For years, I’ve submitted to contests, fully aware of how serendipitous the results may be. Hope, however, springs eternal, and I’ve had success over the years, even as competition increases. Recently, I’ve been involved on the judging side of a number of poetry contests, both for adults and also for young people. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be asked to read and engage in such work, but also an eye-opener. My process has been to begin by reading the submitted works, just to have a sense of the works and read for enjoyment. Following that, I read again and separate the submissions into three groups: yes, maybe, no. I usually end up with more in the ‘yes’ pile than there are awards (generally, awards include 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 1-2 Honorable Mentions). I re-read the ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ piles to cull further and I write notes about each piece at this point. I keep reading and culling as many times as it takes to winnow down to a final decision, knowing that no matter how hard I try, I cannot achieve full objectivity, but at least having clear reasons for my choices. The process has taught me how much time and effort goes into the judging process and has given me a new respect for the process when I submit to contests myself.
I recently came across a BBC article that shares Sir Andrew Motion’s “Top Ten Tips for being a Successful Poet” (11 October, 2014). While this article came out a while ago, what I most like about the article is Motion’s assumption that success relates to the quality of the poem, not to one’s “success” at being noticed, making money (hardly likely with poetry), or anything else that isn’t directly related to being a better writer and, specifically, a better poet. I’m sure the headline is a teaser to draw readers, but it could just as easily have been called “Top Ten Tips for being a Better Poet.” The focus is on the work—so refreshing. Motion was the UK Poet Laureate from 1999-2009 and it’s easy to see why. He is dedicated to his art. Take a moment, click on the link, and be inspired.
Recently, I’ve been fortunate to receive feedback on a number of pieces of my work. This is such a gift. You can write and write and write, but, eventually, you need other eyes to see what you can’t see because you’re too close to what you’ve written. It all makes sense to you; then, someone comes along and is puzzled.
There are different types of feedback, but it’s all good. You can make the most of it by accepting it. This doesn’t mean you have to implement everything that’s suggested, but it does mean you need to set your ego aside and not take it personally. People who are generous enough to give you feedback are your best writing friends. Their honest feedback enables you to revise in ways you couldn’t have without their input. Feedback can range from the general to the structural to the syntax to the grammar. Take it. Figure out what resonates with your goals for the piece and make the most of it.
Photo credit: Biodick
Today, Thursday, February 26, I am privileged to be interviewed on blogtalkradio. BlogTalkRadio allows users to create free online radio stations and listen to thousands of original internet radio shows. My host is Renee Hand (picture at left) and her show is “Stories from Unknown Authors.”
In addition, a review of my 2011 book, Meditation on Woman, is up on The Crypto-Capers Review, a children’s book review site and the platform for the Stories from Unknown Authors’ Radio Show and we will also discuss my latest chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, motivation, writing practice, and matters artistic.
Podcast link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/storiesfromunknownauthors/2015/02/26/interview-with-aline-soules-for-evening-sun-a-widows-journey
I’ve just come back from a “literature” tour in the UK. Our group combined touring places of literary renown with meeting living authors. One of the most interesting experiences was comparing biography and biographical fiction. At the Ways with Words festival at Dartington Hall, Claire Tomalin spoke about writing biography, specifically her two works on Dickens and on Dickens and his mistress, Nelly Ternan. At one point, she considered fictionalizing the latter work because there is less information about Ternan than about Dickens; however, in the end, she chose to stay with biography. I then thought of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, both of which present Thomas Cromwell through fiction while resorting to Mantel’s extensive research into the details of his life. This raises the age-old question: how do we get at “truth” or, at least, “truth” as each of us sees it? What makes one writer write biography, choosing what to include and not include about a subject? What makes another decide to fictionalize a subject? Which path offers the closest “truth” of a subject, particularly one who can no longer refute what is said? The answer is probably both routes, depending on the author and on the subject, but the subject is endlessly fascinating.
Months in the making (what book isn’t?), The Widows’ Handbook now has its own blog. I have been privileged to have one of my poems (“Apart”) included in this anthology, along with poems from the known and the not-so-known.
One of the exciting elements about submitting one’s work to an anthology is not having a clue about who else will be included and I had never expected to share space with such respected poets as Mary Oliver, Tess Gallagher, and Maxine Kumin, who sadly died on Feb. 6 of this year.
Equally honoring is sharing space with poets whose names have been unknown to me until now. As I read through this amazing collection, I was stunned by the quality of work I encountered. I read works by Elizabeth Page Roberts (“the sun holds no sway”) or Marean Jordan (“Farewell to Sorrow”), or Pat Parnell (“Memory Foam”) and I resonate to the words.
That’s what poetry does—reaches the emotional self of the reader and resonates as the poet and the reader share an experience and the words mingle with the emotions of both to create a sense of shared life. Nothing could be more communicative or important than the connections between the poet and reader through the written word.