Feb 06, 2019, 06:27AM

Congratulations! You've Won Nothing

Finding the time to write is a constant challenge.

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Dear Spring Poetry Prize Non-Winners: Congratulations! You’ve won nothing! Your words haven’t won you this $1000 prize, but they’ve also cost you a breakfast sandwich. Since you submitted three poems, which was the maximum we allowed in this contest, and the submission fee was $3, the cost per poem submitted was $1. We’re certain that if we raised the fee to $10, you and roughly 400 other prospective poets wouldn’t have bothered entering. We know this because the freelance consultant we hired two years ago told us and because we know that most people who consider themselves poets are very poor, moderately poor, or very wealthy.

Your poems cost you about $.02 per word to bother submitting. We can't be sure that our guest judge even finished reading any of the three poems. She might’ve been tired the day yours came up in her pile. Perhaps her cat was irritating her or she just didn't like any of your titles. It's possible her coffee had cooled to a less than satisfying temperature. Whatever the case may be, she may not have finished reading any of your poems.

By the way, the winner of this contest is a man who has dedicated decades of his life to poetry and to the preservation of certain species that are legitimately endangered on this planet. He’s deserving of this recognition. Have you saved any species lately?


Dear Poet: Have you examined your self-perpetuating creative urges? Do you recognize what is required of a person who writes poetry or short stories on a daily or weekly basis? Can you imagine sitting with your imagination when it refuses to be sparked? Can you imagine forcing yourself to sit with your self and find something meaningful to convey?

The consistency of the effort stands in contrast to the person who awakens from a dream, or daydream, as the muse tickles their toes or soul or both. It’s the creative habit that both entices us and demands of us. The introspection required of a well-worn unique voice filtered down onto the page demands time and life experience. Demands both the creation and the revision. Otherwise it feels inauthentic. This is one reason why older artists often dismiss younger artists. To throw artists of all ages into the cauldron of late capitalism, where art must be monetized in order to matter, is to pit artists against each other.

What of the anachronistic spirit, ruminating upon questions without answers? The one sitting on a city bench while suits hurry by on lunch breaks? The economic reality of a devoted, lifelong creative writer usually falls into one of three categories:

A) A person who works on a regular basis, possibly teaching, or in a non-profit capacity, possibly fundraising for a good cause, possibly delivering goods. Perhaps working with children or the addicted, or the elderly in some capacity, who then takes time out of the evenings or early mornings or weekends, to spill their thoughts into a poem, short story, or personal essay.

B) A person who no longer works, possibly retired, permanently unemployed or both, who has always had this urge to form words into something more meaningful than casual conversation, and who now finds the time to attempt the creative pursuit on a daily basis.

C) A person who doesn't need to worry about earning consistent income.

I am person A. I take care of our daughter during the mornings and early afternoons before my wife returns from her job. I teach English to adults in the evening. Finding the time to write is a constant challenge. When I don't make time for the process, I become resentful toward myself. It’s as if my competing selves are always fighting for time to breathe. Father, husband, teacher, writer. The sports fan gets less time these days, as does the friend. I used to dwell, but I don’t have the time for that now.

Occasionally, I write about imagining the time I will have later in life. The time to read and write. The time to sit and observe the sunlight as it cascades in from the window onto the wood. Maybe I’ll stop imagining that day at some point. Maybe I’ll be too busy living it to notice. Perhaps the prize has nothing to do with money. Perhaps the prize is the imagining itself.


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