Monday, May 5, 2014

Last week I was talking to a friend about the anxiety that seizes me when anyone begins to praise my writing. If I'm prepared, I can override the panic, breathe deeply, manage to thank the praiser. I tend to believe in criticism more than praise. My assumption, I suppose, is that most readers will zero in on the flaws that I did not see or could not solve. I rarely allow myself to imagine that anyone will accept the book as a finished accomplishment.

Very likely this reaction is beneficial insofar as it keeps me poised for change and instruction, whether from astute readers or editors or simply as a result of my own ongoing education in poetry. But there is something difficult about allowing oneself to accept praise. At a point of great success, when she was receiving extraordinary reviews and accolades, Virginia Woolf wrote, "It is perhaps true that my reputation will now decline. I shall be laughed at & pointed at." The praise only made her more thin-skinned, more anxious.

Yesterday I posted a link to a review of Same Old Story. I do not know this reviewer, nor had I sent a press release to the newspaper. It is an amazingly favorable piece, and I am honored and grateful. Of course I also hope that it will convince people that the book is worthy of being read. I don't imagine that this book will win national accolades. I don't live that kind of life; I don't have those kinds of connections. But with a review like this one, I begin to sense that, for the first time, I may have published a book that will not automatically disappear down the rabbit hole.

Poet Betsy Sholl was also featured in the review; and she, too, had not known anything about the piece or the reviewer. After I shared it with her, she said, "The guy was pretty nice to us." Yes, he was. So I will breathe deeply and hope that somehow I can convey my thanks to him. I want to tell him that the vulnerability that enables the creation of poetry can also make it very difficult to believe that the poems are capable of taking their place in the larger conversation. But I want him to know--I want you to know--that even when I fall into awkwardness and panic, I am full of happiness about my reader.


Christopher Woodman said...

Many thanks for that, Dawn -- and as always for hanging in there despite your anxieties and panic.

Of course we live in a time when our work is disseminated impersonally and people read us and talk about us anonymously. Unlike putting a carefully cut quill to a home-made piece of paper which we entrust to a postman on a pony or bicycle to deliver to a friend, our gift ends up on an anonymous desk in another county or country we'll never visit. And that changes everything, because we write as a writer who's alone. And that's something new, and I say that changes everything.


Dawn Potter said...

I don't think I agree that writing "as a writer who's alone" is "something new." I think maybe contemporary aloneness is simply a different sort of isolation.

Christopher Woodman said...

"Writing" itself is something new, even in the West — indeed, everybody going to school to learn to write is just three generations old for most families while advanced degrees in writing weren't even available to the best students when I was in college — 1958-1969, Columbia, Yale and King's College Cambridge.

There's also a huge difference between the isolation of geniuses like John Keats or the Brontes and the isolation of a contemporary American poet who believes that getting published is the proof that one has something valuable to say.

And that thought's not provocative, Dawn, it's proactive!