Friday, 19 March 2021

Nathanael O’Reilly : coda

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

When engaged in writing a new poem, I think it’s difficult to force oneself to try something new and abandon techniques and approaches that have been successful in the past. I used to write a lot of poems in the past tense using the first-person plural voice. I decided that approach was becoming too predictable, so I’ve been trying to write more poems in the present tense. I read an interview with Nick Cave in which he claimed that he doesn’t write songs about the past and tries to only write about the present. I’m not sure that’s really true, but I thought it was interesting and that I should try it, especially because I’d spent many years as a homesick expatriate trying to come to terms with the loss of my homeland, almost always writing about the past. I needed to accept my status as an immigrant and start writing about my current situation and future plans. Probably the most difficult part of being a poet is not the actual writing, but all the waiting and rejection that comes with being a publishing poet. One is always waiting to hear back from journals and publishers, and due to the sheer numbers of poems that are submitted to each journal for each issue, the statistical fact is that most poets will have most of their work rejected most of the time. I co-edited a special issue of Cordite Poetry Review with Lachlan Brown; we received almost 2000 poems for the issue, but only had space to publish 40. We had to reject a lot of great work by many excellent poets, including people whose work we had been reading and admiring for years. One develops a thicker skin over time, but the rejection still hurts. I think the worst part is that usually one isn’t given a reason for the rejection, just a simple “no,” so that’s not useful in terms of revision and making the poems better. I’ve written a lot of literary criticism, and with that kind of writing one receives detailed feedback from two or three reviewers that explains how to make the piece publishable – poetry publishing is not like that, which makes it a tougher and more mysterious process. 

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