Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Poetic Community, pt. 2: Education

I hype that I have been writing and publishing poetry for nearly 20 years when I submit my poems for the kind consideration of editors at the various publications I frequent. At nearly 35 tender years, that would have me publishing poetry since about the age of 15, even if you don't consider junior high school publications, and that's entirely true. I began to submit my writing early, with relatively little success, despite my poor efforts to research many of those wonderful publications to which I was unwittingly submitting. Without any sort of cover letter, I was stuffing envelopes with typed copies of my poems, a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) and sending them to addresses I picked out of Poet's Market. I can't remember my very first publication, but I can remember clearly the first money ($2.50) I received when I was a freshman in college for a poem of mine. I thought I was on the road to riches then and danced around my dormitory room as dreamy poetry groupies swooned at my feet.

I continued submitting work through 10 years of college, earning BA, MA & MFA degrees from San Francisco State University (SFSU), adding readings and open mic appearances to my repertoire. Unfortunately, my success rate in the publishing world had not increased any. Following my third and final graduation, I stopped submitting work, writing and performing altogether for nearly 5 years. I had become disillusioned with the poetry world and frustrated about my continuing lack of acceptance, even though, in my mind, my stature had risen intellectually via my education. Although my intellectual value had risen, my value as a poet seemed to be standing still. My classmates were winning awards that I thought I deserved. I expected more than encouragement from my teachers, and some of them made me feel particularly lucky to be in my position, but none of them ever did much for me, if anything, outside the classroom. I wasn't much of a teacher's pet student and, in some ways, we were potential competitors. I could eventually be pursuing their jobs, publishing in their magazines and taking away their own opportunities, but that's perhaps a paranoid view. It's more likely that they just didn't really care about my work. That or I was blind to my own inadequacies as a poet and wasn't listening to anyone. I guess I expected to be asked to join in or become a part of something, some movement and, looking back, I suppose I wasn't offering much in return.

This was my first community, the writers and students at SFSU, which arose out of my randomness at having attended school there. I simple chose that school because my friend had gone. Little did I know what kind of history that fine school had going for it. I made some nice acquaintances and studied under some fine teachers: Frances Mayes, Phyllis Burke, Charlene Bluehorse, Daniel Langton, Aaron Shurin, Bob Glück, Myung Mi Kim, Maxine Chernoff and many others. I have fond memories of my time there and the hours I spent at The Horseshoe Café and other places scratching out my poems in my workbook, but I never felt completely accepted or embraced. I also never felt inspired by the community there, which I had come to call home after thirteen years.

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