Saturday, October 02, 2004

Why Are You Still a Floundering Poet?

It may seem like every poet except you has committed, caring relationships with publishers and critics who love, trust and respect their work. With this kind of attitude, it's easy to see why unsuccessful poets occasionally wonder why they're still photocopying and stapling their books at work, howling the question at an uncaring sky. The question is "Why am I a totally unknown 33-year-old writer?" but really what poets want to know is if they're merely unlucky or if there's something seriously wrong with them. Take this quiz to find out:

1. When you read your poetry in public, you usually:

- Bust your funk with confidence (Score = 1)
- Mention Jorie a lot (Score = 2)
- Show off a just barely-acceptable delivery (Score = 3)
- Lurk on stage and self-consciously mumble repressed passive-aggressive word salad into the microphone (Score = 4)
- "read--" I do not "read," I "become the words" (Score = 5)

2. When considering why your work is consistently rejected from appealing, glossy magazines and reputable well-distributed publishers, you generally:

- Feel honest and rational about the fact that you didn't fit their racial/gender demographic (Score = 1)
- Feel somewhat bitter, but the Iliad wasn't written in a day ... your poem only took 20 minutes! (Score = 2)
- Capable of at least some self-deception in assigning no blame to yourself for the obnoxious, superfluous personal insult you recently delivered to the editor's face (Score = 3)
- Announce to the world that you were the innocent victim of a plot to eliminate white males from the face of the earth (Score = 4)
- Put on a Tom Waits CD and pretend you made better early life decisions.

4. When pressuring an editor to include a review of your latest self-published chapbook. you usually:

- Smile and say, "hey maybe include a note in the next issue if you like it, no biggy, actually never mind, it's okay" (Score = 1)
- Smile nervously and say, "would, uh, you know, if you want to, you know, please review this, I'm dyin' here." (Score = 2)
- Do nothing and bitch to your significant other about how it's all rigged by MFA programs. (Score = 3)
- Ask someone else the editor likes better if they'd please "mention it." to them "sometime" (Score = 4)
- Email the editor a note with a short, weirdly angry request, then refuse to follow up. Boil with despairing rage for two and a half years. (Score = 5).

5. When it comes to close-talking, you:

- Always keep a respectful distance from the arts administratoror or attractive student you're talking to. (Score = 1)
- Talk a little too close when genuinely excited but always back off a little when you notice how uncomfortable you're making the person. (Score = 2)
- Have been known to force the listener to a corner without realizing it. (Score
= 3)
- Violently push people away when beginning a conversation (Score = 4)
- "Take it to next level" (Score = 5)

Now total up your score and consult this chart to determine who's at fault--you or fate:

0-5: If you're floundering, it's neither for lack of trying nor any glaring flaws. Lady Luck just doesn't seem to like you--or, more likely, you haven't been floundering for long and probably won't be.

6-10: You're a pretty normal poet. Being floundering is a short-term situation for you, and the current run of bad luck probably won't hold. Keep it up, and be sure that your mounting anger and resentment don't cause you to slip the next rung.

11-15: You have a few off-putting quirks. It's nothing that a little self improvement can't fix, but your luck could stand to be better as well. Patience and tenacity will get you through in time.

16-20: You might want to consider actually enjoying poetry, anger management, broadening your horizons, building some self confidence and cleaning your filthy bathroom. Lots of poets out there fall into this category, but you can't just blame bad luck for your floundering status.

21-25: It's you. Lady Luck (being a lady, after all), took one look at you and threw her hands up in despair. You have a simple binary choice: either work to conceal your shortcomings from potential publishers, or resign yourself to oblivion. It's possible that you could be saved, and maybe claw your way up into the 11-15 range or even better, but it's going to require a lot of work. Stick with listservs.