A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
This is the post that gave me the thoughts and the photographs for the haibun I recently provided the link to.
It was originally about the passing of the old families and the way the houses have become country parks and similar things. The editor preferred it as a haibun about a place, and I preferred to be published, so it’s now shorter and it’s about a pond. It is more in the haiku tradition in this form, stressing nature and lightness, where the original was less light and more about humans.
However, they were only words and there are plenty more where they came from. I am already at work on a new version of the original piece, which will be back, and will feature a lake when it next appears. It will also be longer, though It will probably remain unpublishable It will live again in hope if not in print. I was going to make a clever point about haibun, matter and anti-matter at this point but I googled “matter” to check my accuracy and now realise I’m a lot less clever than I thought. Same goes for my witty linking of quark the particle and quark the cheese – I didn’t realise that cheese could be so complicated. I’ve given it up as a bad job.
Sometimes you have to know when enough is enough. It is probably better to leave you with a vision of purple rhododendrons and thoughts of voles, than it is to make a bad joke about cheese.
In the haiku, I note the mention of history is slightly discordant now that the main focus has moved away from. If I’d thought about it longer I may well have altered that too.
As the opening quote suggests, we just keep working on things until we decide to leave them. Time to leave this one and move on to the next imperfect work.
I noticed, when re-reading The Duckpond (published about two years earlier) , that I seem to write about ponds a lot. Am I in danger of becoming type-cast, possibly even being known to posterity as The Pond Poet?
It’s another possible problem to add to running out of ideas, losing my ability to write and being found out. Because the problems of writing something good enough for publication aren’t enough, I need more fears to fill the time as I lie awake at night.
With coronavirus I can now fill that time with thoughts of death, losing my job and the collapse of society, but once we have a vaccine I can start worrying about how I will be seen by future generations.
However, this isn’t a post about worry, it’s about haibun. I’m currently in the middle of reorganising my computer files, as they had degenerated into chaos and I have been having difficulty finding things. This led to me submitting four poems to a magazine, then wishing I hadn’t.
One was an accidental double submission (which I think I mentioned before) but fortunately the other editor rejected it. Two of the others were not final versions. When I looked at them again, I realised that one was an incomplete version of a revision and one was a fully revised version but, unfortunately, one that had been further revised and improved.
I’m now waiting to get them back. It’s easier, I think just to get them back and suffer the ignominy of looking unprofessional, rather than try to explain and resubmit.
Hopefully the new system will stop this happening.
Then all I need is a way of filing haiku. Tiny little poems with no titles. I have hundreds of them, and they are refusing to cooperate. It’s like grains of sand pouring out of a hole in a bucket. They are all over the place and I have completely lost track.
They don’t tell you about this in haiku books. They tell you about lightness and simplicity and all that stuff but are completely silent on the subject of indexing, storage and finding them again once you have written them.
I write because I’m addicted. Deep down, I just can’t stop. In my teens I wanted to write as a career, to earn money and to attend literary lunches. I’m still not clear what a literary lunch is, but I knew that writers went to them.
That was as far as I got this morning, before being diverted from my course with some thoughts on junior match reports.
After trying novels I moved on to poetry, then back to novels. I did think about an autobiography but I didn’t really have enough material at the age of seventeen. After that I carried on writing endless first pages and throwing them away whilst reading books on how to write best sellers. Occasionally I had a go at magazine articles, and had a few accepted. I did wonder if I could become a freelance writer, but lack of a decent work ethic suggested it would be a disaster.
Eventually I had a proper go and tried for more fame and fortune with a detective novel. I say novel, what I really mean is “load of words”. It went to about 120,000 words but lacked a couple of things, including a decent plot, an ending and a lot of editing. So I tried again. Another 80,000 words, but still a lack of plot, ending and editing. At least I’d learned to keep the word count down.
