Monday, September 15, 2008

Manuscript Completed! Of Pain and Snails

I finished my "Selected" manuscript today and sent it to the publisher. I can still hardly believe someone approached me to publish a book of my poems. On the other hand, should I be surprised? I've worked hard on what Lou Rawls called "the chitlin circuit," those middling journals who publish me while the august journals look down their collective noses. I like to characterize those journals with the three 'p's: Poetry, Ploughshares and The Paris Review. Yet recently I noted that a journal in which I appeared, The Alaska Quarterly Review, had an acceptance rate of 0.4% or less. Then again, the only reason I appeared in that journal was because a guest editor somehow had read and liked my stuff and solicited me directly. I pride myself on the fact that I filled as many pages as Billy Collins in that issue. But without the favoritism of the editor, without the ad hominem knowledge she possessed of my work, I wouldn't have stood a chance. Thus serendipitous connections count more than talent in many respects. This is old news to the cognoscenti.

My volume will have the simple title: "C. E. Chaffin, Selected Poems and Love Poems, 1998-2008." That is, unless, the publisher thinks I should change it for marketing purposes. But that would be a mistake. My name is the most marketable thing about me, for better or worse. It's my branding, and branding is everything in marketing. Think of "beer" and if you don't think of Budweiser, I'll be surprised.

Meanwhile after completing my ms. and idea for a poem came to me, below, from the POV of a snail.


Night is good for the slow,
with our green-gray skirts of suction.
We like smooth surfaces:
windows, painted wood, plastic and steel.
Do you know how long it takes
to near a promising plant?
Bricks slow us down.

Our mouths won't bite a human,
out teeth are internalized
to trim leaves with precision
and no waste.
The poisons you throw at us
only make us stronger
as your philosopher said.

In the moonlight, our slick
glistening behind us, we approach
the worship of the green
with an appreciation
beyond your fondest religions.
We honor what we eat with feats of climbing,
our weight balancing on tenuous stems.
Not ruminants, our harvest
must be fresher than hay
and we always leave some behind,
not like the locusts.

Deer feed down to the nub
indiscriminately. They'll savage
every flower, especially roses.
I'm not saying we leave roses alone,
but in general we leave
more than enough for another bloom.

Our cuts aren't fatal, we are not gluttons.
We feed with wisdom and it's slow going.
Our shells are little protection
against you, unlike the birds.
When a human heaves us
at a wall, we don't recover
and magically turn into slugs,
our lesser brethren: We die.

Have pity on us.
Have you never admired
the spiral patterns of our shells,
the beauty of our long necks
with our eyes on slender stalks?
The delicacy of our approach?
If we were horses it would be different.
A belly-walking gastropod
cannot compete in sympathies
with animals who have legs like you.

It's more an honor to be eaten,
steamed in butter and garlic
in an oval of bread
than wasted against a wall.
“Give and it shall be given.”
We yield ourselves without complaint.
Your garden will survive us.
Can't we come to some
slow compromise?

Truly, the deer and our own cats have damaged my garden much more than snails this year. A little PR for gastropods is not out of order.

I continue in great physical pain. Or if not great, significant. I fear the pain medication I'm taking may be bad for my mood, so I walk a tight wire between physical pain and depression. If I had no medicines for physical pain, I fear I might stay in bed the whole day. Given my nature, this is not probable, but my first hour after awakening is always a trial. Maybe if I had a protective shell and moved slowly at night I'd do better.

1 Kilorat,



  1. congrats on the manuscript

  2. Thanks much, Nic, I'll believe in its publication when I have the book in my hands and not before. I know how things can go.


  3. Congratulations! I look forward to seeing the finished product when it becomes available.

  4. Anonymous7:08 AM PDT

    Great news CE. Long overdue I would say.


  5. wooohooo! this is such great news! and about time, too. can't wait for your book to come out.

    love the poem on snails. my mom-in-law uses beer to trap them — they gluttons for beer. a common ground there with men. hee.

    i just tagged you with the zombie haiku into revealing 6 unspectacular things about yourself — in case you like to join the fun.

    hope you're coping well with the pain. that certainly sounds depressing.


  6. CE, impressed by the book publishing, but not surprised. I've been a fan of yours for years, and it's bloody well about time.
    About publishing in the 'fancy' magazines; several years ago I noticed that American Scholar had six slots allowed for poetry in every publication--and in every issue at least four or even five of the slots were filled with, guess who, the editors! These are people with books to their credit, they have an in with almost all the major mags, and yet there they are, taking all the good seats as if it were their right.

    maybe it is, but when my time and postage gets into the mix, then it becomes personal. I'm sure they miss my efforts...

    Sometimes it pays to read the masthead and see how many folks are actually getting published there.

    Cynically yours, Judy

    (and yes, it does help to Know People, no matter how good your work is, it does help)

  7. Thanks much.

    I saw the proofs already.

    Apparently this is really happening.

    Praise God and pass the potatoes!


  8. That's great about the book, CE. Wonderful news for readers.


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