It's been a while since I've been able to advise you of the publication of any new poems. There are a couple of reasons for this: a) I've been lax about sending stuff out and b) those that have been out just take so long to come back.
So I made a dent in my submissions a week ago and sent out thirteen batches, two of which (much to my great surprise), came back right away; one was a rejection and one was an acceptance and I can't complain about those odds.
I don't know whether the short story magazines are worse than the poetry magazines because up until a year ago I'd never submitted a story anywhere but I've a whole batch dating back to November 2007 and you're not telling me that it takes eight months to read a story and say, "Sorry, son, but it's not for us." It's not the rejection that bothers me but I do think not replying is just plain rude. Of the twenty-five stories I sent out, eight were rejected, two were accepted and I've heard not a tweet or a chirrup about any of the others.
Back in March I chased up one of them. I won't name names but the magazine said that it responded "promptly" and so I sent a short, polite enquiry attaching the previous e-mail and not a dickybird: nada, nihil, nowt. And I don't know about you but I just think that's plain rude. And unprofessional. But it's worse than that, it's deflating for the author. Now, I know I could go down the simultaneous submission route and I don't know why I don't but I never have. I have loads of material. That's what happens when you write for ten years and don't send anything out.
I feel old. I've felt old for a long time, longer than I should have but as I write this I feel especially old. I'm becoming my parents. It had to happen but I thought I might be able to hang on a bit longer. It's not that all my heroes are dying off in droves (Is 'drove' the correct collective noun for heroes?) it's just that everything is changing faster than I'd ever imagined. And most of it is a double-edged sword. Even the blessed computer.
When I was a teenager I remember walking into The Third Eye Centre as it was back then and there were poetry magazines to be bought … lots of 'em. And they were cheap, maybe 35p or 70p for a thick one. The last time I was there – the place was called The Centre for Contemporary Arts – there was next to nothing, not even the big names. It had become the kind of arts centre I lampoon in Living with the Truth. And I felt like Jonathan, out of my time.
Meaning has changed too. That I really, really never expected. I'm not sure what things mean anymore. This wasn't supposed to happen so quickly. Now I submit my poems and stories to e-zines, magazines than don't exist, not in any tangible sense of the word. If someone turns off the server they're on then they're gone. There's one copy somewhere in the world and we all get to share it. The idea is good – very green – but, I repeat, there's one copy somewhere in the world and if their server crashes or there's a natural disaster or an act of God or if some loony takes to it with his favourite axe then it's gone, pffft! I've had stuff published on the Web before and I went looking for it and it's not there anymore. These should be collector's items. There should be people bidding for the stuff on e-bay. But they're gone. I can't even remember the names of any of them.
I don't think I like virtual reality. I like real reality, the kind you can stick in a box and pull out every few years, the kind you can show your daughter and say, "See, this is the kind of stuff Daddy wrote when he was your age," only she's now ten years older than most of the stuff you'd want to show her and there's never time for stuff like that when she visits.
Where was I? Oh, yes, I got a poem published in Ink, Sweat and Tears. It's one of the few journals I actually subscribe to. I like it because I get one poem to look at and I don't have to fret about flicking through cyberpages to find something I can actually be bothered reading. There's one poem, take it or leave it, Jim.
Well now it's one of mine, a little poem I ran off a few months back called 'If Only Pigs Could Fly'. It's not the one I would've picked out of the selection I sent them but I've never understood how editors make their choices nor do I worry overly much about what they've published before because it's rarely anything like what I produce anyway.
I've been writing a lot about the nature of poetry of late. I think it's been because I've been nearing my one thousandth poem (actually I've passed it now) and I've been thinking about my craft such as it is. Poem #1000 was actually a waste of time, a poem about wasting time reading a poem. I'll let you read it some day. 'If Only Pigs Could Fly' is #974. It was inspired … only that's not really the right word … I had in mind the story from the Bible about Legion.
I know Bible study isn't a big thing anymore and although I adhere to no kind of religious belief nowadays I cannot help having been taught what I was taught as a child. The imagery is powerful and it stays with you and I wouldn't fret if the only book I was ever left with was an old bible but that's a subject for another day I think. (Actually I know it is because I've already written the blog).
Anyway, here's the story:
1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.
7He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" 8For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"
9Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. - Mark 5:1-13
Translations differ. In the one I remember they throw themselves over a cliff (kremnos: overhanging, i.e. a precipice – steep place) and that's the image I had of all these piggy wiggies sailing over the edge of a cliff but, forgetting they no longer had the wings they were used to, the demons plummet into the sea.
A common expression is wrestling ones demons (an expression that's always puzzled me because Jacob wrestling an angel (Genesis 32:1) which is where I expect the expression originates) and that's always struck me as an appropriate metaphor for the whole writing process. I've never found it especially easy. It's as if I'm dragging a part out of me and shaping it into a poem or whatever. Yup, more biblical imagery. Anyway, all of this stuff is in my head and I dip into it as and when necessary. None of which you actually need to know to get the poem. But that's what I was thinking about when I wrote the piece.
Of course, I could've given it a more biblical title, like 'Legion', but, as I've just pointed out, people aren't as au fait with the scriptures as previous generations were so why make life hard for my readers? "If only pigs could fly" is one of those expressions that is still in common use and it carries the notion of wishful thinking. And that's really what the poem is about. We write 'em, we send 'em out and they crash and burn. It's a poem about the rejection process. We take our demons, cram them into poems, drive them away and watch as they fail.
The structure is a simple 4-2-6 count in the first two stanzas. The last one is 4-2-1-1 and is meant to suggest the falling process, the stanza crumbles away. The irony, of course, is that this poem didn't fail. And we like irony.