There are two things a poet can do that will change the work for the positive and permanently: 1) teach poetry, and 2) serve on a literary journal.
Teach what you want to learn has so much merit yet is often diminished. There are those who ascribe to the myth, Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. In reality, the opposite is true. We teach and are constantly forced to affirm and confirm every bit of our belief system and knowledge of the craft. The greater the age range of our students, the better we have to be at articulating our skill and fielding the full spectrum of challenges and questions our students will present. As we share our personal perspective on poetry and how to achieve success within the poem, much less the field, we are teaching ourselves, reminding ourselves. As we see our theories unfold in our students’ growth, we are relearning what we already try to achieve ourselves and it is strength we may find. We may even change. If we are true to ourselves, we will never settle for complacency or believe we hold the golden ticket to the gates of Poetry.
As an editor of a journal, one is faced with the reality of how many poets are out there. We live by and share a mythic belief that this is a solitary experience. I disagree and I started formulating my opinion in the days of early Slam. Then I joined the editorial family of Comstock Review and I came to witness the vast population of poets yearning for the page and audience. I also witnessed season after season of themes: travel, sepia-toned photos, critically ill family member, the seasons, gardens, the sea, deer, cats, divorce, first babies, ars poetica, and of course, death. There is an odd synchronicity that draws a particular concentration of a theme or form in a reading period, almost as if the poets were responding to a particular call for submission.
What an editor sees is the small number of themes available to any writer, any generation, regarding the human condition and our place within it. Much has already been said, probably someone has said it better than me, and the experimentation has probably run its course. I search for a poem that has an individual stamp on a universal concept in tone, voice, structure, music, approach. I search for that in my own poetry as well. I can never expect of others what I will not attempt myself.
In the 20 years I have since I fully, verbally reclaimed my identity as poet in the Blasland, Bouck, & Lee Division 10 break room in August 1994, I have taught a great deal and I have read a lot of poems. I have also offered valuable critique throughout that time and I now have confidence that I am a strong reader capable of offering a view of the work that mirrors its greatest strengths to the poet.
In these two decades, I have also put four books together as well as a number of issues of our journal. There is a whole other level of connection with the cycle, series, chapbook, and then full collection that is a different skill than needed to examine and grow any given poem. What is the flow of the work for the reader? How does one create an entertaining read (in the most positive sense of the word), a meaningful experience that keeps the reader engaged and wanting to turn the page? How do you best serve the poem, the page, the ear, the collection, and the audience? What are you willing to change, cut, eliminate to achieve it? I am always immersed in this query as I start to place poems in proximity and sequence.
A poem is a living document, even if it is in print. It will always illustrate its ability to grow if there is the opportunity. It will let us know it can take care of itself, it has reached an acceptable maturity.
I am an editing geek. Revision is my favorite part of being a poet. Well, let me qualify that. I really love seeing my poems in print. They are on their own in the world then and hopefully they represent well.
Now that I am writing prose in various forms and teaching creative nonfiction, I am applying my same principles to essay, memoir, and blog. I am also supporting other writers in the editorial process. I have articulated a concise system to accomplish a book project from first thoughts through searching for publishers.
I have been an editorial consultant on a limited basis for years. Now I am eager to advance my practice. I am eager to work with writers who need a coach in a coach in: 1) getting started; 2) identifying the course of the book project; 3) consultation and critique on individual or groups of poems or essays; 4) assessing the body of a work for publishing opportunity; 5) line edits and other commentary in finalizing a book project; and/or 6) proofreading galleys with a clean eye.
I am also going to continue to offer on-line small-group classes and critique workshops for those who want a workshop environment and support with a critical eye from a trusted group of peers.
I have been working with a number of writers recently and I know there are folks who can use the help. I intend to keep my fee structure reasonable and fair for both the client and myself. I am eager to support writers to meet their own goals, under the branding of Poet’s Happy Dance. Perhaps I can help you?
As one friend who has engaged my support for her project declared just last week, “Georgia, you‘re the Book Doctor.” Well, friends, the Doctor is in … your long-term prognosis is the Poet’s Happy Dance …
Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.