Monday, November 13, 2006

The gig yesterday with Wing It! was very moving. Elizabeth, Theron, Masankho, Enver, Penny, Beth and I danced and told stories for about 50 people gathered to raise funds to support a school in Mozambique. I learned about Mozambique; it was liberated from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. Thirty-five percent of adults are HIV positive or have AIDS. Life expectancy for men is 37 years old, for women thirty-six. Per capita income is something around $350.00 a year. Unbelievable.

I improvised a poem about the first day of school. The slide show had pictures of bright, eager, shining faces of children sitting at desks, sharing textbooks. The teachers make copies of textbooks themselves. All the human potential of anywhere in the world, and they don't have the simple tools to manifest it--paper, pencils, books.


Last spring, Writer's Digest sponsored a writing contest. The Grand Prize was $3,000.00 and a trip to New York City to meet with editors and agents. I got all fired up and entered a bunch of poems. Greed functioned as good motivation, as I sent poem after poem after poem to them, conveniently paying entry fees with my credit card. I didn't keep track of how much I spent, but let's just say it was less than the yearly income for someone from Mozambique, but more than five movies with popcorn.

A few days ago, I got the letter. Out of 19,000 entries, my poem, "Snow" won an Honorable Mention. I read the letter twice to see if there was a line in it that said I'd won a few hundred dollars or so, but no such luck. However, I did tell my 7-year-old nephew Theo, who was the subject of the poem, and his mother reports that he is as proud as if he'd won the contest himself, and is going to bring the poem in to his second grade class for Show and Tell. Which is worth a million dollars to me.


New poem came easily today, between bouts of Sudoku-playing procrastination. So easily I mistrusted it, but emailed it off to my relatives and closest friends anyway. My Dad loved it, which is gratfying, if not exactly definitive proof that I'm on the right track. Ruth Schwartz liked it, which was something--she's usually my severest critic.

Laurie Wagner asked me at lunch how I cope with the frustration of trying to get See How We Almost Fly published for four years now, and accruing tons of rejection slips. She asked me if I get disheartened and think my poetry isn't good enough. I said, well yeah, sometimes I think it's not good enough, but individual poems keep getting published, and even winning awards, and that tells me I'm on the right track.

Even more importantly than that, though, and thank God for the instant gratification of email, is the response I get from my nearest and dearest. Their enthusiasm for what I'm doing carries me, and although I also want my poems to live in the bigger world outside my intimate circle, I've found that the actual moment when a poem appears in a magazine is often anti-climactic for me these days (the big exception to this rule is The Sun, of course.)

But the smaller literary magazines, the ones nobody reads except aspiring literati, don't do much for me. At the end of the day, it's the way this business of poem-making strengthens and enriches my relationships that's the big pay-off.


Theresa Williams said...

Oh, congratulations on the honorable mention! That's just fantastic news!

Alison said...

Thanks, Theresa, you are so sweet!