Two Weeks in a City That Never Sleeps

After a whirlwind 4-day visit to St. Louis from Southeast Asia, I arrived in New York City. I didn’t have time to absorb the shock my body and mind was experiencing after several months abroad, traveling. I would start my new position as co-editor at a peer-reviewed, scientific journal almost immediately.

My life in circles: I return to publishing, more appreciative of its purpose and thus my approach. Having had a hell of a time trying to survive as an adjunct, I’m more than glad to be doing something that fairly compensates my time and effort. As much as I enjoyed teaching, I also value my time off. I may teach a class, once my schedule settles a bit, but perhaps I’ll use that time to enjoy New York a little more.

Two years ago, during my first visit to NYC, I fell in love. I wrote in my notes:

I’m not moving to the city to say I’ve lived there as a writer, as so many writers do. I’m in love, really, only with her water, all of her streets. I want to study her and more than dream of her seasons. People say, I might never come back, never leave because they know me, how I sometimes disappear into everyone and cannot be reached. There, I would be free.

My second visit last summer, when I circumnavigated the country by train, I continued to fall.

This time, I’m definitely deep. It’s difficult, enlivening, everything I imagined. Some days after working too many hours, I don’t want to walk through crowded, grimy, urine-infused subway terminals. Most days, though, all I need as a reminder is a walk down the street where I can catch glimpses of humanity and our connected lives. Of course there is disconnectedness, too, but we coexist here in a way that’s unlike any other place I’ve been. I’ve heard many versions of this summary from other people. Everyone seems to be from everywhere else.

New York City is a place where people from all over the world come “at the pinnacle of their careers,” as an acoustic engineer said over drinks at The Frying Pan. It’s intense. Indeed, today, I attended a meeting in The Corinthians with a panoramic view of New York City and was chauffeured back to work in a 100K Benz sedan. Juxtapose that with a day volunteering with my co-workers at the Bowery Mission where we sorted through and lifted crates of donated food, cooked, and served meals for the less fortunate. The stories and conversations I had with community members were tremendously enlightening, heartbreaking, uplifting. Imagine this contrast in one day, one minute, one second. It’s a lot to sort through. See why I’m in love?

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A Woman of Little Influence (Blackbird, Part II)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a response from a Blackbird editor that didn’t sit well with me. Something so blatantly condescending never sits well with me. I shot off a reply to the senior literary editor, saying that while I respect their editorial decisions, publishing my two poems may be an issue, once they read my thoughts about the exchange. Of course he didn’t respond. People generally do not like confrontation. It’s nearly unheard of in literary circles, as conflict is reserved for the lower echelons of society—the less educated, perhaps, or those consumed by reality television. Literature is synonymous with refinement, depth, cerebral/rhetorical ponderings, but conflict? Hardly ever.

When I posted that blog on Facebook, I received sympathetic, if not tenuous, responses. Most mirrored my frustration with the poetry business, but the consensus was that alienation from the academy is the status quo. I get why it’s this way—in order to maintain their identity of elitism, academics must use some means to separate the good (those who think like us and warrant our traditions) from the bad (those who want to be one of us):

There will always be stratification in any democratic process [like selecting poetry for a journal issue]–a way to differentiate merit/credibility/prestige from the next Joe Schmoe wanting to be noticed. … What I would appreciate from the academy is a bit of acknowledgment about how subjective (therefore biased) its aesthetics are, that perhaps they can’t differentiate good from bad until they get clarification from the author…

“It’s permanent high school,” the satirist John Queenan said from the People like Us PBS series. The series is about social stratification, and here is another example of it—a nuanced, almost invisible battle that goes on between dusty offices throughout the country and those thick-skinned poets who continue to submit to journals, hoping for some luck that could expose their poems to a larger, appreciative audience.

Even knowing the structure of the system, I ask, must writers feel demoralized in the process of trying to share their work? In an attempt to resist the silence that accompanies literary pursuits, I posted the blog to create some dialogue between editors and writers. It was a means to say, “HEY YOU—WE’RE HUMAN OVER HERE. WITH REAL, BEATING HEARTS. DON’T FORGET TO LOOK UP FROM YOUR OWN ASS ONCE IN A WHILE.”

I didn’t expect the senior editor to respond. I’m a young woman of little influence. I don’t know the big players in the game. I don’t have many blog followers. I’m a proletariat poet with other interests besides poetics. I’m not changing how things are done in these literary circles, but it’s necessary that I don’t stay silent, despite, what others have said, as a sure way to blackball myself from further publication.

Today, I received an email from another editor, saying my two poems will be in Blackbird’s Spring 2012 (v11n1) issue instead of this fall’s (v10n2). Let’s shuffle this irate person’s poems to the next “slot in the schedule.” A nice sweep under the rug. Blackbird, why not just stick to your guns and renege my previous acceptance?

He continued, “If there is a conflict with a forthcoming book, please let us know as soon as possible.”

Is that an additional jab? Of course, publishing a whole collection of poetry through a credible publisher is just SO EASY these days. (In fact, one colleague only spent $4K on contest fees over a period of 7 years to publish her first collection. Most others never publish anything.) Seriously. Fuck you, Blackbird. There won’t be a published book any time soon, certainly not by Spring 2012. My poems are not being read ANYWHERE at the moment because I’m a lousy poet who’d been too busy teaching the past year, then too wrapped up in continuing to live her life. Don’t patronize me. I’m aware of how small I am, compared to you.