A few months back, it came to my attention — by no actual assistance on his part, mind you — that my colleague, Mr. Fiction of at Least Two+ Years Now himself, Brandon Davis Jennings, tagged-but-not-reallied me in a blog about his latest accepted work, “Smells of Couch,” that would be appearing in Lake Effect, a terrific literary magazine that some of our mutual peeps have worked on at various points in their careers.
I had a response to this tag even back then — one far more intriguing than my actual work will be to most, sadly — but I was holding out for what seemed to be an impossible happy ending to it.
Well, my friends, that happy ending has actually arrived despite my cynicism, so I now share with you the story of my most recent publication — which incidentally happened three years ago but just last month. It’s like two of my poems starred in Back to the Future, but without Marty McFly, Doc Brown, a DeLorean, or anything else even remotely cool.
This is probably going to sound crazy — then again, it’s me talking here, so what doesn’t? — but I’m completely erratic when it comes to submitting work. As in, I will have poems all dressed up for the occasion, just hanging out, chatting around the punch bowl, glancing at all the happy poems living it up on the dance floor because they just got called to publication, and I will let my poems wonder who will ask them to dance for years on end because my lazy tuchus just won’t bother taking three consecutive days out of my life to research a serious number of lit mags, figure out their submission requirements, put stupid addresses in the top right-hand corner of only a third of the poems I plan to send out, save separate files because of this inordinately stupid rule, print pages upon pages out, run out of ink, go to the store to get a new cartridge, print annoying test pages, start printing again, remember I have super-special extra files with the darn addresses at the tops of the pages, throw half of what I printed out away, print some more, wonder where I put my envelopes to send these pages out in, remember I forgot to buy envelopes, go buy envelopes, address the envelopes, take the envelopes to the post office, and send my poems on their merry way.
Because sending out to, say, 20 or 30 literary magazines at one time seemed the only thing worth going to that amount of trouble for, and it would generally take me three days of doing nothing but just that to accomplish this goal, since graduating as an M.F.A. (motherf***ing a**hole), I have only sent a single batch of submissions out in the following years: 2009, 2012.
I admit this is lame, especially considering I was still working on my writing the whole time in some way, shape or form. But while I was sure there was an easier way to do this submission thing, I hadn’t found it — that is, until last year, when I discovered I was right: there is an easier way to do the whole submission thing, and it’s called the Internet. I wrapped up what used to be a three-day process in three hours, folks, thanks to online submission tools. If that’s not a plug for technology, I don’t know what is.
But I digress — mucho much. I’m still waiting to hear back on some things I sent out in 2012; fellow writers know the longer the wait, the better the news, generally, and luckily, I haven’t gotten shot down by everyone I sent out to last year (at least not yet).
But the story of my most recent publication actually has nothing to do with this. Cast your mind back to 2009, when I do one of my bulk mailings to the literary masses. I pack lunches, zip up coats, send my children off, then sit back and wait. Come February 2010, I hear from a particular publication that will go unnamed here (because, although they should be put out of business — or at the very least publicly stoned — for what they did to me and several other writers whose work they accepted not just in 2010 but in 2011 and 2012 as well, I don’t care to get into trouble over something they’re to blame for). Publication of Evil asks to print two of my poems (which I will tell you a little more about as Brandon told you about “Smells of Couch” because that’s part of the whole “being tagged” thingy), and I happily send my permission to publish in exchange for the standard two contributors’ copies we people who actually do this for the love of it receive as payment.
I wait a year. Heck, I wait more than a year. I even move in the meantime. I send my new address. Still, no contributors’ copies.
Of course, it’s mighty hard to be sent contributors’ copies when actual copies haven’t even been printed yet — as was the case in 2010, 2011, and, yes, even 2012.
If you know anything about me IRL, you’ll know that this is something I was not about to take lying down. I raised hell with the editor. It went nowhere. Publication of Evil actually had a website this whole time, on which hapless contributors like myself were posting comments expressing their mutual dissatisfaction with the literary magazine. I took screen shots of said comments and sent them to the editor’s boss. Still, it went nowhere. I contacted AWP. I didn’t even know if that would work, and presumably, it didn’t, since I never heard anything from them. But hey, you gotta give a girl kudos for trying.
