All Posts Filed in ‘poetry


Holding Hands In Our Sleep

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Tuesday, 8th March 2016

I received a really welcomed, tentative acceptance email this morning: The Poets’ Republic would like to publish one of my poems. Why was it tentative?

Thank you for your submission, which I enjoyed very much. I am now going to make a suggestion, and if it does not suit you, I apologise… So, I’ll take a deep breath and hope what I’m about to say is at best acceptable and at worst is something you can reject but feel hopeful about, and please feel confident that we would very much like to see future submissions from you.

I feel that your poem Questioning is stronger without the last stanza. I absolutely love how the poem opens, and both as a standalone poem, and in the context of The Poets’ Republic, I think it would work very well indeed as a two stanza poem. How would you feel it we were to publish it in that form? We would be delighted if we could.

If that does not work for you, I understand completely, and I wish you every success in placing your poem elsewhere. If you would let us know whether you would like us to publish your poem in two stanza form or not by Friday 11th March that would be marvellous,

With thanks and good wishes,

I read the email upon waking up: in my confused and wondering mental state, it was really endearing (spoiler: it still is). I understand why she would be nervous, taking a deep breath, hoping for the best reception of this suggestion. I’ve had an Editor make cuts to my submissions before — the first time it happened, it was very patronising. It was: there are erroneous things here and you need to do a better job at honing them, at driving them out to get to the good meat. (My words, not his. He probably said: this shorter version is better than what you have. Look at my example.) At the time, I was very grateful for the feedback. I replied and asked if I might resubmit the poem for consideration with his edits. He never wrote back.

The email this morning was far more measured, humbled, grateful, and gave perfectly logical reasoning for the cut. When I fully woke myself up, I looked up the poem in question (no pun!), covered the last stanza on the screen with my hand, and re-met it. And she was right: it was a stronger person for the cut.

Thanks so much for your response, and for your editorial suggestions. I know enough about my poetry to accept that I can never really submit final drafts anywhere — they are always evolving, changing, becoming different poems like we hope time will evolve us into different people. I heard Galway Kinnell at a reading once — I was reading along in his (published!) book, and he was still evolving and changing the words. I thought: there’s no reason to lock anything down if Galway Kinnell refuses to. Why not just keep making the poem better until it fits somewhere new?

All this to say, I fully accept your suggestion. And, having looked at Questioning as a two-stanza poem, I don’t have any further requests or edits to it. When I read your email I wondered if there was anything I needed to mine or adjust from the final stanza. But you know what?

I don’t even miss it.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to house my poem in The Poets’ Republic. I feel very confident about this adoption. Let me know any other details, or information you may need from me.


(Being the map-maker that I am, I still have my copy of Strong Is Your Hold by Galway Kinnell, with the changed words circled and annotated. It’s a bit like my bible.)



The idea you carry..

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When I was younger, I wanted to be famous. What to be famous for? Some skill, a book, writing, performance? Who knows? Some as of yet unknown thing.

When I was even younger, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I fell in love with James Herriot and Animal Ark books, and I never looked back. I wanted to be necessary in that way. I wanted to contribute to rescuing animals, to reducing pain, to healing families.

And then I wanted to be a teacher. And I thought: better to be a vessel than a star. I’d love to be famous for not being famous. For helping to facilitate other people’s growth and success.

I want to be famous the way my grandfather was famous to me.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.


(Notes): A sense of curiosity about each other’s lives.

The deep attribute of poetry to pause, to look, to listen, to respect, to pay  attention to variety.

I think a lot about empathy, one community to another. Paying attention with respect and curiosity to people who aren’t exactly like us.

Poetry can help us have a window into someone else’s experience, or loneliness, or difficulty.

Seeing often a kind of respect rising up (among kids) after someone describes something with an honest voice — what changes in the room.