Islands

Just saw this Graham Greene quotation on another blog.

“Time has its revenges, but revenge seems so often sour. Wouldn’t we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another, not a wife with a husband, nor a parent a child? Perhaps that’s why men have invented God – a being capable of understanding. ” – The Quiet American

I remember, when I was investigating mindfulness and meditation, watching a Jon Kabat-Zinn video where he said much the same – you haven’t really got a hope in hell of knowing or understanding anyone at all, truly. At the time I found this very bleak indeed. What? Impossible?

If it is true – and it may be – it is perhaps cruel that we possess such a burning desire to be known and understood (which Graham Greene attributed as the precursor of the invention of God).

This sent me on a hunt for a quotation by Jean Cocteau, which it turns out I had mis-remembered. What he actually said was

“The poet never asks for admiration; he wants to be believed.”

In my head it was “understood” not “believed”, but nevertheless I think there is something of the vulnerability and truth-telling of poetry that speaks to that same insane and perhaps futile desire to be “known”, and perhaps give solace to others in that shared experience of truth. Personally, I think it’s a better solution than God.

While I was at it I found a couple more Cocteau quotations.

“An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture”

I hate it when people ask me what I write about, the why, the how. Just bloody read it, OK? I have a morbid (and probably unnecessary, to be fair) fear of ever being stuck in some dreadful Q&A session where I discuss my own poems. Hopefully, in the hugely unlikely event that I become well known, it will be after I am dead and I won’t have to answer silly questions.

“A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.”

I come out in a rash when I see “Poetic” poetry. Verbs, man, verbs, nouns and nouns. Not some orgy of adjectives, it’s tedious.

Also this:

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does. — Allen Ginsberg

Which rolls back round to the Graham Greene thing.

Enough with the quotations.

Duotrope

For anyone unfamiliar with “Duotrope” it is a writer’s resource which lists details of vast numbers of publications that accept unsolicited work. As a database it is very useful.

If you pay a subscription fee it unlocks additional features, such as the ability to log and track your own submissions, and the outcomes. The site then collates those submission reports and turns them into statistics that can be seen in the listings. So you can see what percentage of submissions a given journal accepts, how often they completely fail to respond, and how long they generally take to respond.

So far so good. The difficulty is that these stats are based on the voluntary reports of writers. First, not everyone is a paid Duotrope subscriber (it costs about $5 per month) so only a proportion of people can report. Secondly, I suspect there is a psychological factor, whereby writers will be more inclined to report an acceptance than a rejection. Therefore I would strongly suspect that a lot, if not most, of the “acceptance percentages” shown for journals are overstated.

In my brief experience of being listed there as Algebra of Owls only four people have reported submissions. Of those, three have gone on to complete the process by reporting the outcome. All of those three had a poem accepted by me. Because percentages are based on number of pieces submitted Duotrope will be showing that I accept 37.5% of submissions (they submitted 8 poems between them, and I accepted one from each).

The fourth submission report, based on the timing, must have been from someone I said “no” to, thus perhaps confirming my suspicion that rejected submissions are less likely to be fully or accurately reported.

Out of interest, I have just quickly trawled through all the unsolicited submissions I have received and my true acceptance percentage is about 17%, less than half of the figure currently listed.

Maybe over time this will correct itself (hell, there have only been four attempted reports so far) but nevertheless I suspect the process is flawed, but OK provided you take certain caveats into account. I would even take the “failed to respond” percentage with a pinch of salt. I’ve already had two people “chase” me for responses when actually I had already done so, they just hadn’t read my email response (and one of those was an acceptance).

Go, Pokemon, Go!

 

Billy, my Jack Russell, is still quite constipated,
so he sniffs the yellowed grass and whines,
his bowels straining with the effort.

Come on pal, I say,
please wrangle out a turd
before the gawpers come.

At least he is predictable,
just like Geoff the jogger,
who bang on time shoots from the bushes
by the bandstand, gives me a wave.
I don’t know what he does in there
but he always looks quite pleased,
and doesn’t bat an eyelid
at my furry Kermit slippers and my tatty dressing gown that
I wear every morning down the scabby council park.

I stamp my feet, impatient,
ready with the pooper scoop,
when I see a crowd come in the gate,
strangers, every one.
There’s punks and blue rinse grannies,
young kids, men with ties,
but something’s strange about these folk;
hunched hushed they come,
glued to their ‘phones and muttering;
at least a hundred shuffling
through some other world that hides.

Well, what an opportunity,
a proper audience for once,
so I whip it out to catch their eyes,
my gown stretched wide and welcome;
I expect some ‘Tuts’ perhaps,
shrieks or glances of derision;
but they drift right by,
I’m just invisible to them it seems,
my manhood droops in disappointment.

Then one stops dead and gasps,
turns to me excited,
points a finger at me, shouting,
Pikachu, Pikachu
well, they all prick up then,
craned meerkat heads all staring;
they all stampede at me, now frothing.

My dog’s not used to this, he’s off, me too,
gown gaping open wildly;
get me away from lunatics
that should be arrested promptly.

Boltini

I have not known Tony Boltini very long, running into him at various poetry events around Yorkshire. He has a wonderfully droll, measured delivery when he performs his poems, drawing you into their quirky humour and buried poignancy.

I liked his performances so much I bought his book, Narrow Ruled Feint with Margin, available here from Otley Word Feast Press.

It’s wonderful. The thing about Tony is that he possesses that rare gift; his poems are unmistakably his, and no-one else’s. No-one else could, or would, write these. Robust northern poems which lace wit with a real compassion. Probably the best little collection of poems I have read this year.