Jekyll and Hyde and Publishing

“The self that writes may need to be a delicate and protected creature, but the self that submits to magazines ought to be as tough as a rhino’s butt.”

-Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Organization is one thing. Discipline is another. The discipline of getting up early before work to write poems has saved my life. However, if I want anyone other than my lovely wife to encounter these poems, I have to submit them to journals and contests. It is far more enticing to just write another poem. Or goof off on Facebook. Or stick needles in my eyes. In short, I’m still working on the sufficient thickness of rhino hide, strategically located and cultivated, to make this a dispassionate process.

I recently seem to have overcome one major obstacle. A writer pal observed awhile back that the more she writes, the less she submits, and this has been true for me–leading to backlog. So, I resolved to spend the several hours each Tuesday that Val is off with her own writers’ group to plough through worthy poems, matching them to potential suitors and sending them off on dates. Yeah, right. Human nature, anyone? The bigger the project, the more I stalled, leading to more backlog and a mounting sense of dismay.

The solution was to employ the same approach that led me through my MFA while working full-time–manageable bites. Even as I nibbled away at poem-writing (and still do) in less-than-forty-minute increments on a regular basis, I decided to set a ridiculously simple goal of sending poems to one journal or contest per week. And so, each Tuesday for the past two weeks, I have only sent a single batch of poems to a single journal. The consistency feels good, and, strangely enough, this seemingly trivial goal ends up being just about manageable in practice.

And so, I slip gradually into my Mr. Hyde (or is that “hide”?) role–steadily working away at the business of poem-sending. It seems trivial, but the truth is that I do, in fact, still live with a double mind. Mostly, what people see is my Jekyll-like nature in my working life. But still, nearly four years later, the grief of being a childless parent hits me suddenly, unexpectedly, in the middle of a seemingly ordinary life.

It can happen while reading a poem, too–mine, or someone else’s, on the topic of grief, or totally unrelated. And so, the process of sending out poems is one that seems easy, manageable, and even fun when I am feeling robust. But when the grief hits, the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. And so, by setting the smallest useful goal possible, I hope to keep putting my work out there, no matter what–finding strength in vulnerability, appropriate outlets for a sometimes double mind, and hope in knowing I will continue to show up to the conversation of poetry.