What We See Is Not Where We
does not necessarily rise from the heat of creativity like a Phoenix
as most of us came to believe. We took our first literature class
and lo! There was Chekhov and Steinbeck and Dostoevsky. They were
dexterous. Unattainable. Awe-inspiring.
of us dared not to assume that we would ever be able to fully understand
these great artists. The likes of Milton and Shakespeare and Dante
were beyond our ken. Too removed. Too difficult. Too intellectual.
of us dared not aspire to write that well. These artist’s
fragile first efforts were lost or our teachers did not gift us
with them, so how could we not compare our flailing first efforts
with their perfection?
Then comes a teacher like Helen Vendler.
The Harvard Press just released her Coming
of Age as a Poet. It is book of essays that takes four
brilliant poets and humanizes their artistic growth. It is an exercise
in understanding of and appreciation for great poets. It also offers
hope to those who are taking baby steps to understand (or write)
what are or someday may be classics. Even Oprah is asking us to
forget that we were once cowed by our experience with great literature
and try again.
felt fortunate to run across Vendler’s book. (It may be ordered
.) Then, because the universe so groups events, a literary journal
called Tin House arrived in my mailbox—I know not
why. It may have been a review copy, though there was no letter
to indicate that. It may have come because I submitted one of my
own works (which one would it have been?) to them for consideration.
Receiving it without knowing why was magical. In it was a poem by
Michael Leong in a section called “New Voices.” Michael
was a fellow student in a class in poetry that I took last summer
at Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia. It felt like further
proof that little seeds (though I knew Michael was very talented
even then) can grow very quickly leaving no evidence of the first,
pale sprouts of their brilliance.
I received a lovely (yes, rejections can sometimes be lovely) “exceptionally
good but not quite right” note from an online review, Tarpaulin
Sky. I clicked to their site and found work by Aimée Bender,
a young writer with edgy leanings who once sat on a panel at a UCLA
writers’ conference I attended. I later took a class from
her and I have seen her writing mutate from fascinating to amazing.
another letter within the same week. This time it was an acceptance
from California State University’s Penumbra, their
annual literary magazine. They wanted to include a story I just
written and sent out only once—to them. I was amazed. Often
a story will not be suitable for any given publication or win a
contest until it has been submitted several times.(Go to: www.csustan.edu/english/dept/penumbra_2001.html)
I was asked to sit on the editorial board of a new journal, Yarrow
Brook Literary Review. Their mission is to showcase emerging authors
and that seems to fit right into this theme. The editor, Sarah Mankowski,
has set up a “Best Excerpts Contest” as well as regular
submission process because she doesn’t want to exclude anything
that is an author’s “best.” (Go to: www.wordthunder.com
for more information.)
occurred to me that these events were like magnetic filings, all
pointing in one direction. What is it that is pulling them? Perhaps
it is that I sense—because I have experienced the feeling—that
those of us who want to know more about literature need the assurance
that it is okay to only be reaching for the lowest rung of the ladder.
That when we finally grasp it, we can pull ourselves up and up and
up. Then, someday, someone might look at what we’ve attained
and have no idea that our knowledge or achievement was any less
great that what they see before them, that what they see is not
where we started.
Each month in this box, Carolyn
lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors
and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected
books or a sapphire among the newly-published.
You’ll find a nice den for writers at www.authorsden.com.
You can set up your own site there for no charge and add extra
services for a fee. The owners and staff, Matt, Jackie and
friends, are delightful and you’ll find lots of other
authors, other ideas for writing and articles on promotion
on the site.
Readers' Tip: In the
process of reviewing books for MyShelf.com I ran across a
site for a small press that finds (and publishes!) fine works
by unknown writers. It is www.fuguestatepress.com.
If you’re looking for the experimental or for writers
who do voo doo with words, this site is worth a visit.
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