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Not a Poet
by Kathleen Ewing
I am not a poet. I know that now. But, at the age of 20 and full of lofty ideals, I managed to string together some words that sounded remarkably astute when read aloud. It was a humorous piece about my mother.
Next I stumbled around at the library searching for a place to sell my magnificent poem. I assumed, of course, that anyone would like my poem immediately, recognize my genius and pay me handsomely for the honor of publishing it. I settled upon the first market I saw when I opened a magazine directory, an obscure religious magazine. And I sent my poem pretty much the way it came off the typewriter, with the typos whited out and typed over. I kept the carbon copy.
After six weeks with no word, I decided I must stink as a poet, so I’d better start working along another line. I chose fiction because it was easier than driving fifteen miles one way to the library to do the research for magazine articles.
I was another six weeks into an ultimately forgettable novel when a check arrived in the mail for my poem. Ten dollars! Someone had actually paid me ten dollars to write a poem. Perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to me at that stage, the sale misled me to believe poetry would be profitable for me.
Now I faced a dilemma. Finish my novel or return to poetry. During my struggle with the decision, I found a tattered copy of Writer’s Digest magazine at the library. A quote popped out at me in bold type: “Unless you are Robert Frost, you are not likely to make anything resembling a comfortable living writing poetry.”
That cinched it. I put my writing career on hold to spend the summer training and competing with Quarter horses in barrel racing competition. In the fall that year, bruised, suntanned and eager to begin my writing career, I decided to check in to see when my poem would publish. A week later, I received my letter in returned mail. The magazine had folded. No forwarding address.
My first sale as a writer would never see daylight. Worse yet, someone out there owned the rights to my poem. I couldn’t offer it to another publisher without tracking down the original purchaser, which I never did.
What I did do was visit the newsstand to buy the two magazines for writers I found there. Writer’s Digest and The Writer. I subscribed. I read everything in each issue, including all the advertising. I bought a couple books advertised there—one on formatting manuscripts and another on how to actually write them. I learned the multitude of things I should have done in my fledgling attempt as a writer. Study the markets. Prepare the manuscript. Query. Send simultaneous submissions. Offer first rights. Negotiate a better price. Get a contract. Write what you know.
The amount of information was both exhilarating and dizzying. By the end of that autumn, I had changed my career focus. I wrote—and sold first rights to—an article on how to teach Quarter horses to barrel race. For way more than ten dollars, I might add.
My poem remains in limbo. My novel currently resides in a landfill in Northwestern Ohio. I write feature articles for magazines. Not a poet. Not a novelist. I know that now.
© Copyright 2010, Kathleen Ewing
Kathleen Ewing is an award-winning freelance writer headquartered in Central Arizonas high country. Among her credits are feature articles for Art Calendar, American Falconry, Bend of the River, TrailBlazer and Hobby Farms magazines. Visit her blog at www.rodeowriter.blogspot.com
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