Returning Another Poem to the Wild

My dad's shop -- one of those places where work got done.

I must confess that I have been wildly unfaithful to my send-out goals. Yes, yes, I know that someone else may think I did fine in 2020:

  • 32 poetry submissions
  • 18 creative non-fiction submissions
  • 32 fiction (novels and stories) submissions

But my goal was 200. So, in 2021 I decided to start my send-out on January 1st ... except, I didn't. I immediately got bogged down and discouraged. I felt as though every poem in my send-out book needed to be revisited and revised. I tinkered, without much result. January 6, 2021 (infamous day), waylaid me, and I sank into a pattern of doing no work at all toward sending out anything. 

Then, on January 20, with the Biden/Harris Inauguration, something shifted. The phrase "the first 100 days" recurred in newscast after newscast. Listening to a New Yorker podcast, I was struck by what hard work President Biden has in front of him. 

And I heard this little voice in my head say, "It's hard to send your work out, but it's not that hard." 

So I've been working -- madly -- on my send out. I've rewritten poems that I thought stale (I seem to now be writing a series of poems beginning with "She wears a mask of .... ") Inevitably, there are a few poems that I'm culling from my notebook. 

This poem has been "out" to twenty journals, at least, and has existed in various incarnations. It takes me back -- 36 years back! -- to when I was living in an apartment with my friend Pat Wilson (who had a whole row of hardback copies of Danielle Steele), and taking undergraduate courses at the UW. Professor Dunlop, as I recall, told me that Great Expectations was Dickens' best novel. No, I'm remembering that wrong. Professor Van Den Berg told me it was, and Prof. Dunlop, when I repeated this news to him, dragged me across the hall with him so he could argue with her. 

In any case, reading the novel was extracurricular -- on top of my other classwork, and actually going to school, and waiting tables four nights a week, not to mention my romance with the man I would eventually marry. Even so, I carried the novel with me ... everywhere.

Great Expectations

That winter I was reading Great Expectations
by Dickens, less a book and more a house
I had moved into. I fell asleep reading it,
carried it with me, forgot it everywhere,
found it again, squat god accusing me of my sins. 
I remember so little of my own life in those busy days,
but I remember the ruined wedding cake
and Estella, the jilted Miss Haversham,
the ruin of Magwitch. Pip himself.
I remember how I felt when I came to the end --
this fat book that I had now been driven out of,
orphan left to find my way through the marshes alone,
nothing to guide me but the miasma
of my own flickering and inadequate flame. 

-Bethany Reid

The first few days on this new goal were ... sort of brutal (the first two nights, I submitted work at 11:00 p.m.). But then I began imagining a staff of aides, running here and there, bringing me fresh paper, opening notebooks, refilling the ink for me, listening as I read poems aloud to test the lines. And here we are at day 6, with 10 submissions behind me. 

"I sometimes pretend I'm not me, but I only work for me." -Naomi Shihab Nye
So that's what I've been up to. Thanks for listening!


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