Friday, February 10, 2006

"No wins" changes

I started off the year by publicly complaining about not having won anything -- not a Pushcart, not nothing -- and wondering why it felt so bad, even though I don't highly think literary contest wins are the be-all-end-all of achievement.

Lo and behold, my near-stoicism is put to the test by the news that came in the email today. My short story "Fog: Launch Scrubbed" placed sixth in the annual Writer's Digest short story competition.

And yes, I was jumping around my office and wondering who to call first. I'm human. Next, I was wondering when and how I should email my agent about it. Should I drop it in an otherwise casual "just writing to say hi" kind of email, or subject her to the jumping-up-and-down kind.

I gratisfied my immediate share-desire by posting an announcement on a poetry board I frequent and poetry listserv I belong to.

Then I asked myself, "Exactly what does this mean?" Calmer now, I re-read the email and remembered that the story will be published only on the Writer's Digest web site, not in the print mag. Does this mean I should expect book editors to come knocking? Should I list in my bio from now on (when sending out prose, of course). Should I telephone, rather than email my agent -- since now the manuscript from which the story is excerpted is obviously a lot more valuable.

As the afternoon deepened into evening, and I spoke to the editor at WD, I calmed further and realized that what it means is: it's nice. It's great to have your work appreciated.

And that's all I need to think about. It's the same as it was before the email: it's all about the work. And getting it somewhere out there. The rest is up to the reader.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Neglected poets - 2

Alice Oswald. The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile. River Dart. Am I one of the few who is becoming passionate about this poet's merit? Why don't we hear more of her on this side of the pond, I wonder. She's a poet who memorizes her work as she composes because she's a professional gardener and spends her days far from pen and paper or computer, and the work shows the kind of compression and depth you might expect from such a novel composition process. Samples:


I can't sleep in case a few things you said
no longer apply. The matter's endless,
but definitions alter what's ahead
and you and words are like a hare and tortoise.
Aaaagh there's no description — each a fractal
sectioned by silences, we have our own
skins to feel through and fall back through — awful
to make so much of something so unknown.
But even I — some shower-swift commitments
are all you'll get; I mustn't guage or give
more than I take — which is a way to balance
between misprision and belief in love
both true and false, because I'm only just
short of a word to be the first to trust.

He consults his map. A huge rain-coloured wilderness.
This must be the stones, the sudden movement,
the sound of frogs singing in the new year.
Who's this issuing from the earth?

The Dart, lying low in darkness calls out Who is it?
trying to summon itself by speaking...

An old man, fifty years a mountaineer, until my heart gave out, so now I've taken to the moors.
I've done all the walks, the Two Moors Way, the Tors, this long winding line the Dart

this secret buried in reeds at the beginning of sound I
won't let go of man, under
his soakaway ears and his eye ledges working
into the drift of his thinking, wanting his heart

How should we evaluate this kind of poetry?

Hint: used copies of her first book now sell for over $80. I wish I could remember who I loaned mine to!