As I have been adding information to the Red Room, at moments, I have felt overwhelmed. Not by the difficulty of the site, but by going back through old journals and reviews and seeing there names of poets and writers who have continued to write and submit their work for the last ten years.
I realized how far I have fallen behind, and have honestly wondered if it is too late for me to be out here now. Today, that thought was especially reinforced when I pulled my old issues of Bogg, both the UK and the US issues, from their moldy bins, only to find on Google that Bogg is now The Delaware Poetry Review. The address for the review is still the same, and the description of what the review wants sounds the same. But I think my last acceptance of a poem there was way back in the late 1980's. How fast my life as a poet has moved--because I was a career writing teacher in the 1990's, died of cardiac death in 2001, and because I took off a lot of time from sending out my own work in the last eight years.
I have always promoted other poets' work, even when I was eyeball-deep into my own, but with coordinating the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival, I truly took a dive into a sea of others' works and far, far away from mine. In 2004, because of a political statement I made, I lost a good book contract for Little Girl Faces on Old Bones, a collection I feel I have written and revised, written and revised my whole life. When that happened, I was at first shocked, disbelieving and angry, then despondent, and then paralyzed as far as sending out the Little Girl manuscript or even very many poem submissions. It was the next year, 2005, that I took on that burden of great love, the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival, which celebrates poets and poetry of every kind imaginable.
The Festival, a not-for-profit organization, means working all year long for no pay, while I also must edit, big and small, to keep myself afloat financially. Yet, I cannot overdo or drive myself like I once did; I don't want a shock from my implanted defibrillator. I've had too many shocks in this life already. Literal and metaphorical/spiritual. Where I have made a cut in time and effort has been in publishing my work. And, as all writers know, that does take a concentrated effort. For me, it is not just picking up a few poems, at random, and popping them into an envelope. Or sending my Little Girl manuscript off to just anywhere. I used to take the time to read the journals or sift through Poets and Writers or through Poet's Market until I found what I thought was a close match to my work. Even when I had the time, that was part of being a poet I disliked intensely. I used to fantasize--I guess when I was either really young or really crazy--that I would one day have a secretary to do all that for me. Now, I'm much older and a little more sane.
However, I don't think it is just the press for time or the need for money that stops me from submitting work. I don't think I ever got over losing the contract for the Little Girl collection. Even though it had nothing to do with the quality of my poetry, it was a blow to my confidence, at a time when I was making a come-back, just a a human being who had suffered "cardiac death" and the loss of quite a few synapses in my brain. I had continued to be involved in giving talks and readings; I had even made a trip to Esalen Institute as a "master poet" (whatever that is) in 2003, only two years after my "cardiac death." My friends had tried to stop me, but I wasn't going to turn down that invitation of a lifetime. I did manage to conduct the workshop, "Recreating the Self through Poetry," and my students and the tranquility of Esalen infused new life into me. I did get mugged in the L.A. airport on the way out, for which some of my "I-told-you-so" friends never forgave me--but the trip was worth it. I returned home re-inspired and re-encouraged to move forward.
Perhaps that made the 2004 loss much more severe and difficult to take.
What I have to decide now: Will I pick up the Little Girl manuscript and do all the tedious things one has to do--address envelopes, pay postage, write cover letters when required, write SASE's, pay reading fees--then re-send it and re-send it and re-send it? Will I begin to send out individual poems again to places whose editors have forgotten my name by now? Or no longer like my writing style? It was an eye-opener to see how Bogg has moved on without me as one of its many contributors. I felt such regret that I had let one event stop me--not from writing or teaching poetry-writing as a guest poet or working with the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival, which is now like a child of mine that I cannot give up, even on days I think I want to--but I had allowed that event to stop me from sharing my work in print or online with others. I honestly do not know if I have the courage or the stamina to work toward more publication. I do not know if I can ever get caught up.
But maybe no one is ever caught up. Maybe there is no such thing as "caught up." Maybe I am simply where I am now, and I have to move forward from here, however slowly that might be. If I recovered from "death," step by step, maybe there is hope that I can get back into the world of publishing my work in the same way. I am mule-like in working hard, or taking off for the barn when I've had enough.
Causes Bonnie Roberts Supports
The Southern Poverty Law Center, The National Resource Defense Council, The ACLU, Doctors without Borders, Save Darfur