Successful Poet (oxymoron?): I've got the brains, you've got the looks, let's make lots of money...
I've got the brains, you've got the looks, let's make lots of money...
Here's a revamped blog post from my old deleted blog about success. It seems I still feel the same way--
So, there's been some talk about success lately, what makes a successful poet. Some say that we need a book, others suggest it's the awards (NEA, Guggenheim, Pushcart). Others believe a certain list of journals we've been published in. And even if we have all these wonderful things, is that success? Most people find my blog by searching for the recipe to make a pomegranate martini or Apple Brown Betty. More people search for drinks & desserts to find me than in searches for poetry (and I *think* I talk about poetry and creativity more than food). Poets know other poets. Regular folks know Maya Angelou, sometimes Billy Collins, and sometimes Mary Oliver.
Poets are not known by most of the world. I thought about this when I felt too nervous to ask Bob Hicok to sign my book. I thought, 99.8% of the US population would *not* feel intimidated by him, yet because I write poetry, he has moved up my "important people list" and therefore making a fool of myself in front of Bob H. as opposed to the random people I meet daily would be more painful. (I did ask him to sign my book and of course, came off socially inept as I tend to do around people I like...It's a gift.)
Sometimes I wonder if I'm in a different camp with this success stuff because I don't think poetry can make anyone "successful."
It's really hard for me to judge a person by their resume. Just as I wouldn't call a CEO successful, just because s/he is a CEO. I don't think credits, publications, and awards make a successful poet. I do think they're incredibly fun to achieve and yes, I was incredibly thrilled in honored when my book won the Foreword Book of the Year & was a finalist for the Washington Book Awards--I was beyond excited, but I if you asked me if I was successful, I wouldn't base my life's success on what I achieved or achieve in poetry. (This doesn't mean stop I think we should stop submitting or trying to achieve certain goals as a poet, I think that keeps things interesting, I'm just saying at the end of the day, I don't think we'll look back on our lives and think, "I'm so glad I was published in ________." Okay, I *may* say that about the New Yorker, but that's because I can be shallow.)
Realize, this is coming from someone who has no problem beating little kids in Candyland...I like to win. But, I realize "success" can't be achieved through poetry because first, it's so subjective. I'm sure I've had poems accepted because someone was having a good day and I'm sure others were rejected because the someone had just received a traffic ticket. And we can't base it on awards, I mean, poor Emily D., where was her first book award, her Guggenheim?
And isn't it funny how poetry is a sort of erudite crack? I mean, you start out and you write a poem, and it feels satisfying. So you write another and you like that feeling, but it starts to be a bit dull, so you wander into a new neighborhood and try to publish them.
You take another hit and then wham! you publish your first poem--and it feels good, really good. So you submit again, another poem in another journal and the high keeps coming back. You need more time to write more poems. You’re up late at night writing and submitting. And with each acceptance, you get your high back, but it’s not as good as the first time.
The feeling begins to wear off a little or maybe things are starting to feel "too easy," so you move from submitting to a community college journal to The Bellingham Review. You have to keep raising the bar, keep moving up the ladder to get that next great high. You submit to Prairie Schooner. You submit to the New Yorker. You submit to Poetry. You look back at the accomplishments that first made you happy, first made you feel successful and they seem small.
You publish a book and realize that even with a book, you're still yourself and you keep trying for that next high... You wake up at your desk and find yourself strung out on herbal tea covered in your own SASEs-- and there’s a bill from the post office you can’t explain, there are stacks of poems printed out on your printer and a post-it note that says, "Submit to Black Warrior" on your desk. You become that disco song, "More, More, More. How you do like it? How do you like it?...." Yes, you’re addicted.
I know how happy I feel with my little poetry accomplishments, with any sort of validation that comes my way. And I do think that our publications and accomplishments as poets should be celebrated. I even have a Success Chart (you can download one too if you want) to remind myself of little things I achieved when I'm having a bad day. I mean, anytime I can find a reason to have a party for myself, I do. But I do try to remind myself that my success as a poet cannot be written down on a resume, it's something greater than that.
As a poet, I guess if I had to determine how success can be measured, it would be in how much we return to others. This can be through our poems or in person, over email, with a blog, on the phone, through a class/lecture, in a letter, in our books, as an editor. For me, a poet's success is based on his or her actions as a poet. And even if one is getting paid for any of the above, it still counts.
But I guess that's how I measure the success of any person (poet or not), not by what was achieved, but what they returned, not by what they have, but what they gave.
Maybe I'm thinking too much about this, but I know the things that I base my self-worth on or my “success” are by the number of people who see me as a friend and if I'm kinder more of the time than hurtful. Mostly though, I guess I base success on how the people closest to me see me. If in the end, my family can say that I did a pretty good job in their eyes, then I made it. The rest of it is bells and whistles, the rest of it is fringe on my already stylish suede skirt.
Of course, if the New Yorker calls, I'm running to the phone. . .
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