After that I moved on to poetry for light relief. My father-in-law had started writing poetry in retirement and had several pieces published. He also performed some of his poems on stage, which is something I will never be brave enough to do. I decided to follow his example and had about fifteen published, was Highly Commended in a national competition, and even managed to get one poem in a decent quality magazine.
At that point I ended up in hospital a couple of times and, when I emerged, started writing match reports (as previously mentioned) and programme notes. This was not the time in hospital I blogged about a few years ago, but the forerunner. It did, however, involve much the same procedure – spinal anaesthetic, small orifice, large camera and much whining. It also included two biopsies. The dissolving stitches on one of them dissolved far too soon and it took two hours to stop the bleeding. Ah, good times…
There were a couple of years where I did nothing, then I started the blog, went into hospital again and decided to have a crack at haibun. So far it seems to have worked out.
It’s not much for fifty years in writing. A handful of poems of various types published, a dozen magazine articles and a blog. I’m clearly not in it for the money, or even for the fame. To be honest, when the rejections start piling up I don’t even do it because I enjoy it.
One day I may write enough to think about a slim volume of poetry but I’m not, when I think about it, too worried. Once they are published I’m not too concerned. I like the idea of testing myself against the standards of editors, and showing off by blogging about it, but I’m not sure if a few poems justify cutting down acres of trees.
No, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I do it because I’m addicted. Or, if that isn’t possible, I am at least in the grip of a very strong habit.
Only one day after saying I was waiting impatiently for news from two editors, one got back to me.
Not only did they get back to me, but they told me they were going to pass on the haibun which, it seems, lack depth, as the haiku fail to take the reader on a step beyond the prose.
This is slightly depressing as I was just beginning to think I was getting the hang of things. About a year ago I had several haibun returned as the haiku were felt to be a step to far away from the prose and were not related enough.
Rejection I can cope with. It is, as I recently said, simply an indication that one particular editor, at this time, doesn’t think that the work is right for publication. It isn’t personal and it isn’t necessarily an opinion shared by other editors.
What does concern me a little with this rejection is that the specific objection is one that I thought I’d addressed. It’s not about my ability to write, it’s about my judgement of what is good and what is bad. I actually thought I was getting better and was moderately happy with them. (I am never fully happy with any submissions, even when they are published, I even went over yesterdays Limmerbun to alter a line this afternoon).
I have just been and looked at about twenty haibun in a couple of magazines. About a third of them had haiku attached which were stronger than mine. Another third featured haiku much the same as mine. The final third featured haiku which bore little relationship to anything that had gone on in the prose – my previous problem. This, of course, is just my opinion, and as we have just seen, my opinion may not be correct. I would however suggest that on another day, with another editor and a different magazine, these haibun could have been accepted,
This all goes to show that there is no good and bad in haibun, just things that gain approval and things that don’t. Today, I didn’t. Watch, learn, move on. I will tweak them over the next few days. It’s not so much improving them as moving them more into the area where they are likely to be accepted for publication. Or does that sound too cynical?
I will leave you with these wise words from one of our great, but unappreciated, philosophers.
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
There are three things you need for success in life, whether you are talking about writing (as I do) or anything else.
(By the way, I’m about to invent a new form of poem, so stay alert till the end.)
Despite the title, talent isn’t one of them. Research has shown that if you divide a group of children into two lots and praise one for their talent and the other for their hard work the results of one group will gradually decline and the other will increase.
The problem with praising someone for their talent is that they begin to believe that their talent will run out, where the other group starts to believe that the harder they work, the better they will become. This seems to be borne out by the actual results.
It is all laid out in a book called Bounce by Matthew Syed. Reading the review, as I did whilst looking for a link, it looks like there’s a lot more in there too – I really should read it again.
Talent can, to be honest, be replaced by practice and work rate. As long as you have a basic grasp of what makes a good bit of work in your field, you can work on improving the quality of your work. If you write a lot and submit enough pieces of work, success will follow. Once you have some success, more will follow. It’s like Roger Bannister and the four minute mile – once he broke the four minute barrier others followed. Barriers are mainly psychological, and once broken can be broken again and again.
