Touchy subjects, touchy poems

May 19th, 2010

I spent the morning putting together a few submission packages (finally – I’ve been slothful on that front), and one of them has me a bit more fraught than usual. It’s got some infertility/IVF poems in it, and the few times I’ve done that I’ve thought it was kind of dicey; it’s a topic people can react to pretty viscerally. The IVF poems in particular strike me as pieces that can provoke a reaction about what is being said before anybody gets around to considering how well it’s being said. They’re strong poems, I’d never send them out if I didn’t think they were strong, but they could easily accidentally rub an editor the wrong way for any number of reasons: the editor might have objections to assisted reproduction, the editor might be experiencing infertility, the editor might have just gotten back a negative beta, the editor might think “trans-vaginal ultrasound” just doesn’t scan no matter how hard you try.*

I’m probably making this more fraught than it needs to be. Really any given piece could rub any given editor the wrong way on any given day; I recently read an interview with Tony Hoagland in which he said it’s gotten to the point he’d rather read about the history of corduroy than about somebody’s brother dying of cancer, so you never know what’s going to make an editor sigh and think, Please not this topic. There are a whole host of reasons an editor might pass on a particular piece that have nothing to do with the technical merits of the work (for a refreshingly honest list of some of those reasons see this post by poet Kelli Russell Agodon who is also an editor at Crab Creek Review) and the best we can do on our end is write good work, follow the submission guidelines, and do enough market research to know we’re not sending IVF poems to a Catholic journal.

It’s not, by the way. The journal I’m submitting to. It’s a feminist journal doing a special issue on poems concerning loss and things that can’t be said. So I’ve chosen the prospective home of my poems as well as I could, but you just never know who’s going to get all worked up by those three little letters: I.V.F. In my experience it can surprise you sometimes, the way people get all worked up about how my beautiful boys came to be.

* I’m just kidding about that last one, although it is my goal in life to successfully incorporate that phrase into a poem.