god), in spite of reading fees (more and more common and I don’t blame them), it’s still a pain in the ass to submit poems. I have two packets ready, but if I even look at them—revise and tweak, revise and tweak. I hope I get more done today.
And I hope to get in the water today. Get out of the house. So far this morning, I seem to be doing much, much better. The cough junk is still wadded up back down there, but my nose has actually been running this morning and I have been blowing it into paper towels (which is astonishing because this doesn’t happen a lot, which is the problem of course)—I am feeling better and I think it won’t rain today. We’ve had lots of rain and we need lots of rain and I love rain, but I don’t love so much overcast muddy skies for days on end.
Now that I’m feeling better, I will I hope be able to tell if the Salvella is working for the firbo. I think it is. It makes me hot flash hot long flash hot, which sucks, but there are ways of cooling off. Cold can be much worse. In our class Monday night, I was roasting. I took off my thin shawl, which left me exposed fat rolls galore dear god, but I didn’t care. I almost left while someone was speaking at length. I had to stop myself. And I can’t just sit there and fan myself and say motherfucker over and over again, which would certainly help, but I asked at our first meeting about language and Shirley, the marvelous marvel of a woman who puts her hands on my head when I scoot over to the chapel for healing after the Eucharist , said that she would rather not hear “offensive” language and Mary said that thing that always infuriates me, how bad language shows that you have a limited vocabulary and imagination. But I digress. The Savella seems to be helping. But I am hot hot hot.
Jesus. In every little breath. Jesus Christ. Damn it. My back’s on fire.