Monday, November 08, 2010

"Love Letter to the National Library of Poetry"

Published in Monkey Puzzle Magazine, Issue #10: click here

Dear National Library of Poetry,

It is my pleasure to inform you that, after reviewing the details of my life since I first received your glowing acceptance letter in 1995, it has been determined that you are directly responsible for the publication of my recent novel.

My poem of “rare talent” you must remember well, the one without a title that began with the very original “I lie my curls on a bed of red roses,” the one you published in a hardback anthology called Between the Raindrops. I have to officially apologize for not buying the anthology at the time, I just couldn’t afford the $50 working as a Ruby Tuesday’s waitress, but I vowed to someday go to D.C. in person instead and see my work displayed.

“You should be genuinely proud of your accomplishment” your acceptance letter told me. “We receive thousands of poems each year and we choose only a very few for publication.”

And just like that I was a published author.

Had I never received your letter back in 1995, I might never have completed that first notebook, each poem growing less tentative. And if I hadn’t finished multiple notebooks, I might never have started calling myself a writer—in fact, I might never have gone to Colorado at all. And if I hadn’t gone west, I might never have gone to those coffeehouses where people wearing berets read poetry worse than mine. I might not have decided to go back to school, which means I might never have written “The Phantom of the Waffle House,” my first short story and the earner of my first official form rejection slip. And if I hadn’t started writing stories and submitting my work for publication, I might never have tried to write my first shitty novel. Or my second shitty novel, or my third slightly less shitty novel. In fact, I might never have written a decent word.

And so you see, the National Library of Poetry is directly responsible for my recent success.

You might be wondering if I ever did make it to D.C. to see my work in person? Yes, several years ago I finally went on the pilgrimage to see my work at the National Library of Poetry. I imagined the National Library’s domed ceilings where doves fluttered across beams of sunlight. I imagined Between the Raindrops as a thick, weighty book and my name in golden scroll.

I went through the metal detectors and proudly approached the information desk:

I’m looking for my poem.

Who’s the publisher?

I pulled out the old, yellowed acceptance letters with the glossy fonts.

Oh, the National Library of Poetry, she said, distain hanging from the final syllables. That’s a commercial library.

What do you mean?

I mean it’s not part of the National Library of Congress. It’s in Silver Springs, Maryland.

National Library of Poetry—you swindler, I had thought all this time that I was special; you really convinced me that I had rare talent. But you say that to all of us, don’t you? I guess I’m the one to blame, I offered up a shitty poem to the Great God of Vanity Publishing, and it was taken with the option to purchase the hardback for $50.

But, really, I can’t thank you enough. Sending you that terrible poem was the most important decision I ever made. Who doesn’t want a letter in the mail saying “congratulations. You should be genuinely proud of your accomplishment. We receive thousands of poems each year and we choose only a very few for publication. It is our pleasure to publish fine poems such as yours in our anthologies.” That your praise was contrived and formulaic made no difference in the end. And later, when I realized the truth, it could no longer crush me.

My most sincere thanks,
Nancy Stohlman

P.S. National Library of Poetry, seeing how your publication of my first poem was so crucial in my trajectory of becoming a writer, I would like to offer you the opportunity to own a signed copy of my novel, Searching for Suzi. Let me make one thing clear . . . I am selecting you as a receiver of my signed novel solely on the basis of merit. You are under no obligation to make any purchase of any kind. Of course, many people do wish to own a copy of the publication that they have had such a hand in bringing to fruition. If this is the case, I welcome your order—and guarantee your satisfaction. If you wish to own a signed copy of Searching for Suzi at my special gratitude price, please complete the enclosed order form.

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