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Last night I watched a filmed production of the play, The Belle of Amherst.  It’s a lovely, amazing, and heart-breaking portrayal of the poet, Emily Dickinson.  Julie Harris performs the one-woman play in front of a live audience for a 1976 TV-movie.  Even from the back of the audience’s heads I could tell it was the seventies. When you’ve lived the hairstyles, you remember.

IMDB gives the movie a solid 8.5 rating.  I loved how it showed Dickinson’s play with words and playful personality.  Often the character spouted poem after poem melded into the plot, performing the poems ecstatically at times. Her interpretation made me run for my Collected Works copy.

I’m going to watch it again.  Highly recommend it.

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I’ve started reading the entire Emily Dickinson collection of poetry. A few poems each morning and a few each night make a poetic meditation practice of sorts. A few poems a day allow me the time to analyze each poem and dig into her unusual syntax.

Observations so far: She writes so much about nature, reading her poems in nature is nearly overwhelming.  She uses a lot of exclamation points.  She uses Yoda-syntax, i.e., “afraid you are, young Jedi.”  It’s really hard to get “The Yellow Rose of Texas” rhythms out of your head when you read her.  Thanks, Billy Collins and NPR.

In order to be published, one must send out poems.  For me, it took a deliberate decision to submit and submit regularly. It sounds easy, but it’s not (at least for me it wasn’t).  I’m not refering to the logistics: the SASE, the big envelope, the copies, the submission check, the cover page, and whatever else they may want.  The hardest part of the decision is the risk of rejection.  They may as well as you to include a vial of blood or a non-vital organ, right?  All your friends love your writing; your writing group is supportive and encouraging.  However, they still give you feedback at a very direct and personal level. Literary journal reviewers and judges just see you as another sheaf of poems in a huge stack.  They never see your dimples and big green eyes. Their appraisal isn’t colored by the fact that you helped them move.  They read your poem and, if they like it, it goes in the pile of possbilities.  If not, it goes in the recycling bin.

I’ve read that one shouldn’t try to second-guess what the board will want — it changes frequently.  I’ve found that reading past winners only prods my insecurities.  I just look at the date it’s due, gather and print what they want and schlep over to the post office.  The other choice still stands — just write for yourself and put the poems in boxes and dressers all over your house, a la Emily Dickinson.  Don’t even show them to anyone.  But if you do show them to someone, it’s disingenuous to refrain from submitting them for publication.  You have something to say, and poetry is your megaphone.

That said, I sent a submission to The Poetry Center of Chicago last week and one to the Madison Review this week.  What have you sent out lately?