Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Asking the World for Money: Or, Poets as Orphans

45ยบ ~ our highs won't get out of the 50s today ~ heat on briefly this morning, A/C on two days ago ~ bright sun today after the day and a half of rain & clouds ~ the world cleansed

What I've been doing this morning is probably my least favorite activity of being a poet, even beneath recording rejections.  Today, I've been working on a fellowship application; in other words, I'm about to ask the world for money to help support my art. 

This particular fellowship is open to writers of any genre and it has caused me to really think about the position of poets in practical terms.  For one thing, the application asks about advances received.  Ahem, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, etc., ...  probably not applying for this fellowship.  Still, the question applies for the prose writers out there applying.  For this question, I crafted an answer about why such a thing doesn't exist for most poets. 

In crafting that answer, I realized that in my day-to-day poetry life I am doing the work of both the artist and the agent.  "Well, duh!" you might say.  Of course, I've known this forever; however, today, I had to quantify what I do with my time.  Do you know how long it takes to submit one's work to publishers?  I spent four hours going through submission guidelines and preparing my manuscript/letter/check/SASE/etc. on Sunday.  On Monday, I spent 20 minutes at the Post Office getting the packets mailed out (including wait time in line).  Add to this the time spent sending out individual poems.  It adds up quickly. 

While I know that an agent isn't the 'magic bullet,' and I do acknowledge that prose writers have to court editors and research the market as well, not to mention going through the torturous process of landing an agent in the first place, I do think the poets are at a disadvantage here. 

Granted, no agent will work for free, and the whole system is based on advances and royalties, neither of which I know much about, unless you count the nominal prize attached with Blood Almanac's publication.  So, I'm not advocating to change the system, just to acknowledge it.

In the meantime, the application also asks for the normal stuff: bio, details of the work, financial situation & use of funds, reviews of past work, sample of current work, CV, etc. 

I've just spent a good half hour updating my CV.  Luckily, I do a pretty good job of keeping the list of publications up to date, as I've developed a habit of including updating my CV when I record acceptances and when the work is published; however, there are lots of things that have happened in the last six months that I hadn't included:  creating the Big Rock Reading Series, taking over managing editor duties for a student magazine on campus, reading here & there, etc.  Whew. 

Finally, there is the general sense of discomfort of blowing one's own horn that follows the whole process.  The application requires one to jump up and down, shouting "HERE I AM! HERE I AM! I AM WORTHY OF YOUR PATRONAGE! PLEASE, SIR, I WANT SOME MORE!" (Money that is, not porridge.) 

Mark Lester as Oliver Twist

This, my friends, is hard and perhaps harder for having to claim that what I do is worthy of financial support, which is not a message poets receive from the world that often. 


7 comments:

Justin Evans said...

I have a difficult time putting worth in my own work, which I will be logging about a little later today.

Kathleen said...

I hear ya. And, "Please, sir, could I have some more?" Er, gruel.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Maybe they could do a Poet Makeover show where they teach us how to beg without begging!

Molly said...

Didn't Oprah already do that poet makeover thing??? (totally kidding....)

I struggle with those voices, too, the ones that say: you're not worthy.

This reader thinks you're worthy, if that helps.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, you are so sweet. Thanks!

Jeannine said...

My least favorite thing in the world. I just got turned down for one grant that I was really hoping for, and now I'm applying for another. It sucks! I also hate the feeling of begging, the feeling of saying "I'm worthy, I'm worthy." Ick ick ick.

Sandy Longhorn said...

I hear you Jeannine. Good luck to you, and your are valuable to me. :)