Sent the manuscript off today to two contests: National Poetry Series and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize at Sarabande Books. Both contests that are more-or-less a pipe dream to win, especially considering all the talented folks I know who also sent their mss. to the same places. It always makes me a little nervous sending out poems (whether to a journal or a book contest) knowing that some of my greatest friends are sending their work to the same places. I've got a mean competitive streak. There's little in this world that I dislike more than losing, or even appearing to have lost. It's something I struggle with, simply because it's not something I can turn off when appropriate (example: I once lost a game of Taboo to my girlfriend at the time. I refused to talk to her for around an hour. Seriously, it's messed up). If you make 10 jumpers in a row, I'm going to make 11. If you get a big obnoxious tattoo of song lyrics on your bicep, I'm going to put the Lord's Prayer on my face. You eat 10 hard-boiled eggs, I'll have to get all Cool Hand Luke on your ass.
That said, when a friend wins a contest or fellowship that I also applied for, the initial reaction is an overwhelming happiness. They jumped through the same hoops, faced down just as many flawed line-breaks, just as many rejections, and finally received the recognition and accolade so rarely given to poets, all of it deserved and hard-earned. It's an occasion for celebration, for if you can't be happy to see your friends succeed (even if it means your own failure), should you really be calling these people your friends? But somewhere, back in the part of your brain usually reserved for unspoken comments about co-workers and the disdain for people who dress their animals in Snuggies, there's that kernel of rejection: they won and you didn't. Perhaps I'm outing myself as a horrible person by admitting this, but I consider jealousy to be a large component of my ambition. But really, the jealousy is unfounded, because it's Art that's winning, not you or me.
When another collection of good poems by another good person (this is working under the assumption that your friends are good people) finds its way into the world, it's an affirmation of my pursuit, just as much as theirs. It shows that despite all the doomsaying--we still live in a world where some chunk of the population values poetry, and some of them even read it. All of this only to say: the more the merrier. It's easy to delight in the much-deserved joys of friends and strangers if it means there's more poetry in the world, more great people getting their just desserts, a group of unkempt looking folks at the local bar toasting and cheering a coup for one of their own, for Art.
Just as long as I get to win eventually. Winky-smiley-face?
This. Video. Rules. Make sure you hang in there until a little after a minute...