I like to tell people that I’ve been writing poetry since I was ten or eleven years old, and it’s true. I went to school to write, after college I went to work as a technical writer, and I wrote poems throughout my twenties, but I never seriously worked at it until 1999. I posted my first poem in an online workshop in 1997 and received scathing comments which sent me into hibernation for two more years. Then I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I couldn’t wait for my kids to get older or easier, I couldn’t wait to have a better computer, I couldn’t wait for more time or sleep or space or any of those things you tell yourself you need in order to write.
By 2001 I was posting regularly at Poets.org and I learned how to let the nasty comments slide. I learned how take the helpful ones and use them to make my writing better. I didn’t submit often, but when I did I was mostly rejected. The few acceptances I received gave me the impetus to keep going. I learned that most of my writing was dreck because the stuff I read online was amazing. The people with whom I discussed poetry were intelligent and insightful, and their advice and commentary made me rethink everything I thought I knew about poetry. Ironically, these people were not widely published. They weren’t famous. The internet poets I knew were somewhat stigmatized, somewhat separated from the print poetry scene. Online publishing was somehow lesser and we all knew it.
I had to reevaluate the reasons I wanted to write: Did I want to be widely published? Well, yeah. Was that more important than the love of language, the thrill of writing something unique? Well, no, thankfully, because I’d finally accepted that being published wasn’t the point. It was the extra bonus, the frosting, the: oh yeah, by the way this is awesome when it happens. I wanted to continue online because it was easy to post poems. It was easy to meet other poets. I didn’t have to spend all my time writing snail-mail letters and waiting and waiting for a response. I didn’t have to spend a lot of money for an MFA I didn’t want and couldn’t afford with small children in the house. I was convinced that the web would change the face of the writing world; I just had to be patient.
I went back to the beginning and spent the next several years relearning the basics: metaphor and rhyme, meter and imagery, intent and audience. I still submitted, thought not a lot and the rejections continued, both online and snail mail. I kept writing because I loved that sensation of joy, the moment of creation that I felt when I really had a good line or image. I kept writing because I discovered that the more I wrote, the easier it was to find that joy. By 2009, I’d written four chapbooks, one full-length poetry manuscript, and two novels. I started submitting more, both online and via snail mail. All along this journey, I’ve posted poems online to Poets.org and other poetry workshops like Desert Moon Review, the Atlantic (now defunct), The Gazebo, and lurked at others just to learn: Eratosphere, Slate’s The Fray, etc. I’ve dealt with trolls, flame wars, and discrimination. I’ve been encouraged and helped and published in small poetry magazines, more often online than in print. I found that I love the flexibility of online publishing and started my own poetry journal, Autumn Sky Poetry, which now gets hundreds of submissions every few months, poems from writers who are beginners and from poets who have published widely.
Today is December 31, 2009. In the last year, I’ve won the 2009 Ellen La Forge Poetry prize. My manuscript, “Dark matter,” made semi-finalist in the Brittingham and Pollak Poetry Prizes (University of Wisconsin Press) and is a semi-finalist at the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry (waiting to hear about the winner). Today I found out that my freaky sci-fi poetry chapbook manuscript, “The Quantum Archives,” that I never, ever thought anyone would read let alone like made it to semi-finalist status at the Black Lawrence Press’ Black River Chapbook Competition. I’ve had two chapbooks published: “How to photograph the heart” by The Lives You Touch Publications and “The book of small treasures” by Seven Kitchens Press. It’s been a good ten years of waiting for the two worlds of poetry, online and print, to collide. And everything I’ve learned about writing is possible only because the internet has revitalized the poetry world. Right now, all of us who write poems are benefitting from the diversity and richness of the web. This online world made it possible for me to get to today: I don’t have an advanced degree and don’t teach. I do, however, love to write and because the internet made it possible for me to learn and meet other writers and put my work out into the virtual world, I’ve become part of a community of poets that didn’t exist fifteen years ago.
Is poetry dead? Not even a little.