Like High School Dating All Over Again

I’m experiencing a lot of rejection.

Probably no more than I’m due, but for a while there I was ratioing acceptace:rejection about 1:4 or 1:5, which felt really great. I barely even noticed rejections for a while. But it’s actually been a really long time since I’ve gotten an acceptance for some of the poems I’ve mailed out this year.

I’m still waiting to hear back from places I sent to in April. But I guess that’s a better sign because when the answer’s a For-Sure no, it’s NO right away, not no eight months later. That’s more like an Almost-Yes no.

I’m probably just not sending to the right places. But I am sort of tired of my poems appearing in tiny, tiny journals. When I got into the Colorado Review, I thought I was entering a new phase or something. Moving up. But I’ve been static.

So, let’s open up the circle, folks:

How much rejection is healthy for a poet?

Who was your favorite rejection?

Which rejection hurt the most?

Who surprised you most by NOT rejecting you when you were sure you would be?

I’m looking for blood.

The Poet Sarah Vap

Sarah Vap and I have just undertaken an ambitious collaborative project.

Well, we’ve had collaboration on the brain lately. Both of us have written some sort of collage/”absent collaboration” poem recently (I mentioned mine—it involved Madonna lyrics, which Eduardo considered essentially “especially gay”). We’ve also been doing an epistolary interview with the luminous Beth Ann Fennelly, which turned into an odd collision of collaborative poetics and process.

So now Sarah and I, amid conversations about “personal language,” “internal language,” etc, have decided to translate each other’s poetry from the author’s personal language to our own.

This may entail a series of back-and-forth translations of the same poem, or it may end up being one translation of many poems.

In any case, I just got back from working at babyGap and my hands were filthy. So I washed them with my tangerine-scented GapGirl glycerine soap. Suddenly, everything’s just a little bit brighter.

BTW, Sarah Vap is a genius and a beautiful poet—you’ll definitely be seeing her everywhere soon (if you aren’t already).

The Death of Figurative Language

A simile or metaphor is a comparison or equalization of two dissimilar things made through language.

The two requirements for language are: that its signals (words) be arbirtrary (unrelated to their object) and conventional (accepted and upheld by all users).

A requirement of language, then, is that there be nothing “rose-like” about the word “rose.” That any other word, given convention, would work as well.

The phrase, “My love is like a red, red rose,” then, becomes: “My love is like something that is nothing like a rose.”

Project

I’m still writing very slowly these days, but I’ve written four poems based on (in tribute to? because of? in spite of?) Almoóvar’s All About My Mother: “Second Esteban,” “Barcelona,” “The Field,” and “Rosa.”

Suddenly, I’m speaking a lot of Spanish in my poems, and I’m frequently using the word “tetas” (tits) and “caballo” (slang for heroin).

I’m writing more cautiously now, too. I think it’s because I’m not sure where I’m going or what’s even going to come out.

100 Most Powerful Poets in America

Victoria Chang was wondering in her blog today about the proliferation of business school rankings and the rarity of CW program rankings. As I replied to her post, I found myself asking, Wouldn’t it be interesting if Poets & Writers compiled a list of the 100 Most Powerful Poets in America?

And who would be on that list?

Certainly I’d expect to see C. D. Wright there, as she just won that enormous prize, and Billy Collins, Louise Glück. I think I’d have to tip a hat to Jorie Graham and some Iowa folks. Is there room for Adrienne Rich over at Stanford? What about non-academe poets?

I guess I’m also asking what a powerful poet is and what he or she does.

Is it the degree to which the poet reinvents or subverts language? Then add Lyn Hejinian, Kathleen Fraser, Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman to the list (for starters!).

Is it the size of their sphere of influence? Who among you have met Norman Dubie and not been indelibly changed? He’s on the list.

What about the anthologists? People collecting and organizing current and past poets into contexts? Or Donald Lehman for orchestrating the annual “Best American Poetry” series? Would the guest editors of those editions need to be on the list?

Are they the most prize-winningest, most oft-booked for readings, most sincere, most influential?

Who do you think they are?

America Trains Its One Good Eye

I don’t usually talk about politics in my blog, but I’m in the midst of a hurricane here.

I’m at ASU, teaching today, holding office hours, and outside, CNN and MSNBC have set up enormous media tents. About twenty minutes ago, there were at least a thousand students on the library lawn, equally divded into Kerry supporters and Bush supporters. CNN was filming the crowd and broadcasting live.

Most parking spaces near (and not so near) Gammage Auditorium have been closed for the debate tomorrow.

Folks are walking around, their clothes bumperstickered and pinned. Some are wearing effegies of Bush danging from their waists. The air is tense.

My bf was here, taking pictures and rallying (yes, for Bush—he’s the other gay Republican). He said a Kerry supporter—older, hippie-ish type—ran over the foot of a Bush supporter—young, hulking jock-type—with his bike and they nearly came to blows.

It’s a strange day.

Everything seems crucial.

Being a ___________ Poet

There have been so many fascinating posts about being considered/considering yourself an “ethnocentric” poet lately among Eduardo, Victoria, and

Tony
that I thought I’d add some experiences to the mix as well.

I used to avoid reading gay poetry for an embarrassingly long time. In my head, I’d already categorized it into discrete little boxes: in the 60s, gay poets wrote cautiously about love; in the 70s, blatantly and profanely about man-on-man action; in the 80s, it was all AIDS poetry; and the 90s were entirely rehashings of coming-out narratives.

I refused to consider myself a gay poet, even though I think I desperately wanted to explore queer issues through writing. I’ve talked a little before about how my instinct early in my MFA program was to be the sort of “trained dog” whose poetry pleased the straight folks in the room, poetry that—even when it contained queer elements—did not ask for any “special treatment” or special consideration. Safe poems. Poems that supplicated to the dominance. Masochistic poems? Poems that slighted the self as whole.

I never hear anyone say as a critique, “Oh, his poems are so heterosexual.” It would seem that, percentage-wise, we’ve probably heard all we need to hear about the heterosexual experience, yet the impulse to not only box queer poets, but to dismiss them because “we’ve already heard that story” is so pervasive, it even affected my scared little queer self. I bought into it! Yes, I said. I’ve heard that story before too.

I had a teacher ask me once, after I discussed with her my ideas surrounding queer poetics, which queer poets I’d read. My list? Frank O’Hara.

She recommended I read some queer poets—if only for no other reason that to get a better sense of the diversity that lived there. So I started: D. A. Powell, David Trinidad, Wayne Koestenbaum, David Groff, Jim Elledge, J. D. McClatchy, James Merrill, Thom Gunn, Aaron Surin, Justin Chin, Allen Ginsburg, Mark Doty, Timothy Liu, Langston Hughes, Jack Spicer….

Around that time I got off my high horse about being considered a queer poet. Because that’s what I am: a queer who writes poetry. I know the label is used to limit me—coming from the wrong lips, maybe—but it doesn’t. The label justifies me. Situates me in a context. A moment. A movement. Connects me to other people.

I do not want to be mistaken for a straight poet (no offense—some of my best friends are straight poets!).

Queer culture is, for me, my way out of academia, out of poetry, out of art. It balances my life so that I am not constantly living a life where my head is plunged into the cold water barrel of poetry & poetics. I don’t solicialize solely with poets.

I understand how political this conversation can get—for me and for others. I’m not here to make judgments on how other people should feel about their relationship to the identities that make up who they are. But I feel like I have a responsibility to ask questions about the heterosexual dominance of American poetry.

I’ll also say that it feels so nice to be the queer poet invited to the straight party. But I’ll also say I’m sure it’s very lonely there.