How poetry ruined my life, episode 1

Welcome to my first blog for Overland. This poet will not be posting poetry here. I’ll let you know if I post something half worth looking at on my own page:, if you seek toilet reading material (I know you all take your iPhones to the loo with you for Tweeting purposes these days).

I’ve banned myself from distractions lately while I try to write up the final few chapters of the verse novel I’m working on. Mind you, last weekend I reverted to my groupie-former-self and drove up to Maitland, NSW for a reunion with my beloved Toohey’s Old which is oh so hard to find in Victoria and to see Pinky Beecroft play songs from his band’s new album (The White Russians – Pretty Black; if you like heart-on-sleeve rock’n’roll, stripped back to its most intimate skin, played by a tight Oz super-group: Get thee to an iTunesery)…

Anyway, rock-adventures aside, I’ve been diligently writing like a maniac. Not just for the verse novel, either. I decided to start sending out poetry submissions to U.S journals – you know, to find out if their rejection letters are the same as the ones we get here.

To reward myself for my effort this last few weeks, I walked fifty miles, or so, in the pouring rain up Bourke street last night to The Paperback Bookshop to peruse their fine poetry section. If you’ve ever been in there, you’ll know it’s the only part of the shop where the fiction shelves overlap a row of ceiling-to-floor poetry anthologies, and the only way to get into the nook is if you’re a mouse or a yoga proficient. Nonetheless, I found a new (2007) John Ashbery book, A Worldly Country, and a Faber Poetry collection of Robert Lowell’s poems. Perfect! I thought. These are two poets I like. A lot. I feel my own poetry swings a bit between confessional (Lowell) and the observational style of the New York schoolers (Ashbery). So my plan is to read the two books simultaneously and see what happens to my brain and to my work.

This may seem like a harmless exercise in indulgent procrastination from Ph.D. Land, but I can be extremely psychologically altered by good poetry, potentially to the point of paralysis. What I’m reading so impacts my day to day life that I have to watch myself. Bukowski makes me drink, for instance. Sexton brings out my inner scarred feminist. Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate made me rhyme half my verse novel. It may happen that Ashbery will finally convince me I’m the fraud I always suspected I was. I may never write another word. If that happens, this first blog post will be my last, thus justifying how damn long it’s become. Thanks for reading.

Tara Mokhtari

Tara Mokhtari is a Persian-Australian poet and screenwriter based in New York. She is the author of The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing and Anxiety Soup.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Brava! I wonder if anyone collects their rejection letters? Is it even possible to read two things simultaneously – just out of interest reading a conductor’s score means simultaneously reading multiple parts some written in different clefs i.e. viola, clarinet, french horn etc., so this is effectively like reading several different languages at once.

  2. Good to keep in mind that most mags get between 400 to 1000 submissions per issue. It makes those inevitable rejections and silences less personal. No avoiding the sting I reckon, but at least they won’t feel like an ice pick through your chest.

  3. For every piece of good news there are 10 rejections. What frustrates me is how most of these places take months to get back to you if at all and most of them expect you not to submit your work elsewhere. This rule really annoys me. How are we supposed to get anywhere?

  4. Koraly, the answer to your question is: verrrry sloowwwly. The good news is, you become a better writer in the time it takes to get anywhere.

  5. Koraly,
    We try to turn around responses within three months. Which sounds quite slow but you have to bear in mind the huge volume that lit mags deal with, especially since, unlike most publishers, they actually read everything.
    As for simultaneous subs, I don’t think most people mind so much, as long as you let them know as soon as it’s accepted elsewhere.

  6. I only actually started submitting unsolicited poetry and prose for publication in literary journals this August, but by the time they hit the editor’s desk, they’ve already had many stage readings… which kind of ties in Alec’s post about reading groups, editing and literary self-awareness (that a term?). The stage (or slam) is the harshest editor ever.

    My advice is: submit less, as little as you can, only the few pieces you truly know are great. I don’t dual submit but then I’m the odd sort that doesn’t really get impatient (i recently got told by a loved one ‘if you were any more laidback, I’m afraid you’d actually die’).

    If I do get my shit together and send something off I usually just send a submission in an email (who are they to demand you cut down a tree to make their life fucking easier) and mostly forget about it by the time they get back to me.

    In between I write lots of crap that I know I’ll never send or perform or post anywhere.

  7. ohelen, I’d say reading two poets at once is much easier than deciphering a conductor’s score – for one thing, by simultaneously I meant on alternate days! It’s a totally worthwhile exercise, so far.

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