Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Jealousy, Official Egg-Peelers, Femi Kuti, and the Oldest Mountains in the World

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...


5 comments:

Matthew said...

I think a healthy bit of jealousy and competition are necessary in this po-biz game. Otherwise what would be the harm in self-publishing? There are those whose place I aspire to reach and those that seem to be around the same level (like you to me) and the later keeps me sending to everything I possibly can. We'll make our mark.

Josh said...

Luke, this cracked me up. Big guffaw moment with the Lord's Prayer on the face. There's a poem in there somewhere.

I'm right there with Matthew on the optimism. We'll all just keep on at it.

And so we do.

(And I understand the feelings you're describing. Anyone who says they don't, well, I think they must not be doing something right, because, you know, it can't be a problem with us can it?

JayTee said...

loved hearing that you once considered your poems scrawling, confessional, narratives because that's where I am right now with my own poems in the first year of my mfa. i like what i've read of your work thus far so it's a comfort to think there could be hope for a change in my own stuff lol

Luke said...

Matthew--

Agreed on the ambition, the competition, and the sending everywhere--I just sent out some packets of poems and couldn't help but wonder at the odds of the places the packets were going. Someone I know recently likened an acceptance at one of these low odds journals to getting hit by a bus, but I had to tell her--not everyone practices jumping in front of buses as much as we do...

Josh-I'll poke around and the Lord's Prayer Tattooed on the Face Poem...maybe just 'the glory forever and ever' right across the forehead...

Glad it's not just me. Surely, everyone (or at least, all writers) must have these same seeds of wanting to get 'mad props,' as the kids say...


J-I think the biggest change that I made was in trusting singular images to do the work I was trying to accomplish through more-or-less redundant explanation--sad as it is, i was telling more than showing--as far as the confessionals and the narratives, in my mind, if a poem isn't at least risking confession, or intimating narrative, then it's likely not doing much of anything...

Humbled to see all these talented folks checking out the blog! Thanks for stopping by, y'all!

newzoopoet said...

So true. You are better just for speaking it.