A Poet’s Five Stages of Grief – by Shari Crane

Receive an email from the “Annual Ipecac Writing Competition.” Excitedly open the email. Entertain thoughts of winning. You sent them a good piece; it was revised more often than a realtor’s face. Imagine a publishing deal. Imagine handing in your two-week notice. Feel relieved about the prospect of never again staring (while trying not to stare) at that mole with two black hairs when your boss stands over your desk.

Remember the new rule about “no personal emails” at work. Open the email anyway; they’ll miss you when you’re gone.

“We at Ipecac regret to inform you that the Annual Lavender Sphincter Poetry Competition received a wealth of stellar manuscripts. And yours. However, you will receive a free three-month subscription to Ipecactus, our award-winning online journal showcasing the best writers from all over the globe. Check out the winning entries below. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.”

Check the email address to make sure they sent the rejection to the correct email. Check again. This can’t be. Decide to take a look at the winner’s poem, but just to determine where Ipecac went wrong.

The winning poem is capitalized like a psalm and uses “gossamer,” “Hyacinth,” and “halcyon.” Stare. The primary subject seems to be pigeons with “halcyon halitosis.” Put on your glasses. The poem’s thematic elements explore the social mores of pigeons on leave.

Take off your glasses; they didn’t help. Wonder what a pigeon could do, or catch, on leave. Try not to think about it. The winning poem is so abstract you can’t decide if the poet is clever or psychotic. Settle on the later. Hope the poet doesn’t live near a park. Open the bottle of antacids on your desk. Eat two.

Grind your teeth and resolve to never write a poem about pigeons. Open the bottle of antacids again. Throw two at the wall. Glare at the screen. Read the judge’s comments about the winning writer. “Sheer genius and what not.”

Check the author’s picture, hoping to find flaws—she looks like she eats once per week. Move to her biography, feeling confident. She probably didn’t win “Best Halloween Poem” in the fourth grade. Click on her list of publications and awards—it’s longer than a DMV line.

Pace around the office trying not to care as you mutter “pushfart” and “tan hooker.” Scan for anything that needs shredding. Consider shredding your computer. Set your email filter so anything from that flatulent journal will bypass your inbox and land in the trash. Unlike on Facebook. Unfollow on Twitter. Unsatisfying.

Go back on Facebook. Block Ipecac. Wish the editors were stuck on an elevator between floors with “that one guy” from your writer’s group who prefers arguing to revision and eats cheese before group despite lactose intolerance.

Drive home from work in the fast lane. Grouse around in the kitchen. Eat blue corn chips. Check emails at the kitchen table. Finish the bag of blue corn chips. Read an email from “that one guy” entitled, “And Now For Something A Little Difference.” Smack your own forehead. Wipe off chip crumbs. He’s getting published.

Read your email invitation to “that one guy’s” bookstore event. Try to think of a schedule conflict. Your teenaged daughter walks into the kitchen. Attempt to point out the injustice of “that one guy” getting published. Point at the subject line of his email for justification.

Your daughter shrugs and says, “School was easier in the old days.” Try to think of a snappy answer as she leaves the room. Watch her leave. Ask the dog, “What are you staring at?”

Reason that the judge could be unaware she’s developing cataracts. Think about mailing her a pair of bifocals with another copy of your poem. You could offer to accept 50% of the prize money.

Attend your writer’s group with two pairs of bifocals. Describe your plan for resubmitting. Use the pink bifocals as a pointer. Ask if you should send Ipecac’s judge the pink frames, the polka dot frames, or both?

The group advises against “bifocal resubmission.” Feel unsupported. Ask your writer’s group if they’d be willing, instead, to request that Ipecac select a different winner? Uncomfortable silence ensues. Suggest if everyone in the group purchased a subscription, Ipecac would be grateful. More uncomfortable silence.

The group advises you to “let it go.” Nod, but silently disagree. Think about resending your poem as someone else reads. After group ends, go home and write several witty emails. Delete several witty emails because the group made you promise.

Eat chocolate chip cookies. Leave the bag open. Pine about never getting a chance to live mole-free. Pine about going into debt to cover college tuitions. Pine about distaste for abstract poetry. Imagine scrambling the words of your best poem and inserting “pigeon” and “gossamer” randomly to get it published.

Thoroughly investigate Ipecac’s prior winners. Realize they have more in common than histrionic poetry—all have an MFA. Calculate the theoretical probability of you receiving an MFA. Use the known variables of teenagers in various stages of puberty, no savings, mortgage, an idiotic ex, and impending college tuitions.

Realize you might get published for the first time when you’re 80—if you make it that long. Wear failure like a cape. Eat more cookies. Stare at the wall.

Remind yourself Virginia Woolf had money, no kids, a supportive husband, and servants. Remind yourself that you have three kids and the only service you get is at the drive-through window, so comparing yourself to others is a feckless hobby.

Think about another way to learn what MFA students learn, preferably without tuition, an advisor with a mole, or leaving teenagers unattended.

Check out all the books on poetic technique at your library. Read both. Decide to purchase used books at a local bookstore. Buy both. Decide to shop at Powell’s when visiting family in Portland. Wait three months.

Visit Portland. Ignore dissenting opinions from the back seat about stopping at a bookstore while on vacation. Roam through Powell’s like a Rottweiler in a meat factory. Purchase their triple espresso and jack it up with sugar. Have a 45-minute turbo-conversation with another espresso-fueled poet about one poem in Jimmy Carter’s, “Always a Reckoning.”

Mail three boxes of books home to save on luggage fees. Set five books aside to read while on vacation. After dinner, put your feet up and open a thick book by e.e. cummings. Sniff the pages; think loving thoughts about e.e. cummings and vacation.

Read e.e. cummings critically, looking for technique. Get lost in the poetry and forget about technique. Catch yourself. Frown. Go back two pages. Repeat.

Reading is thwarted by your youngest teen strutting back-and-forth like a chicken to get your attention. Look up from e.e. cummings and watch your son dance. Try not to laugh. Give up on that. Look at the book on your lap and realize you’ve discarded poetry’s joy in pursuit of a benchmark. Plan to write about it—later. Join the chicken dance.


4 thoughts on “A Poet’s Five Stages of Grief – by Shari Crane

    1. Thank you, Eric. I’m glad it resonated for you, and I appreciate that you took time to comment.

Comments are closed.