Another manuscript goes out today
Of my best poems. The orphans need a home
More permanent than all my journal play.
They need a book that they can call their own.
The stigma of self-publishing is gone,
Or so I’m told by those content to print
The exhalations they insist are song,
Not fearing their own talent counterfeit.
But I persist in contests. Why I do
Is either born of stubbornness or hope
That some fey judge will grasp the master clue
To verify my genius and my scope.
(This sonnet isn't poetry but verse,
A morning discipline that I rehearse.)
As the reader may see from this desultory sonnet I am not much inspired today, and in casting about for a subject I chose my preparation of yet another manuscript of poetry to enter in a contest, the T. S. Eliot prize. If there’s ever a prize I’d like to win, this would be it, as T. S. Eliot has been a pleasurable obsession of mine for more than three decades.
The ms. I’ve been putting together flaunts the custom of my other three, (only one of which has been published as a book). There is no theme, no divisions, no attempt at a unifying rubric for the collection—I just chose the best poems I think I’ve written on any subject and put them in alphabetic order with a few modifications.
With the completion of this entry, given the title Unexpected Light by my editor, Kathleen, I now have three different manuscripts floating around in Contest Land. As each of these contests receive 500 or more manuscripts, on a pure statistical basis I have an 0.2% chance of winning each of them, though I hope my talent and hard work might boost me to the top 100, increasing my chances to 1%. What makes such contests so hard to predict is the changing judges. Dana Gioia and Diane Wakowski are going to bring very different sensibilities to judging, thus the winner, once the mss. are narrowed down, will be that lucky poet who pleases a poet with a body of work and unavoidable biases.
I know my poems are fairly retro, as most of them make some kind of sense--though not all. In the Post-Modern wasteland my work may appear as a discarded McDonald’s wrapper useful only for the delectation of a seagull. But on I go, and I have never so aggressively pursued prizes in my life as I am doing now. I will keep entering until I run out of money or they run out of patience. Meanwhile there are other avenues of publishing to explore, but I hesitate to self-publish, because that makes one ineligible for many more prizes, like the Pulitzer, which I no doubt richly deserve for my contribution to seagulls.
Moodwise I’m still fragile; the change in time doesn’t help, with the early darkness: “I have been one acquainted with the night” –Frost. I am better, certainly, but still suffer the mad chatter of my anti-self telling me that I’m no good. This only has power over me when I’m already anxious or fearful, and I get so tired of the record I want to put a corkscrew through my ear and grind my brain to soup. But Kathleen wouldn’t like that, and besides, Thanksgiving’s coming up, so I’ll desist for now. Brain gravy just ain’t popular.