When I was a freshman in college (yes, we were still fresh*men* back then; the “first-years” came along a few years later) I tried out for one of the campus choirs. I was sooooo nervous, but I love to sing. And even way back then I had the Beckett quote taped to the corner of my desk: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Even back then I believed that it was better to try and fail than to never try.
I went to my audition in the music building, a small ivy-covered thing practically tucked out of view. I sang. The choir director said, “Okay, now sing it again like you’re a foot taller and ten years older.” I could hardly imagine being 28!!! But I tried. I sang it like I was 28. Or what I thought 28 would be like. It was much louder and much more confident. “There you go!” he said. I looked around to see if I’d grown a foot. (I hadn’t, but that’s okay — I made the choir, 2nd sop).
Recently I had a couple of poems accepted, one of the two pending my approval of suggested revisions. The revisions were mainly cuts from the middle of the poem where, the editors felt, the poem lost a bit of its focus. This is a journal I admire, one I’m just thrilled to have an acceptance from. But, although I saw that their cuts strengthened and sharpened the poem (and although I kicked myself for not having cut it a bit more in my own revisions), I thought the cuts went just a bit too far, so that one of the characters in the poem did not have quite enough presence. I also wanted to restore a single word that they suggested replacing with another (admittedly more beautiful) word — but I really felt this poem needed the rougher, uglier word.
I hemmed and hawed. I thought, Maybe I should just go with their revisions. They’re a great journal! They know what they’re doing! Then I thought, But really, I think the husband needs more presence. And I really want the ugly word. Then I thought, What do you know, Molly. You’re probably blind to your own work, and you’re really just a baby poet (Ahem, do we have a little Spiteful Gillian creeping in here? I think so). Then I thought, But really, I think the poem is asking for more husband! For the ugly word!
I let it rest over the weekend.
This morning I knew I had to face it. And the words of the choir director came back to me: Sing it like you’re a foot taller and ten years older. I decided to act like it wasn’t *such* a big deal to me to get an acceptance from this journal (even though it is, it really, really is). I decided to pretend I was old hat at this kind of thing. I decided to act like of course they would want my input and additional suggestions for making this poem as strong as it could be. I wrote a specific and reasoned explanation for a version of the poem I suggested in turn. There were two more lines of husband. There was the ugly word. I asked them to consider my suggestions and get back to me.
They liked my suggestions. They could see my reasoning. (insert happy dance here)
I’m so glad I sang it like I was a foot taller and ten years older. Well, wait a minute, I don’t want to rush things in the years department. But I’m just saying, sometimes we need to act the part. I acted the part of a seasoned poet with strong reasons for her artistic choices. I advocated for my work, risked a “no” because I thought the poem needed more. And it worked. Sing it! Hallelujah!