Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Get Naked

I volunteer at Poetry International, the literary journal edited and run by the MFA program for creative writing at San Diego State. I have been with P.I for 9 months and one of my main responsibilities is reading submissions.

Reading poetry can be difficult. Critiquing and judging poetry can be difficult. Feeling like you have no right to judge when you yourself have just sent out your own work for others to critique like you are that very moment, is difficult.

For a majority of the time as a volunteer, (especially when rejection letter writing came around) I felt bad. Awful. Now, that's not what you feel when you volunteer. Volunteering is the act of giving up your time and working (with no pay). You choose to be "free" but with the quality of "priceless." That's my goal when I signed up: I wanted to be great. But then I realized my guilt.

Fortunately I'm a perfectionist and often I ignored my guilt because hey, I didn't go to these poet's doors and say "Dear ______, Although we enjoyed your poems.... we wish you the best in placing them elsewhere..." in person. It wasn't personal, but during the winter especially, I was right there with my fellow poets. I had put my work out there, and waited to see if it would pay off. Mine, unfortunately, did not. I got the rejection letters (and I wondered each time what template they used. Was it template # 5: kinda nice or template # 9: straight-forward)

Some letters were template # 6: "we had such a hard selection to make this year...blah blah's the record for our school's history to have such an equally talented group...blah.

In my case, of course. Of course everyone that is the next J. D Salinger decides to sign up for an MFA the same time I do. It was like the sign-up sheet you see posted on the bulletin board for Student Council President. You scroll through the cheerleader, the charmer, the douche, and the rich kid, and you-bottom line, lowercase.

Only this time, I can't even see the names to know what I'm up against. Unfair. Cruel really. And for my poets striving to be accepted and published by P.I., it can be cruel too.

Hence my guilt came from my camaraderie to them as fearless artists. Being a writer and actively working towards publication, whether in poetry or fiction, is like being in your underwear in front of the classroom- all the time.

You're standing there, stripped to the bare essentials, and people just kinda stare at you. Their looking and you have no clue what they're concluding: Am I fat? Am I ugly? Am I pimply?

I worry about my words in very similar fashion: are they fat? (antidisestablishmentarianism) are they ugly? (it)* are they pimply? (cumulative)

*The ugliness of "it" was brought to light in my junior year honors English class. My teacher, the great Mrs. Wilcox despised the usage. I imagined her scrunching up her nose whenever she read one my essays and I began a sentence with "it." I might as well have pooped on the paper and handed it over the way she saw it: rude and unimaginative.

I read many poems (sex, love, dark, light, love, sex, trees, cows) and I have written many rejections (Dear John, David, Brain, Mary, Gaylord-no joke, Harry, Fred, Helen...) I have written collection of poems, three short stories, two creative non-fiction stories, and handful of articles. I have read 8 rejections, countless critiques, and red-inked opinions. But you carry on.

My legs may cramp up while I stand, still, in my underwear, the world sitting at its desks. I may, at times, seriously consider running away and crying in a dark corner or not even making it to the corner and crying right in front of everyone, but I stand.

To every poet I voluntarily spent time with: thank you. Thank you for reminding me that it's time to get naked.

You gotta let them see ALL the words.


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