Fat Email

Yesterday, good news arrived in the form of an email fat with an acceptance. New Delta Review wants “Why the Wind.” This acceptance is particularly reassuring because the poem is one of the first post-Blood Almanac poems that I felt confident about. I’ve been sending it out for over a year and wondering “how come noboby else wants this poem?” Now, I can rest a bit easier, as it has found a home. This acceptance is also fun because New Delta is the old stomping ground of my boss.

And to keep me humble, two rejections arrived fast on the heels of the acceptance.
***************Writing time has come to a screeching halt, as official class days are over, finals are looming, and the stack of research papers to be graded seems to grow rather than shrink. If you know someone who is a Comp teacher, send chocolate, give hugs, offer up wine and excuse us our grouchiness.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Submitting to Obscurity

This morning on NPR, I was listening to a report about a museum in Oregon, which will receive a Van Gogh painting, “Ox-Cart,” from a regional family. The painting is from Van Gogh’s early career and unlike his most famous work is quite dark. The reporter went to a local coffee shop to gather some responses, and this comment stopped me in my tracks. When talking about Van Gogh’s sunflowers and how those sunflowers have been branded on all manner of things from mugs to posters to bumper stickers, a woman named Sally Cleveland, who is an artist herself, said this:

“I would rather submit to obsurity than be a coffee mug.”

I was taken aback…what? I love Van Gogh’s sunflowers and whenever I see them they make me happy, whether they are on a mug or on the wall as a print of the original. Whenever I see a famous work on a magnet or a mug, I am happy to recall the original. I do not presume that the mug itself is trying to be “art,” merely a representation, an artifice…but wait..isn’t that the definition of the arts? Certainly I can see the intrinsic value in the original painting versus the “mock-u-painting” on the mug, but if it recalls to mind the original, isn’t that worthy?

Of course, the real reason the comment brought me up short is because it touches on my medium as well…the written word…and my ego. It seems a brave comment to make for an artist. What is it that I aim to do with my work? I aim to publish as much as possible in the best venues possible. Does this make me vain? Would I “stoop” to having my poem on a mug? A niggling thought in the back of my mind suggests I might. Would I choose to “submit to obscurity”? No, while I know I’m probably never going to be on Oprah’s bookclub list, I do hope to find some willing audience somewhere. And this recalls another letter from Emily Dickinson to T. W. Higginson. This one from 7 June 1862, when E.D. says this:

“I smile when you suggest that I delay ‘to publish’ — that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin —
If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her — if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase — and the approbation of my Dog, would forsake me — then — My Barefoot Rank is better — “

I have read and re-read this letter for years, struggling with my own emotions about publishing. Is the artist who works at the art without thinking of publishing (“barefoot”) a purer artist? How much does audience play a role in the creative process? How much does the ego-boost of a publication help push my writing along? Would I continue to write, against all odds, if I received nothing but rejections? I doubt it. For whom do I write? For myself, of course, but I have always written in an effort to communicate, and that implies an audience.

Where is the line between the mass-market mug and Dickinson’s “Barefoot Rank”?

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Skin like a Rhinoceros

I had a run of good luck broken today. For several Fridays in a row, I’d received acceptance letters from several fine journals. Today, upon arriving home, three SASEs awaited me, along with their three rejection letters, all nicely phrased and with several encouraging notes.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own elaborate system for handling these things, and I’ve been thinking about how my rituals help keep my ego’s skin so thick. First, I leave the SASE until the end of the mail opening process. It lingers there on the desk, a flickering possibility. When my eyes happen to graze the postmarked stamp (always something more fun and interesting than a flag or a bell), I repeat to myself “It’s a rejection. It’s a rejection.” This softens the blow when, as in most cases, it actually is a rejection, and it makes me doubly delighted when the opposite is true.

Once the results have sunk in, I go to my files and my spreadsheets and record the transaction. That’s what it is, after all, a transaction. I’ve offered up something I believe others might value. Just because one particular editor says “no thanks,” doesn’t mean there isn’t a home to be found for the poem elsewhere. By the time I get done filling in the cells on the spreadsheet, I’m able to take a step back and remind myself that it’s nothing personal.

Tomorrow being Saturday, the mail will run, and like playing the lottery, there’s always a chance for more good news.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Thank You

A big thank you to Sean Chapman for being my blog guru and answering endless questions!

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Launching

A year an a half ago, my life changed on two fronts at almost the same moment. In June 2006 I married a man I had begun to believe didn’t exist, a man who could love me with all my strengths and my flaws, a man who understood my need for “a room of my own” in order to pursue my work and humbly gave up the only spare room in the house to me. In the same month, Anhinga Press launched my first book, Blood Almanac. I have to admit that opening that box of author’s copies was much more exciting than opening the wedding gifts we’d received — mostly because I’d already sent the thank you’s to Reginald Shepherd, who judged the contest, and Rick Campbell and Lynne Knight of Anhinga Press. I’m not sure we ever finished writing all the wedding thank you’s. (If you’re one of those we forgot, we hope you know us well enough to forgive us!)

In the year an a half since the book came out, I’ve toyed with the idea of establishing a web presence. I’ve hesitated because the marketing side of publishing has never been my strong suit and because during the hubbub of ramping up for the book and the wedding there wasn’t time, and then during the traveling and PR phase of having the book newly published there wasn’t time, and then I spent most of 2007 recovering from 2006. However, in the past two years of going to AWP and also traveling for the book, I’ve met so many fantastic people that I’ve begun to feel a calling to connect myself to others who share the crazy need to attempt to put the unsayable into words.

I launch this blog with many of the same emotions with which I launched both my marriage and the book–eagerness blurred with anxiety, hopefulness mixed with nervousness, and confidence made humble by doubts. So far, both the marriage and the book are thriving, which may bode well for this blog.

I hope to write each week about what I’m reading, how the writing goes, and to brag a bit about the envelopes and emails fat with acceptance letters (for myself and friends). The title of the blog comes from Emily Dickinson’s letter to T.W. Higginson, July 1862. It comforts me.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn