Earlier this year I submitted some poetry for consideration in response to a call for submissions by publisher Inkerman & Blunt, who were planning to publish an anthology called Australian Love Poems 2013. It was the first time in over 12 years that I’d submitted poetry – or anything for that matter – to a publisher in the hope of being published. The call was for poems that covered all aspects of love: being in love, losing it, dealing with heartache. I have poems about love up to the wazoo, so to speak, so I chose three of my best and submitted them by email.
And then I waited. It wasn’t till early June that I found out whether any of my poems had made the cut or not. As the date approached I found myself thinking about what it would mean to me if the poems were accepted; what it might mean if they weren’t.
Would being published validate my work? Would it validate me? Would it mean I was a real writer? A real poet? If my poems weren’t published would that mean they were inferior? Mediocre? Would it make me less of a poet?
How much of my confidence as a writer – how much of my belief in my self as a writer – was reliant on having something, anything, published?
Last Friday there was an article in The Age online about the artist Joyce Meier, who, Dewi Cooke writes, laboured “for the sake of love, of painting every day and everywhere just because she couldn’t imagine doing anything else, even without the encouragement of mainstream recognition.”
There is a quote from Joyce Meier herself, aged 96 now: ”There was nothing much else to do, was there? I just did, I don’t know, I just did it. That’s all.”
The photos accompanying the article tell a story of a life lived dedicated to painting, to expressing herself through her art. Of painting nonstop.
I found the story of Joyce Meier utterly inspirational. She had gone to war; she’d gotten married and had a family. She had lived a full life. She had not become famous. But you couldn’t stop her from painting. And despite never having become famous, she was still an artist. She had always been one and would always be one, even though, the article notes, she has now stopped painting.
The other woman who has inspired me recently is Vietnamese American blogger Vy Chazen, who wrote a wonderfully passionate argument for having her voice on the bookshelves on her blog, The Letter Vy. She points out that more often than not accepted literary depictions of her cultural heritage are clichéd and stereotypical: they’re about the war, or tragedy, or feature old people who speak in proverbs, or they cover stories of assimilation.
All very important stories, sure, but they all position Vietnamese Americans as other.
In her post – I’m Asian-American and I Want a Voice on the Shelves! – Vy writes: “I want a book about us today. That’s why I’m writing one.” And in her comment back to me, she states that what she wants is “the recognition that, “hey, I belong in this society too. I bring something to the table and I’m worth being heard.””
We all want to recognise ourselves in the stories we read, the films we see, the songs we sing along to. This is why stories, films and songs about universal themes do so well.
On 3 June I received a very lovely, gentle email from Inkerman & Blunt advising me that I was one of 600 poets who’d submitted 1,501 poems but unfortunately… well, you can guess. My poems didn’t make the cut.
Vy Chazen has helped me understand why it is that I will continue to seek to be published despite this knockback and the ones I’ve received in the past and the ones I will receive in the future (and there are bound to be): I, too, want my voice on the shelves.
Joyce Meier has taught me that even if I’m never published I will continue to write because I am a writer and I can’t do anything else but write.
And together these two very different women have shown me that the artist’s voice cannot be silenced; it will always strive to express itself.