Resilience, I have covered several times. Rejection is merely the opinion of an editor at a certain point in time, and does not constitute a damning judgement on you or your work. If several editors share the same view it still isn’t that bad, just take it as a hint that you need to alter a few things.
As an aside – write haibun. I have always felt fortunate that a number of editors have taken the time to give me pointers about my haibun, which isn’t something that happens in a lot of fields. It seems to be a field where we are blessed with a group of fine editors. When I was a more traditional poet I rarely met with helpful comments – it was a case of yes or no, mostly no, and no clue as to what needed altering.
Stone on the Floor
I thought I’d put the poetic rocks half way down as it isn’t really a poetry post.
Finally, patience. No editor of a small poetry publication is in it hoping for fame and fortune. They are often overworked, under appreciated and blamed for the varied failings of authors. Some people even write sarcastic haibun about them. These people should be ashamed of themselves.
If you are a guest editor, as many are, the under-appreciation must be even greater.
However, it doesn’t stop me getting twitchy when they take a long time over their answer. I’m waiting for an answer from a magazine that says it may take 6-8 weeks to answer during busy periods. IT’s had the submission for 54 days now, which is just two days short of eight weeks, and I’m becoming twitchy. Another, with a target of two weeks, has had my submission for sixteen days. Two weeks is an excellent response time, so I’m not complaining, but I’d love an answer.
You just have to sit back and wait. It’s difficult not to be impatient, but just think, if it was you, would you appreciate impatience. I think not.I keep telling myself we are lucky to have people to do these jobs for us. If you left me in charge of a magazine it would soon degenerate into confusion and Limericks.
There was an old poet called Quercus,
whose efforts, often, would irk us.
He loved to declaim, and would often exclaim
that he’d much rather work in a circus.
And that is my new form of poetry. You have prose and haiku, which are haibun, and prose and tanka, which are called tanka prose. Well this – prose followed by a Limerick, is a Limmerbun. I add the double m to make sure it is pronounced correctly. Unlike the other two, a Limmerbun can be utter nonsense.
My Orange Parker Pen
I’m still hoping for some freebies from Parker. They are obviously not reading this blog.
Edited next day to tidy up a typo, remove a repetition and tinker with the Limerick.
The Featured Image is also my coded warning that you are about to enter a poetry post. If the word culture affects you like it affected Hermann Goering, you may want to look away now. Apart from the fact Goering never said it, and the original version is, to be honest, a lot less snappy. I often find quotes are like that when you actually check them out.
I think I mentioned last week that I was sending some haiku off to an editor that has already turned me down twice. I may improve, or I may wear him down, but one way or another I’m not going to admit defeat.
Well, today, just a week after sending, the email came back. To be fair, he doesn’t hang about. I’ve been waiting for eight weeks for one editor to get back to me, which isn’t long compared to some, but os long enough when you are waiting for an answer.
To be honest, I almost prefer a quick rejection to a long drawn out acceptance. And I definitely prefer a quick rejection to a slow one. You can send the haiku out again once they come back. In fact that’s how I ended up with the submission in question – eight of them had been sent out before.
The one that was accepted had been turned down once before, which just goes to show…something…
I’m not sure what.
And yes, it is another acceptance. I was so convinced it was going to be a No that I spent ten minutes sitting grinning at the screen. I now stand at submissions 10, acceptances 4, rejections 2.
Again, that noise you hear is the smugness alarm.
The rest of the day was truly awful, but who cares.
This morning I wrote several pages of notes, two haibun and five haiku as I sat and waited in the car. That is two haibun and five haiku more than I have managed in the last two days. I’ve been trying to compose on the computer and it just doesn’t work. I can write articles and I can write blog posts, but I just can’t do poetry on the screen.
Give me a sheet of paper and a loaded fountain pen and sometimes, like today, it’s hard to stop me writing. Whether it’s any good or not is a different matter. A quick survey of recent correspondence with editors seems to indicate that opinion is divided.
