Saturday, September 28, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Poetic Invitations

An Invitation isn’t Necessarily an Acceptance, Plus More

This past week a few of my friends received invitations from Editors to send work to their journals. I hope some of you did too. That is totally cool, and you should feel very proud that out of the zillions of writers, an Editor remembered you.

I am normally a “glass half full” person, and I don’t want to burst any bubbles. Definitely consider this as an “invitation to submit your work”, but don’t assume that it will automatically be accepted (although it probably will). Send your best work, just like you would for any other submission.

Why would an Editor invite you to submit?

Wallace Stevens
They like your work and they can rely on you. They know you’re not going to take this opportunity to submit some experimental thing you’ve been working on. They know if your poems are usually a page or less long, you’re not going to submit a 12-page Ode to Earl Grey Tea. Keep what you send consistent with what they’ve seen and you have a great chance.

They may ask because they know you can write something for them with no notice. I once had an Editor tell me they had room for a short poem with a particular theme and could I send it right away. I was happy to rise to the challenge and fill that empty spot in their journal. The Editor neglected to put my name on the back cover or put me in the Table of Contents or bios, but they went to press without a hole on one page and I was thankful I was able to help. Then I edited the heck out of the poem and “really” submitted it, since it had not been credited before.

Carolyn, the Apple of Avenue F

A childhood so consumed with painful shyness
she told everyone to call her Nancy.  Even on vacation
her parents called her that, glancing sideways at each other,
shrugging their shoulders.  Now blossomed and respected
as the one who gets things done she is reborn. 

Her lover, skilled at making her know beauty and fixing
plumbing, has endeared her to her tenants.  She puts on soup,
he fixes the sink in 2B, they make love and feast
like peasants.  Innocent flirting has the gardener
water the walks and plant flowers for all seasons

out of gratitude for her sweetness and his visibility
to someone besides his children.  She welcomes
the “hello’s”,  loves chatting with the mailman
and baking cakes for birthdays and celebrations.
She speaks gently to the little girl in 4C, petrified

and chubby, forced into pink tights, black leotard
and ballet by a mother who cannot accept her baby
as anything but perfect.  Graceful and grown, she tells
the girl when the time is right to be seen it will happen.
Don’t bake the sweets until you’re ready to be thanked.

(previously published, after major editing, in Cholla Needles)  

There may be a theme that an Editor knows will be perfect for you. James E. Lewis is a poet friend of mine who goes kayaking almost every day up in the Bay Area. He takes gorgeous photos that he posts on Facebook. If I had a theme of water, birds, sunsets, sound, etc. I would send James an invitation for sure.

Stepping away from invitations to submit for a moment…

If I saw another journal with those themes I would let James know. And then I’d bug him like crazy until he submitted—because I like to bug him (I’m so sorry, James). We sometimes have different relationships with calendars, and sometimes I keep better track of submission windows. So it’s like NASA. I count down the time he has left until he submits to finally shut me up.

Shelly Blankman loves giraffes. She’s also an excellent ekphrastic poet. I see her name all over the place in ekphrastic journals. If I see something that’s right up her alley, I’ll let her know. I personally am not a good ekphrastic poet but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the best for my friend.

Do I know every writer in the world, their strengths and passions? Heck no! But think about it. Whether you’re an Editor or not, you go to readings, you have poet friends. Presumably you talk to each other, or email when you have insomnia and nothing to write. TELL YOUR FRIENDS if you see something that may interest them. Hopefully they’ll do the same for you.

It is so fun to be in journals with friends. Second to that is seeing someone doing the happy dance because of an acceptance that was perfect for them. THAT is knowing the aesthetics of different journals like we talked about last week. THAT is being a good literary citizen!!

And FINALLY, as I ALWAYS say, if you choose not to be a submitting writer, you are STILL a writer!

Finally finally, to quote Denis Johnson, who passed away in 2017 and who knew every single Bob Dylan song by heart:

            Write naked. That means to write what you would never say.
Write in blood. As if ink is so precious you can't waste it.
Write in exile, as if you are never going to get home again, and you have to call back every detail.
— Denis Johnson

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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