I am a poetry toddler. Although I’ve been writing poetry since the first grade, have had a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing emphasizing poetry and nonfiction for nearly a decade, and been involved in the local poetry “community” for many, many years – I am a poetry toddler.
Earlier this year, I submitted my poetry chapbook to my first “contest.” I’ve had a good amount of success getting the individual poems published in literary journals. I thought I had a grip on that golden horseshoe, the lucky winner, the chosen one, as I held my book in my hands.
I was not shy about letting people know that I had a “good feeling” about submitting my chapbook. People were nice and said great things, which of course egged me on to believing that my work had a chance, a shot with this small press. I had put all my eggs in one basket. This was the contest for me. If I did not win, I would at least be a finalist!
Damn. Have you ever had to eat crow? It ferments in your mouth like rotten grapes. It gets stuck to your teeth. You can’t even remove it with floss. Crow is finding out that you were way out of your league. You were toddling around in a messy diaper at the prom.
Last week, when I received the email letting me down softly and announcing who won the contest, I put down my pen and stuck my thumb in my poet mouth. Also, there were the finalists, great poets who I adore and admire and would never put my poems “up against.”
It’s been a week or so. In that week, I went back and read two important books that had been calling to me for months. Lola Haskins’ Not Feathers Yet: A Beginners Guide to the Poetic Life; and Ordering The Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems, an anthology edited by Susan Grimm. They are my Dr. Spock, helping with the care and training (and revision) of this toddler.
Alas, I overhauled my manuscript. It’s been on the floor (I tossed it up in the air), my desk, the couch, my bed (yes, I slept with it one night.) It’s been candy, a dish that I can’t walk by without picking up a random piece (page) and chewing on it.
Later this week, I will remove my binky/ego and send the thing out again. Nobody likes to see a toddler with a binky. I will leave the terrible twos behind for the get over it threes. One day, I will be ready for that prom, poems pinned to my breast, a corsage smelling of tenacity, hope.