Your Jour­ney Is Just Be­gin­ning

Poets and Writers - - Contents -

From Po­ets & Writ­ers, Inc.

You are a poet—or you think you are. Per­haps you have never been sure. After all, you don’t have the four or five books to your name that you thought you’d have by now. A cou­ple of com­pe­ti­tion wins, an award or two, yes, but no book. It seems so com­pli­cated, so dif­fi­cult, this busi­ness of get­ting pub­lished. You live in a small town, in a ru­ral state, far away from the pub­lish­ing cen­ters of Amer­ica; the ed­i­tors and po­ets amassed there seem so far above you.

But you try. You en­ter con­tests, send your work to mag­a­zines; they all say no. In April you miss a call—a New York City num­ber—prob­a­bly a scam. There is a voice mail from “Bonnie.” It’s not a scam. Bonnie Rose Mar­cus is from Po­ets & Writ­ers, and you have won the Mau­reen Egen Writ­ers Ex­change Award for po­etry—you are go­ing to Man­hat­tan on an all-ex­penses paid trip to meet with writ­ers, agents, ed­i­tors, and pub­lish­ers.

Six months later you ar­rive. The build­ings are enor­mous, the streets teem­ing. You meet Bonnie, bright and beam­ing, and go out for din­ner with Joan Dempsey, the writer who won the award for fic­tion, who is quickly be­com­ing a good friend. Your nerves are tin­gling; you al­most dread the thought of to­mor­row’s meet­ings. What will you ask them—these po­ets who have made it, who have books and books; these ed­i­tors of fa­mous mag­a­zines—what will you ask them that won’t sound ridicu­lous? Will they look down at you, ex­pect­ing you to know all the po­ets and trends that you don’t?

Morn­ing comes. Bonnie guides you; the streets seem less alien. The first meet­ing is with poet Pa­tri­cia Car­lin, coed­i­tor of Bar­row Street and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the New School. You meet at a cof­fee shop, get a quiet ta­ble in the cor­ner. You’re so ner­vous you can’t re­mem­ber what you said. It doesn’t mat­ter. She’s gra­cious, in­ter­ested, friendly. You talk about as­sem­bling col­lec­tions, the ben­e­fits and down­sides of small presses and re­gional presses, places to net­work. She asks if one of your win­ning po­ems is avail­able for her mag­a­zine, gives you her card.

Now you feel bet­ter. This is go­ing to be okay— maybe even fun. In the next meet­ings, with agents and other fic­tion folk, Joan is in the spot­light, so you re­lax. From the side­lines, you see that all these peo­ple—big, im­por­tant New York peo­ple—are just peo­ple: in­ter­ested in writ­ers, pas­sion­ate about lit­er­a­ture, en­gaged with you. At din­ner, ed­i­tors from A Pub­lic Space, Four Way Books, and Hang­ing Loose Press dis­cuss mag­a­zine life, small press life, and po­etry. You see that ed­i­tors sim­ply want their work to be thought­fully read, the same as you do. Sub­mis­sions, you re­al­ize, don’t have to be a bat­tle but can be a com­mu­ni­ca­tion—maybe even an of­fer­ing. Some­one will like your work if you take the time to learn what they like first.

The days zoom by. Break­fast with a writer, cof­fee with an agent, lunch with an­other writer, tea with a pub­lisher. Bonnie shep­herds you with care and end­less good hu­mor. You grow com­fort­able with the rou­tine, with the city, with the im­por­tant New York peo­ple. You meet Jonathan Galassi of FSG and feel en­tirely at ease. You love hear­ing gos­sip about the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, what Jorie Gra­ham said to whom. In the first five min­utes of tea, poet Kate Angus, the found­ing ed­i­tor of Augury Books, tells you eight small presses she thinks would ap­pre­ci­ate your aes­thetic. With Joan, you give your first read­ing in a big city, and the au­di­ence seems to like it. Rob Spill­man of Tin House gives you this gold-plated ad­vice: A busy ed­i­tor must be per­suaded based on the ti­tle plus the first line of your poem. David Lehman scrawls help­ful ed­its on your man­u­script. The tour of the New Yorker of­fices is un­for­get­table.

Sud­denly it’s over. You’re go­ing home, to your small town, your green and quiet state. Noth­ing has changed there—but when you sit in your placid town li­brary, New York City feels close. You start work­ing on your man­u­script. You are a poet. You are ready.

This es­say ap­peared, in slightly dif­fer­ent form, on our Read­ings & Work­shops Blog on Jan­uary 8, 2018. Learn more about the Mau­reen Egen Writ­ers Ex­change Award at pw.org/wex.

Brian Evans-Jones won the Mau­reen Egen Writ­ers Ex­change Award for po­etry in 2017. He re­ceived his MFA from the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire in 2016 and teaches po­etry and cre­ative writ­ing at schools, col­leges, and com­mu­nity venues in Maine and New Hamp­shire. His web­site is www.bri­anevan­sjones.com.

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