I’ve had poems accepted lately by the Southern Poetry Review and the Tampa Review. The poems coming out in† SPR are in my maximalist mode whereas the ones TR accepted are minimalist. In any case, I was beginning to wonder if I still had any chops because — after a long spell of not sending work out — I began about eighteen months ago to get back into publication mode. The response was lots of nice notes on rejection slips.
I have always written to publish. Even in high school when I had my first poems in the school magazine, then in a local literary journal, Consumption, I wrote with the intention to publish. A few years later, working as a bartender at the Blue Moon tavern in Seattle — the place where Roethke had gotten loaded with Dylan Thomas when Thomas came to town — I really only became a member of the tribe when Roethke’s student David Wagoner began accepting my poems for Poetry Northwest. Art is always tribal, social.
Publication is the final separation & I have always written to separate things from myself. First, to make an idea or feeling cohere, then to make it stand on its own, & finally to set it adrift. I don’t keep track of my old manuscripts & there are poems I’ve published & completely forgotten. I keep sort of a list for academic purposes, but I’m not very industrious about it. It’s not that I intentionally destroy records — my little study if stuffed to overflowing with old bits & pieces of my writing, but you wouldn’t call it an archive so much as a mess.
Even for students, publication — in the sense of making public, is important. I only encourage an occasional student to send work out (I teach only undergrads), but I make the point that bringing their writing to workshop is a form of publication. I tell them I don’t think a poem is finished until it has been read by at least one other person. Actually, I’d modify this a bit — the intention to have the poem read is what counts. Clearly, Emily Dickinson’s posthumously published poems were finished when she sewed them into fascicles. In any case, an entirely private poem, like an entirely private language, is impossible.