I’d considered pulling my permission to publish; it wasn’t looking like they were going to bother printing anyway, and I wanted the work to see the light of day. I’d considered submitting the poems elsewhere without revoking permission and letting the chips fall where they may, but I didn’t want to make Publication of Evil’s problem anyone else’s in the event they actually did go to print sometime this century.
Admittedly, though, I’d lost hope. Progress seemed impossible. And so, every once in awhile, just to remind myself I needed to figure out some way to exact revenge on behalf of myself and the other writers who were screwed by Publication of Evil, I would visit their website. That’s when I discovered some interesting information.
This January, all the bad press was removed from the site; the irate comments were nowhere to be found, and all contributors were assured in an extra-special online letter that back issues were being published.
I felt like leaving a new comment saying, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before — exactly 8 times; see attached emails,” but I decided against it.
Instead, I checked Amazon. Yup, just as I thought: a big donut.
But, still dwelling on the great injustice that had been done, I knew I had to keep checking. Someone had to hold these shysters accountable for their nonsense in some way (though I hadn’t figured out how yet) — especially since they’d scrubbed their site of all the warnings writers were giving others about this publication.
I continued to check the site — still scrubbed. I continued to check Amazon — still a donut.
That is, until a few weeks ago. And what to my wondering eyes did appear on this magical day? Yes, my friends: the 2010 volume of Publication of Evil. Believe it or not, more than three frickin’ years later, they finally published it.
But since I’m guessing it might take at least another three years to get my contributors’ copies, I ordered one from Amazon straightaway. And here it sits, right next to me now, with my two poems in it.
And sure, they messed up the formatting on one of them, but did you really not see that coming?
What you may not have guessed, though, is what was in the editor’s letter. In a pathetic last-ditch attempt to make himself look even remotely professional, Publication of Evil’s editor wrote a brilliant note detailing the steps it takes to put a lit mag together. It seems he must have forgotten that, oh, 90% of us have actually worked on lit mags ourselves, know all these steps, and still got our publications out in a timely fashion when we worked on them. But thanks for playing. Your consolation prize is waiting for you backstage; it’s the one that’s ticking.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. It was ridic, but it happened, and may it never happen to you.
Now let’s get on with answering these questions, shall we?
What are the titles of your poems, and where will they appear?
Where did the idea for these poems come from?
Well, quite literally my past. I wrote one after a visit to the neighborhood I grew up in, and it’s about that and what’s happened in my life since. It sets the stage for the other, which is what I like to call a Frankenpoem. This particular Frankenpoem features three completely separate and previously unrelated drafts from the past edited and stitched together via some new material.
What genre do your poems fall under?
We M.F.A.s hate the word “genre.” That being said, my work is feminist and what I consider to be confessional, though I’m not quite sure how much of the “official” confessional tradition (e.g., Plath, Sexton, etc.) it follows.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
If my entire poetry manuscript, once finished, were to become a movie, Jennifer Jason Leigh could play me; Single White Female proves she’s got what it takes to instill the appropriate amount of terror. Barbra Streisand could play my mom (because my mom loves her anyway). Robert Duvall could play my dad, since Space Ghost — who most resembles my father, at least in the chin — is animated. Ray Wise could play my former stepdad because they resemble each other. Plus, Ray Wise always plays villains, so that helps.
Skeet Ulrich has to play at least one of my ex-boyfriends, but it might actually be cool to get him to just play them all, except with different hair colors and disguises; it’d be an artistic statement that way.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your poems?
Well, considering one poem was actually parts of four poems, quite a few years. I’d say just shy of a decade for that one, if I go back and date the earliest draft of one part.
What books would you compare these poems to?
Probably Satan Says by Sharon Olds, if you think about those opening poems in particular. Maybe Marie Howe’s What the Living Do, though I’m more indirect than Howe. And a bit of Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, if you take the mythological element into consideration.
What else about your poems might pique the reader’s interest?
The Frankenpoem is one of the poems I feel I was meant to write — as in, there are certain things I feel a deep need to say as a writer because if I don’t, I’m not sure there’s any point to my writing at all. I believe writing should be about risk in some way, shape or form; otherwise, it’s just something that’s been done before. I want to see the world in a new way when I read literature, so that’s what I aim to achieve in my own work.
The Frankenpoem is the first in what will hopefully be many poems to get picked up for publication that give voice to subjects the women in my family and women everywhere, including me, have kept their silence on for so many years. This is my reason for continuing to work on the manuscript that this poem will go into, and I can only hope that one day, the whole book will reach you.