Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don’t cheat with it. – Ernest Hemingway
If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper. – T.S. Eliot
Every disappointment is an opportunity in disguise. You’ll overcome this and move on to better things. This is what your friends tell you when you get those awful declines and rejections. Yes, it may be true and yes it may help to soothe the deep hole under the diaphragm that gets larger with each rejection letter, each ending, each failed appointment, each time we’re told, So sorry, yes, you were excellent, but there were others before you, better candidates. Yes, you’re at the top of the list, but we only have so much room. Try again next year.
I ask myself each time I’m rejected by a literary journal, magazine, an online outlet, a reading series, the school I love, the men I want to love— Why continue? Why not just give up and settle?
But this is what scholarly pursuits, writing, and I suppose even life is all about—Blind submission, acceptance, rejection, not-so-blind submission, rewards, and then some more rejection.
Since I read my first book and put my first words on the page (in red crayon) I’ve been on this path of exquisite torture. For every success, for every featured reading and published piece, there are seventeen rejections. A professor once told our class she papered her bathroom wall with her rejection letters. She’s got two published novels now and a slew of awards, so I guess the effort was well worth it. But how do we continue to find the courage to put ourselves out there and keep from falling into the pit of desperation and despair? How do we handle the fact that this is a solitary effort and maybe only a handful of our contemporaries have even an inkling of understanding the pressure? I’ve written way too many poems about why I drink too much, and my self-medicating habits don’t even come close to some of my fellow writer friends. There are days I just throw my hands up in the air and want to scream when the words won’t come, and days when I just sit and stare at the blank page, eyes and fingers crossed…
However, this is not about success or failure, it’s about lessons learned, and the will to go forward. It’s not about intelligence, ego, jealously, or empathy. It’s about shared experiences with fabulous, talented professors and fellow students, and mostly, it’s about growth. Our 12th Street team grew tremendously over the past two years and two issues. We sat at the table together and drank wine, poured over submissions, devised our strategy for the journal, and then worked to create the best undergraduate literary journal in the country (as awarded by AWP this year!). We have much to be proud of and will be leaving a strong legacy to uphold.
Real writers never settle (though we do tend to overindulge). We polish and perfect, re-write and edit, beat ourselves up over syntax and language, cry over misprints and typos and then start with a fresh clean page. So, with this in mind, I’m writing my farewell letter as Editor-In-Chief of this website and as Managing Editor for the last two issues of 12th Street Journal. My years at New School in The Riggio Writing & Democracy Program have whittled me down to a fine tuned, open mouthed, well honed, Honors Graduate and yet I still feel unfinished, in need of strong cuts and edits. I’ve been trying to take some time for growth, give space for new opportunities and learn to see just where those cuts and edits make the most sense.
The new team is getting set to take over and I’m getting set to let go, but first, I want to present you with a taste of what we came out of the program with. Following are poems by 2011 Riggio Graduates – Sylvia Bonilla, Rebecca Melnyk, Luke Sirinides and me. We all possess creative strengths and weaknesses, we all owe much to the Riggio Program, to the concepts of Writing and Democracy, to our shared experiences, rewards and disappointments, and we will all move forward in the writing world in our own individual forms.
To the next group coming on board this fall, I offer my warmest wishes for a wonderful learning experience, a shoulder to lean on when the going gets rough, and my support, encouragement and aid wherever and whenever needed in order to continue this most worthy and excellent endeavor.
Always be a poet, even in prose – Charles Baudelaire
occasionally to rest my mind
I think of the alder tree struck by lighting
half of it awaits
to be severed, hacked, cured
maybe none of the above
I hear the edge branches
plunge to the pavement
I keep hold of
every sound bares its own narrative
every narrative begins with “when I met you”
By the Roadside
The men want to hold her back
from the girl with one blue sock
Her veil, a heavy dragon
so they wait
One man looks up through clouds
sand rises in the desert
where a boy is planting apple seeds
the car has not stopped burning
Voices move like ashes
the heat was bearable.
Give Me a Night
Give me a night, neon-blinking and noir,
Hot summer streets, alley cat saxophone.
I’ll write a page or two, let the ice melt,
Let the butt burn while you sleep on the sofa,
Dewy cigarette lips, soft silk-soaked curves,
Olive skin on brown leather-a muse in repose?
Let me pretend I’m a genius till dawn.
Let me pose, too, as a Romantic rebel.
Let me feel just a little bit lonely,
And only a little sad about it.
You’ll wake up and the dream will be over.
The midnight mystique will end come morning
But I’ll fool myself while you’re unconscious.
I know you told me
I’m your type.
We tangled our words and limbs,
We swam freshwater curls deep
and sponged upon our torsos
drops of ardent immediate need—
Swirling circles caught, hooked, torn, mouth bleeding
foam and whiskey breath
off center flow.
You mean to tell me this was my imagination?
You want my assurance that you never
lead me on?
On the fourth glass of wine you began
the pulling away.
My head encased in polygon triangles
I memorized my lines
polished smooth as malachite.