by Sydney Nash
Four times a year I will hunt down a poet and demand answers. The Hiss Quarterly asked the "same seven questions" - - I've decided to ask those same seven at the Rear View and then throw in a few more.
I caught up with Todd recently at a gallery opening in Chicago, plied him with the free booze then pulled him away from his adoring public to ask him a few questions. He gazed at me through crossed eyes and shook his head a few times, handed me his business card and told me to call his agent ... (read the interview over at the Rear View)
When people ask me what qualifies me to be the poetry editor for a relatively well known literary magazine they must truly expect an answer quite different from the one I give them. I know this because of the stunned silence that occasionally follows my commentary.
I don't hold a degree. I don't teach writing workshops based on years of personal publishing experience and I'm not related to anyone famous that I know of.
Oh stop rolling your eyes. The literary world is overflowing in some places with more nepotism than talent.
What qualifies me above a great deal others is simple. Passion.
I love words. I love how words can be arranged to create patterns similar to the way we can arrange musical notes to create symphonies. I've been studying this concept for as long as I could hold a book and turn pages. I'm passionate about it.
The summer I turned nine my mother was unable to afford a baby sitter and so she would pack me a lunch and drop me off each morning at the Glendale Public Library in California. I quickly became bored with the new children's section and moved downstairs to the adult section. It was quieter, and oddly enough the perverts who seemed to run rampant upstairs were found nowhere downstairs. Let's keep in mind that this was the mid 70's and people were not quite as tuned in to the hell some children experience because of neglect, abuse and more. The Glendale Public library had just been renovated, it was modern and huge.
As I became acquainted with the world of "real" books -- this is what I called the downstairs section of the library -- I would wait with deep anticipation for the weekly displays of literary greatness the library would showcase. I think they called it "A Summer Of Poetry." Or maybe, "A Season of Poetry." I don't know. What I do know is that I first read Walt Whitman (now becoming more famous thanks to Levi commercials) and Browning and Tennyson and Eliot with an uncommon joy for a "child my age."
I was nine and I understood Walt when he said in "Poets To Come":
"I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you."
I would escape to the auditorium (they never locked the doors anywhere in that place) and stare at my reflection in the highly polished golden wall sections while I softly recited The Wasteland because of the way the words rolled and danced out of my throat on to my tongue and out, out ...
"Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.
I find myself repeating it still, today. Especially in a moment where I am trying to make sense of senselessness. It might be my mantra? Never the less, I desired to know more of the world because of poets. Why did they write what they did? Who were they? What was the world like when they put pen to paper? What compelled them? Poetry led me to my second love, history.
It would be three years later before I wrote my first poem. Prompted by the 16th century painting of a man I saw on exhibit at the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena. His eyes spoke to me in a way that still remains ineffable in spite of years of words. Not knowing what to do with my feeling I had no choice but to try explaining it because Elizabeth Barrett Browning was pounding at my reality with, "How do I love thee?"
By God, if she could do it, so could I.
Impossible to turn back. Futile. The ache of words inside me begging to be arranged just so was a choiceless choice. I was filling notebooks with this nonsense.
In time, the nonsense became less nonsense and much better. I went to college on a full ride scholarship for my ability to interpret Poetry. My goal was to teach it. Of course, I was an idiot and did not realize what a glorious gift a full ride scholarship was and wasted my good fortune.
In spite of the history that follows my drop out college years I did manage to continue to write, win awards, and publish. For five years I produced The Hiss Quarterly with excellent and knowledgeable people who truly knew their craft. When Mike French approached me with the idea of a merge, I agonized over it for some time. I'd lost two of my best editors, and just brought two more on board. They were going to assist me because they loved words as much as I did and it was becoming more of a labor and less of a love. I finally agreed to shut down the Hiss Quarterly and became the managing editor for The View From Here. Your excellent (and sometimes weird) fiction selections this year can be blamed on me.
I'll be honest, fiction is not my first love. In order for me to sparkle and glow I need poetry. When I came to Mike with my idea to resurrect the "Rear View" and hand over the "Front View" to someone else, we pow wowed and so it was.
I know it is frustrating and soul crushing, this business of writing poetry, let alone submitting it. Sitting on this side of the desk is equally soul wrenching. Sending out rejections is not a favorite past time, However, I'm occasionally shocked at the grammar in cover letters and introductions from people who claim to have degrees and pedigrees. The internet is a glorious playground. Sadly, what I've experienced in recent years is that nearly anyone can call themselves a writer, create a website, and self publish. As Hemingway said, "The question is, can you write?"
So you have a degree? In what? Underwater basket weaving? Please don't tell me you received your MA in Literature and attach your work with an introduction that says, "hi. i like ur zine. Plz look at my work. Thanx." Honor what you've learned and who you are!
Now we come full circle. If you Love this thing called Poetry as much as I do, then you are qualified to send it to me and I am qualified to read it and decide if we should feature it at the Rear View.
At the risk of being redundant, I'll close with the beginning of my interview with Todd,
"Make me angry with your first line. Make me laugh with your first line. Make me cry with your first line. Make me feel something solid beyond a wrist cutting desire with your first line. Please. Do not puzzle me. Do not cause my face to wince or my eyes to roll. Make your first, second and following stanzas grab me by my gut and then throw me across the room. For the love of God, let your words be words that can be read out loud."
Now send me your words, and please edit the cover letter. It shows that you care. If you don't, why should I?