life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

Business: A Dirty Word for Poets?

design desk display eyewear
Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Not long ago, I assumed a new title within my organization. The new position involves thinking more like a manager and less like a classroom educator. This move has been a pretty big cognitive shift for someone who spent the last 15 years worrying about lesson planning, gradebook updates, project-based learning, community partnerships, and the latest instructional technology.

These days, the kinds of questions I’m asking are concerned with the bigger picture beyond the classroom: How is our organization performing? Are our customers being served in the optimal way? Who in our group needs help, and how might I provide it? Is our policy what it ought to be? What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT)?

To the literary-minded among you, I apologize. All this business talk is probably anathema to your very existence. But as one to whom it was equally foreign, I’ve had to adapt, and this change has made me think of another arena where business is sometimes perceived as the dark side: Poetry.

Yes, we poets would like to simply write our words and have them immediately recognized for their greatness and their beauty, but that’s not how it works. There is the sometimes-disgruntling submissions process, the signing of publishing contracts, the concern over rights and what constitutes “previously published,” and a million other little entanglements of the commercial or legal sort. Poets have to be business people, too. But so often we dread and disparage it.

Here’s a little secret: The business part can be as fun as the creative part. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but seriously, equal to the joy of a finished, polished poem is the hope felt when the “submit” button is pressed. Granted, sometimes that hope is dashed when rejection comes (and it does, more often than not), but the endorphins and dopamine produced while being an efficient, organized professional can rival those elicited by a really great line or stanza. The pleasures of logic and reason simply come from a different part of the brain than we creatives regularly use.

Moreover, when your “management” has paid off, it definitely makes the tedium worth it. Those hours spent on fellowship applications, the eye-wearying process of figuring out which works to submit to a particular contest, and the seemingly interminable wait for a magazine’s answer are all rewarded when the reply is a sweet-sounding yes.

When the answer is no, though, it can make you wonder why you bothered at all. I’ve been there: “Why did I wait six months for a reply from Magazine X (who won’t accept simultaneous submissions) when I could have sent these same poems to Magazine Y, who certainly would have accepted them?”  or “I can’t believe I went through all the trouble of filling out that ream of documents for an award I didn’t even get.” Yep, I know the feeling. Disheartening, to say the least.

But trust me when I say that the occasional affirmative reply outweighs the saddening (and more regular) negative ones. As I’ve mentioned before, poetry has taken me to places — literal, geographic locations — I never would have seen on my own. But none of those journeys would have occurred if I hadn’t mustered up the left-brained moxie to apply, submit, or propose. And doing those parts, however contrary to my nature, made possible both memories and poems, rich rewards of their own sort.

Don’t fear the paperwork. Don’t call it bureaucracy. No matter how much we disdain them, the processes and the logistics that lead to literary opportunities are necessary, and the sooner we get friendly with them, the more successful we will become. Why not start today?

 

Advertisements
poetry, Uncategorized

After the MFA

hooding Last night, I graduated from University of Tampa’s Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program. The picture you see here is the hooding ceremony. The gentlemen behind me (center) are preparing to place my MFA graduate hood upon me. I said farewells to many friends who have traveled alongside me over these last two years, and I received the hearty congratulations of family, friends, and fellow writers alike. One of my old frat brothers even showed up for the ceremony. It was bittersweet, as graduations always are: shuffling off one set of experiences to fully engage in another, saying goodbyes to greet new challenges, and reflecting on the positive memories and lessons of a long-term academic endeavor.

The question that arises after any graduation, of course, is now what? I must have been asked a dozen times yesterday about my plans for the future with this degree. My hopes are rather standard, really: I would like a full-time college teaching position, and I’d like to continue pursuing the literary life and all it has to offer. I have my name in the hat for various awards, fellowships, and publication opportunities, and I plan to continue applying for as many possibilities as I can.

Mostly, though, I plan to write. Not to oversimplify, but really, the MFA for me is a license to practice my craft in greater credibility. Now it would be questionable NOT to arise at 5 every morning and sit down to pen things out. Now it would be foolish to waste creative time and space, squandering a significant investment. More than anything, though, now is the time that I am compelled to prove the worth, the validity, and the relevance of my degree. Failing to write regularly would equal surrender, and those that know me will attest that giving up is not in my nature.

The MFA means excelsior — onward, upward, higher. May today begin that climb to a yet-unmarked summit.

poetry, Uncategorized

Hometown Fellowship — A guide to being inspired where you are

downtown1
A view of Central Avenue from my new short-term writing space.

Recently, I decided to invest in my writing using a different method. Plenty of my writer friends pay some high-priced writing retreat or conference a handsome sum for the sake of privacy and different surroundings. Still others win residencies at noted creative spaces like Yaddo or The Studios of Key West. My objective was to experience this same “getaway” mentality without the hassle of airlines, rental cars, or questionable bathrooms.

I decided, simply, to invest recent prize winnings of mine in a “loft.” Here in my city, we have lots of historic buildings downtown with inexpensive space for rent. My thought was, by providing myself with a different perspective on a usual place, my writing would be renewed. So far, the new view has generated one piece, and I’m hoping, of course, for more.

I also gave myself a deadline and a project: for three months, I will use this office space as a creative venue outside my usual lake-view “writing room.” During that time, my plan is to produce a chapbook-size accumulation of work inspired by this new locale. Notice, I did not say “at least 20 poems,” or “at least 30 pages,” or any other precise measurement. By leaving the project somewhat open-ended, I have allowed myself the luxury of defining my own parameters as time proceeds. After all, I’ve only paid for three months here, and using the space judiciously is imperative.

By giving ourselves, writers and artists, permission to invest in our passions, we are assuring at least some level of productivity. There is also a tradition to be observed here: plenty of poets, novelists, and creatives have similarly allowed themselves the liberty of “lofts” or “studios” over the centuries. The views from these spaces have produced some of our greatest masterpieces. If I can achieve even some small slice of that same motivation, my objective will be achieved.

In the meantime, I would ask my fellow right-brainers to consider something similar if they’re in a funk or need a breath of fresh air.  A small getaway can result in the greatest returns, I’ve found. Hopefully, my little experiment will pay several creative dividends as the months pass. Updates, as usual, will follow.

downtown2
A second view of Central Avenue from the new writing space.