Writing eliminates the mask that an artist holds pressed to their skin. Writing frees a voice hidden within that reaches out through an artist’s hand – a hand holding a pen. That pen is a channel. Its inky words drip from a writer’s soul, blotting in heartbeats on a wrinkled page. That’s how a writer survives.
In case you missed last month’s Penned, various writers, emerging and established, respond to a themed question about their writing process. These writers showcase their passion, their determination, and their love for the written word – not just already on the page, but words they themselves have lovingly penned. Penned seeks to inspire writers, current and future, to unleash the capacity of shared experiences in this tumultuous wordy lifestyle, turning them into the lyrical.
The October theme: Why you first sent out for publication.
Like many writers, I first sent work out as a kind of gut-check, way back in 1976. If somebody besides Mom liked it, I reasoned, maybe I was onto something. And then I got my one and only acceptance for “Your Cats Look Like Taxi-Cabs to Me” from the now-defunct New Infinity Review. It was another 25 years before I found the nerve to try again.
Honestly, a friend of mine told me to. That’s the simple answer. He is a well-published poet and he believed that I’d have a better time applying to MFA programs if I had some knowledge as to how the publishing industry worked. He also believed my work was ready. Which is huge. We had taken a grad-level poetry workshop together and he has great editorial instincts. I know that those first poems that went out were terrible. But I learned to expect and appreciate rejection and how to push through it and not take it personally. I was surprised when I got my first acceptances, but in the way that poetry surprises me with its possibilities. When I send out, I’m reminded by a line of poetry by Gretchen Marquette from her poem, “Want:” I was satisfied, so long as it wasn’t impossible.
Because I was a dancer and performer. Charged by the moment of performance with audience as witness when air particles accelerated. Desire to shift the breath patterns of those watching. As a college freshman dance major, I didn’t hesitate to send off a poem to a submission call from the Movement Research Journal. I don’t remember the details of the piece I sent but do remember receiving a rejection.
I was a teenager in rural Michigan in the pre-internet era–I was lonely. Sending out my poetry was my flag, my message in a bottle, my sos. I wasn’t even sure the poetry world actually existed, but I knew I needed to find other seekers. I made a special order for Poet’s Market through the local newsstand/bookstore and began firing poetry flares.
As a child, I wrote letters. It was the age of pen pals and I had one in Canada, another in Australia. Later, I wrote to a woman living in a nursing home in Kansas. My grandfather found a balloon in a pasture, its string stuck in manure, and inside it was the woman’s address. I, a stranger, wrote to her, and she wrote back. Publication is the same, words sent out to strangers, words waiting for a response.
I’d like to thank all of this month’s participants! I hope you, writers, have enjoyed this month’s Penned. Be on the lookout for next month’s special edition of Penned, which will include well-known authors responding to a question relating to The Drowning Gull‘s Encounters with Nature issue!
Steven Shields has written poems since a high school lit teacher offered extra credit for writing a sonnet cycle (which he wrote over a weekend, not knowing good ones take months or even years). A move to Atlanta in 2001 led to steady publication and a book, “Daimonion Sonata,” along the way in 2005. His day job is teaching communication coursework at the University of North Georgia. His poetry veers between formal and open forms; his prose includes prose poems, micro-fictions and lyric essays.
Chelsea Dingman has been writing off and on since she wrote a book of poetry for her fifth grade teacher. The last two years, she has been pursuing her MFA at the University of South Florida. Her first book won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017). Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.
Stephanie Heit is a poet and dancer who has written and moved interchangeably since childhood. She lives with bipolar disorder and is a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her debut poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, was a Nightboat Poetry Prize finalist and is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2017. Her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Typo, Streetnotes, Nerve Lantern, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and Spoon Knife Anthology. https://independent.academia.edu/StephanieHeit.
Jessica L. Walsh has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but really kicked into high gear in the last decade. She has a PhD in English Literature from University of Iowa and teaches at Harper College. Her first book, How to Break My Neck, was recently published by ELJ. Her work can also be seen in journals like Midwestern Gothic, Tinderbox, The Fem, Whale Road, Ninth Letter online, and more. Visit her website at jessicalwalsh.com.
Angela Mitchell‘s stories have appeared in lColorado Review, New South, Carve, Midwestern Gothic, and others. Her story, “Animal Lovers,” was the winner of the 2009 Nelligan Prize from Colorado Review; it was given special mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXV, and listed as one of thirty “Distinguished Stories” in the inaugural issue of New Stories from the Midwest. She recently attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. At work on her first novel and a collection of short stories, Mitchell is the director of the St. Louis Writers Workshop.