Sunday, 11 August 2019

Taking Yourself Out of the Box

A recent essay by poet Bob Hicok in the Utne Reader has caused a minor furore in the poetry world because though he celebrates the fact that more and more poetry is being published, more jobs and awards are being won by minority writers, he feels that he, as a white, male poet, is dying, losing out on recognition and opportunities. I'm not going to pick apart his essay as there are far better writers out there doing so.

I do, however, want to examine more an idea that fellow Poetry Blogging Network writers Kelli Russell Agodon and Jeannine Hall Gailey have brought up - scarcity mentality - which hit home with me. Scarcity mentality is the idea that there is a limited supply of opportunities and if one individual or group get more that leaves less for the rest.

I know I've been worrying on here about where I'm going to find opportunities for my writing as I don't fit in a neat box, living in a country where I don't write in the language. I'm also not getting any younger and miss out on a lot of competitions and calls for younger writers such as those collected by @noentry on Twitter.

I hate to be seen as self-pitying and whining because I'm not really. I learned in publishing that there are always other chances after rejection, but you have to be resilient and stubborn to find them, to keep taking the knock-backs until you find your place. I thought I had found it, then I gave up the country I called home, a developing career to move to Finland and take care of my kids. It was my choice, but now I'm kind of stuck here and trying to get my writing/ publishing feet under me again, starting from scratch and it's scary. I sometimes use this blog as an outlet for that fear and worry.

But the truth, as I'm slowly discovering, is not being tied to one country does open some avenues I may have not considered if I was still in Scotland. Starting over with the wider scope of social media, looking beyond my local network is a benefit I didn't have before. Even though so many jobs and awards specify age, colour, gender, location, I am trying to stop thinking of myself in those terms. I know my writing is good, if I don't fit a certain grant's guidelines, I will look for ones that I do. 

I have tried to push myself forward for things that I don't exactly fit the remit for and sometimes I get accepted. I've recently had some poems accepted for a journal that was looking for essays and non-fiction writing on migration, language and identity. I usually don't get work accepted for immigration-themed issues because I am an immigrant by choice rather than through need or a refugee. As the scope of this issue was looking more at language and identity which my poems often examine, I took the risk. The staff even sent me an email saying this wasn't really what they were looking for, but would give it to their readers anyway. All six poems were accepted. I'm very excited to see the end result, not only because I had my poems translated for the issue as well. 

As writers, we are not limited by the boxes we fit into or those we don't. The pot of opportunities does not have to be finite if we're willing to push ourselves and try new things. More jobs can be created, more books published, more awards, grants and residencies offered if a greater interest is shown by poets, poetry readers and book buyers. If you don't exactly fit the brief, be brave and try anyway. Always follow the guidelines and ask if you have any uncertainties, of course, but sometimes you might be the unexpected that gets noticed because you've approached things a little differently. 

Good luck. 

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