Ten submissions in the last two months.
One lost in cyberspace.
Two rejected (one with amazing alacrity).
At that point I decided I should write a poetry post every day, as well as my normal rambling diatribe against modern life. I’m writing enough, so the words wouldn’t be a problem, and may be it’s my chance to grasp a little of the elusive fame that sometimes gathers round a poet.
Tonight, as I sat down to write, i realised that I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s alright for people who have won prizes or written books, but for someone like me with a patchy publication history it still seems self-indulgent. I don’t want to seem critical of other bloggers, but there’s quite a lot of poetry out there that could do with tightening up. Mine certainly does, so until I reach a higher level I’m going to refrain from self-publishing.
Tonight I finalised a couple of haibun. They have been hanging round for several months and I decided it was time to finish them or put them in the file of fragments. With that in mind, I found things falling into place.
Sometimes it does that, though a poem is never really finished. I can always look back at one and think of a change to make (change, after all is easy, as I often say, it’s improvement that is difficult).
For the moment then, I will confine myself to writing the odd post about poetry, but won’t put any actual poetry in them.
I need to get on now, as I have to write a few more haiku. I’m embarking on the Buson One Hundred again – ten haiku a day for 100 days. Last time I concentrated on fluency and deactivating my internal editor. This time I’m going to try to write something useful.
A hundred days from now is, I think 17th December. It’s not the most inspiring time of year, but I may as well do it while the enthusiasm takes me or I may end up putting it off for another year.
My Orange Parker Pen
As a warning, and to see if you really read to the end, if you see the picture of stones as the featured image it means it’s a poetry post. This gives you a sporting chance to avoid it.
The stones were in the car park at Aldeburgh last time we visited. Despite being just yards from the beach I suspect that the pink granite chippings indicate it has been shipped in from miles away (probably Aberdeen or thereabouts) to surface a car park that is just a yard away from, a massive shingle beach. The round stone, though, probably is from the beach.
My tendency to ramble and procrastinate is also well to the fore today. I have started this post twice, done some thinking for two other posts, which may never see the light of day and I have drunk deep from the well of clichés. Sometimes only a well-worn and hackneyed phrase will do.
I’ve just noticed that the evening has almost gone. I have been so busy snoozing and eating our traditional Friday night supper of fish and chips that six hours of my life have just melted away.
Last night, after posting, I settled down to examine a couple of magazines I am thinking of submitting to. One features the more experimental end of the haiku spectrum. I think I’m going to leave that alone at the moment as I’m not feeling particularly cutting edge or experimental. Haiku are hard enough without having to mess about with them.
The other magazine I was looking at tends to be a bit the other way. I spent a couple of hours trying to expand existing haibun to fit the lengthy, multi-haiku approach they favour, and it didn’t work. I then tried writing one from scratch. That didn’t work either.
This is both good and bad news. I have obviously developed a style I am comfortable with, which is good. I have obviously also become too comfortable with it, which is bad. There’s a fine line between developing a style and becoming a one trick pony.
It looks like I may be developing an artistic temperament. I’ll have to do something about knocking that out of me.
On a lighter note, I sat down to write a magazine article last night. Three hundred and fifty words later I finished. That is very short for a magazine article. In fact it’s far too short. It is, however, my typical blog length. It looks like blogging has helped me write regularly, but has developed a habit of writing in 250-350 word chunks. This piece, for instance, will be three hundred and forty nine words when it is finished.
As I’m becoming more successful as a poet I have decided I need to start using bigger words, so there’s no more (Part 2) for me.
Although, there are signs that all is not well in the land of art and poetry.
First of all we have imposter syndrome. This is the nagging feeling at the back of your mind that things aren’t quite right and you are going to get found out. It’s all very well getting a few bits published, but what happens if someone asks you a question using a Japanese word you don’t understand?
