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trying to make a joyful noise

December 9, 2013

Saturday I took the last of 4 seminars on writing this year. This is the one I was looking forward to the most — what sounds can do for your poetry.

The other classes took place in Bethesda, the main location of The Writer’s Center, but this class was in Annapolis, at the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts, a charming facility that I will need to spend more time at in the future. (It’s the first place I’ve seen in the 5 years we’ve been in Maryland that actually compares favorably with the Indianapolis Arts Center.)

My teacher was an accomplished poet, who teaches writing elsewhere, as well as tutoring adult students of poetry. But I learned all of that from her website, after I returned home. Of the 11 students in my class, about 2/3 had taken at least one class from her before, and a few people had taken many classes.

She already knew almost everyone else’s names. So she didn’t bother to introduce herself in any way, nor did we go around the room introducing ourselves. My only chance to talk to my classmates occurred after class ended — a compliment on one woman’s embroidered coat didn’t go anywhere. I had a longer conversation with another woman in the bathroom, and we exchanged cards.

I’m glad I went:

  • I explored the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts, taking home a course catalog.
  • I got to visit a fourth location in Annapolis, which I like more every time I’m there.
  • The food at the café was good (the IAC doesn’t have a café).
  • I learned a few things in the class.

But mostly I was bored stiff. I looked at my watch constantly under the table, and even calculated how many seconds were in the 3-hour class [10,800, too large to count down really]. I considered doodling in my notebook. I even thought about leaving at a break. I have ADD, so when I’m not using my brain for anything, it shuts off. Which means it’s possible for me to fall asleep during boring meetings, or boring classes. (I try very hard not to do that, of course.)

One of my favorite things about taking classes at The Writer’s Center is that the students are usually even more interesting than the teachers. So not getting to hear almost anything from the other students, about themselves or their poetry, removed a lot of the class’s potential benefits for me.

The teacher had a very grand speaking style; was clearly classically trained. I felt as if an archangel on high was addressing the teeming specks of humanity far below.


Saturday evening, an email from the online literary journal, Sixfold, reminded me that the results of voting for their winter issue were live. Sixfold judges by crowd sourcing: through 3 rounds of voting by all entrants, the top 20 fiction entries, and the top 40 poetry entries, are published within the issue. Every entry is ranked out of the total number, and may receive comments from anyone who read & judged it. The top 3 in each category win cash prizes.

I had no expectation of winning money, but I thought there was at least a small chance my poems might rank in the top 40, and thus be published. Really, though, I was most looking forward to the comments.

I had read previous issues of Sixfold prior to submitting. My ordinary poems were clearly not as skillfully crafted as what I saw published, so I wasn’t sure what benefit I could even get from comments. I already know I’m much more deft at prose than I am at poetry — I’ve been writing prose since high school, 30 years, but I’ve only been writing poetry for 2 years.

What could I submit that I felt confident about? And that I would be interested in hearing what other people thought?

Well, there’s a subset of my poems that I call my surrealist poems — surrealist elements, but also absurdity, silliness, and kind of a rollicking joy.

(There must be other people writing poems like this, but the only ones I’ve seen personally are  e.e. cummings and Ogden Nash. I’ve found no one more recent.)

Anyway, despite the silliness (or maybe because of it), these poems are in some fashion the closest to my heart. To what is truest about me.

And since I haven’t been able to find any modern poems that look anything like mine, I figured I’d have less direct competition.

I had gingerly showed them to Spouse. He liked them! (I was very surprised — he has a silly / whimsical / playful side, but I don’t see it very often. And I don’t know that he ever feels joy.)

Thus heartened, I submitted my poems, and waited through 5 weeks of voting rounds.


For the winter issue of Sixfold, the fee was $6, for up to 5 poems. (I submitted 4.) Most people that I read, however, submitted all 5. So in 3 rounds of voting, I had to read approximately 80 individual poems, rank their sets, and comment.

I read each poem twice. I had intended to comment on all of them, but there were a great many I couldn’t find anything remotely encouraging to say, so I didn’t comment at all. One set in particular was so grimdark that I felt I had to say . . . that . . . and also say I wasn’t the right audience for it, but I hoped other people liked it.

If I never have to read another poem, obviously written by a man, about a woman he is hung up on and therefore the entire poem is about how treacherous Women are, it will be entirely too soon. And please, for the love of the gods, stop writing poetry about women’s bodies as if they were musical instruments!

However, in all 3 rounds, the sets I liked the best were fun to read and well-crafted! I hope those people will write more poems, and I will be happy to read them!


  • The person I ranked 1st in Round 1 was eventually ranked 28th out of 204 overall.
  • The person I ranked 1st in Round 2 was eventually ranked 30th out of 204 overall.
  • The person I ranked 1st in Round 3 was eventually ranked 6th out of 204 overall.

So none of my favorites won money, but all will have their poems published in the issue, when it comes out.

I was rather astonished to see that the person I ranked dead last in Round 3 [I hated all of their poems] ended up at #15 out of 204, so their poems will also be published in the issue.

Coincidentally, the person I ranked 1st in Round 1 voted on my poems in Round 1, . . . which is as far as my poems got.


Out of 6 possible points, my poems received 1.83. My rank was 166 out of 204.

Of the 6 people who read my poems, 3 ranked them dead last (including the person whose poems I had ranked 1st in my Round 1); 2 people ranked them #5 out of 6, and 1 person ranked them #3 out of 6.

I got 4 comments; only 1 was at all positive.


I have to keep reminding myself that approximately 99% of the people I meet don’t “get” me. That when I meet people in that 99%, the more they get to know me, the less they like me. So that 99% is not where any new potential friends might come from . . . and they’re probably not going to like my writing either!

Still, it’s very hard.

I need more joy in my life. And I’m trying to create it, but it would be so lovely to share it with someone, to receive back something that originated from someone else.

Spouse insists I have an audience somewhere, but there are days like yesterday, like today, when that’s very hard to believe.

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