The Fall of the Shelf of Myself

I had a sobering experience this evening. I had heard about a contest for previously published poems and thought it was right up my alley because it didn’t involve creating anything new and submitting it for judgment, but instead entering things that had already been given the stamp of approval. No problem! I have plenty of previous publications, right there on the Shelf of Myself, which is the silly, vainglorious name I gave to the shelf where I keep print publications with my poems in them.

Except.

There has been some serious attrition in the Shelf of Myself, with several things missing and apparently elsewhere in my home, which is really not a comforting thought, given how deeply lost things can be in this “elsewhere.” Instead, the Shelf of Myself is now mostly occupied by:

1) other people’s chapbooks (no offense, other people)
2) books I received in exchange for not winning prizes (sad trombone)
3) just straight-up, random crap

I managed to get together a contest entry based on what I could find, but it just made me sad. At least one of the publications has folded, and probably others, too, so they aren’t entirely replaceable. Besides, it represents disregard for my own work.

Other than just life moving forward and stuff accreting like coral, I think what happened is that in the years when I just kept losing one chapbook and book contest after another, and when I told myself that the first one was obvs a fluke that would never be repeated, I started to give less value to the individually published poems than I should have — because they weren’t what I wanted next, so what, etc., etc.

The ones that I did manage to find on the Shelf of Myself were good, honestly, and that’s sad, too — because in recent years, I quit putting myself out there. Here, in my own online “house,” sure — but not submitting anything so I could either not measure up (losing all those contests), or have a poem published and not feel good about it, and then feel bad about not feeling good.

I don’t know all the remedies to all of this sadness, but I think part of it is to submit a lot of things this year and then, if any of them get somewhere (whether online or print), enjoy them for what they are, enjoy the other poets I’m published alongside, and then not let these things just disappear.

And part of that is to allow myself to think any of this matters, despite everything else that’s going on currently — which feels as indulgent as naming something the Shelf of Myself.

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The Next One

Ginger, what I knew the other morning,
as if it were written on my closet door,
was that you were the next one after me.

One afternoon, sitting on a little hill
outside the church, I seethed as he
paid attention to you. I didn’t know

I had grievances other than
being passed over, discarded—
I couldn’t save either of us,

from what had ended,
world without end, amen
from what was beginning

I’m going to call you Ginger
, he said

on the hill

I’m sorry it took me a few years to tell—
a few years after you needed me to,

Virginia.

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