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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Etter

The poet waits

It seems that much of my life as a poet has involved waiting. First it's waiting for responses to submissions to magazines (and many US magazines routinely take six months now). Next, submissions of pamphlet/chapbook and book manuscripts. Following that, there's the wait for reviews....

When my latest chapbook, Scar, was published last June, I was especially nervous and eager about reviews because it was such a different work for me: a single long poem that used the space of the page much more actively than in any previous work and that involved far more research as well. Additionally, as the poem would appear in my next full-length collection, its reception in chapbook form might give me some idea as to the potential response to the book.

Within about a month of publication--quicker than I expected, two online reviews appeared, an appreciative one by a fellow Illinois poet (and so having firsthand knowledge of the environment I was describing) and a middling one. For the next four or five months, the only sound was tumbleweeds, and I thought, That's it. Huh. Oh well. I guess that's what happens with chapbooks....

On Friday I arrived at my workshop group at the South Bank in London to be handed the latest PN Review with a review of Scar by Alison Brackenbury. I read it the way I read all reviews the first time: skimming it for the worst! If I didn't think it would have been unkind to the person who'd handed me the issue, I'd have then done what I do second: read it closely and slowly to understand everything the critic has to say about my writing. With some reluctance, I handed the magazine back and looked forward to my return to Bath the following Monday, where I could linger over my own copy.

Onward I went into the weekend, albeit pained not to be able to go back to the review and linger over it, but I had the conducting of the T.S. Eliot Prize preview to prepare for on Sunday afternoon, and it didn't feel like I could prepare enough.

On Sunday morning my friend Cathy Dreyer messaged me to tell me about a new online review at the splendid Sabotage Reviews site. It came as I was trying to come to terms with all the allusions in Ian Duhig's richly dense "The Year's Mind, Ripon." I skimmed Karen Goodwin's review with glee, surprised and delighted to see Goodwin connect Scar to a poem from my second collection, Divining for Starters, and indeed surprised by the delightful precision of the entire review: but there's no time for the lingering reading. It's back to Duhig and the other prize contenders, in my last preparations for the afternoon's discussion.

There's no moral to this story. Waiting didn't make the reviews appear. But they're here, and before I go to bed tonight--finally back in Bath from midday, yet a hundred emails to attend to before anything else--I will read those reviews. And I'll report back--not anon, I expect, but soonish.

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