As much as I submit my poems, it should come as no surprise that some end up being published without my knowledge. I have by googling myself discovered poems out there in the ether I thought were still available for publication. It’s a singularly disconcerting, dissociative experience, akin posthumous publication, and an emotional one because even if you’re happy for the publication, you’re sad not to have been privy to it and thereby able to celebrate its arrival. Because of this lack of consent, there’s also the feeling of violation, a bad aftertaste.
A change in my attitude toward magazine publication in general has lessened the negative aspect of this so-called posthumous experience: It’s natural to want the poems one collects to reach as many readers as they can. Magazine publication gives poems a sort of first life, a debut, but I have begun to understand that it is not their final resting place. The collection in which they first appear in one version or another may be. Or not. Some poems may go on to be collected and recollected, singled out and selected, and revised and revised and revised. In this way a single poem may go on to lead many lives.
This realization takes off the pressure implied by that legal phrase First American Serial Rights. Contrary to this, I believe the poem belongs not to the magazine, publisher, or author, but the reader in the moment of his/her/their encounter with the poem.
My book-instead-of-poem-centric approach to magazine publication probably began during the work I did on my latest collection, Baldy. Because of the aforementioned desire for poems to have multiple lives, I decided magazine publication, or at least acceptance for publication, would be a requirement for poems to be included. The fact that I had many previously published poems to work with, miscellaneous poems that hadn’t made the cut for past collections, gave me a big pool of poems to work with and Baldy is my biggest collection and perhaps most various, miscellaneous, or sprawling, though each section has its own distinct focus.
The book arrived on March 19, 2020. Yesterday, a mere three months after, I sat down to look at what new work’s passed the magazine acceptance test for the next 2021 collection about my daughter Naomi Mira, the pandemic, and my rereading–age 33, through the cancer lens– Confessions by Saint Augustine.
Here’s a rough table of contents from a Note on my phone of what I’ve got so far (mind you I counted 143 pages left in the book this morning):
- Go, Dog. Go!
- Dog Barking at Squirrel
- Repose with Golden Retriever
- Animal Brain
- Back Yard Elegy
- House Church
- Stay-at-Home Order
- Eating Snow
- Snow Owls
- Storm Windows
- Born in Sin
- So Small a Boy, So Great a Sinner
- First Opening Flower of Youth
- Shadow Loves
- Taking Leave of a Pesticide Applicator
- Crucifixion of a Phantasm
- Burr Oak Woods
- Social Distancing
- What Thou Art to Me
- Tammy Ho Lai-Ming
- Wind Chimes
- A Lowly Habitation
- Claw Machine
- Night Winds
- Brain Scans
The compilation of this list implies a kind of preplanning that is new for me, a product of the experience of putting together collections before, which I hope doesn’t jinx the finished book.
Starting from scratch after Baldy–a sort of catch-all for heretofore uncollected quality poems–has encouraged greater reliance of the work I’m doing right now in the newness of the now. Going out every morning I can to sit with Augustine in the morning air and connect with the one word that will lead to another.