This could easily happen because apart from sayonara, banzai and sushi I don’t tend to recognise many Japanese words. I know there are words to do with punctuation, the seasons and a sense of loss, which are all used in writing haibun, but I couldn’t actually tell you which was which if you asked me.
The main problem is that I don’t actually know how I do it. I just sit down with a pen and paper (it has to be a pen and paper, I can’t generally manage to do it on the computer). This is one of those strange things – I can blog on the computer and I can do articles on the computer, but haibun, haiku and poems need pen and paper. Not only that but a fountain pen is better than a biro. I’m not sure why, that’s just how it is.
I think part of it is that the computer gives me more ability to correct things, which leads to me correcting more than I actually write.
Second – I’ve just had my fastest ever rejection. One of my submissions has been out for six weeks. If they run true to form the magazine will be in touch soon with a gentle rejection. I’m expecting that.
What I wasn’t expecting was one of the others from yesterday to reject me inside 24 hours. You can’t complain about the speed of editors these days – three submissions yesterday and I already have one acceptance and one rejection.
The difference is that the acceptance sparks up the worries about being found to be a fraud. The swift rejection tends to reinforce this. Not only did they not like it, but there was so little merit in it that they had to get it off the premises as soon as possible before it turned any other submissions bad.
If I’d sent it in on the last few days of the submission window I could have said that it came back so quickly because they were full. But when you send it in on the first day and get it back on the second day of the submission window you can feel fairly certain that they didn’t like it.
I suppose you can’t expect too much, as the next acceptance will be my 13th Japanese style poem to be accepted. If it ever is. Assuming that I can’t bring the mood down with imposter syndrome I may as well use superstition.
The title isn’t quite accurate, but headlines often aren’t. However, there is an element of truth in it, as you will see if you persist.
Despite me rushing to finish last night’s post by midnight, my days don’t really run from midnight to midnight and I often work an hour or so into the night while it is quiet. This is particularly the case at weekends when I can get up later to compensate.
As an example, I did some decluttering this morning then set my alarm to give myself just over an hour at the computer before warming up the soup for lunch. Julia decided this would be a good time to start work on reorganising the kitchen so my writing efforts are now accompanied by the clatter of various kitchen implements (mainly noisy ones) as she composes a symphony for baking trays and raised voices.
I did think of inserting a witty quote on marriage here, but couldn’t find one. I suspect all the wittiest quotes are written by people who aren’t married. The ones who are married just nod and keep their heads down, which is why they are still married.
I’m playing WP Roulette here – if she reads this I’m in trouble. If not I will live to moan another day.
That’s why I work into the early hours.
And that was why, about half an hour after posting I decided to look at one of the magazines that had some submissions from me five weeks ago. I was surprised, and a little put out, to find that they had published the next issue. I don’t mind rejection too much, because it’s part of writing, but I don’t really like being ignored.
Anyway, it is what it is. I read a few of the haibun and decided to see when the next submission window opened. While I did that I noticed a note saying that if you don’t get an acknowledgement within in two days you should get in touch. It was a lot longer than two days, but I double checked, found I definitely hadn’t had one and decided to take action.
As recommended in many articles on writing I dropped the the editor a short polite note to check if they had received anything from me and checking the best way to submit next time round.
The marvels of email and the time difference between the UK and USA meant I had a reply within half an hour. It seems the automated submission form is suspected of discarding a number of submissions and is now out of favour.
When it comes down to it I checked the two pieces I’d submitted and decided they weren’t all that good anyway. Internet oblivion is probably the best place for them. Anyway, even if they had been brilliant you can’t turn back time, despite Cher’s singing and the services of a good plastic surgeon.
As time goes on I’m finding that I have more and more sympathy for editors. It can’t be easy at the best of times, particularly when you see the number of submissions some of them get, and when the technology turns against you it must be hellish.
It’s a big day tomorrow – three submission windows open and I have submissions prepared for each one.
The game’s afoot, as Holmes said, though when I check the quote I find that Henry V said it first. Tricky things, quotes.