When recently participating in an alumni panel on ‘Life After the MFA’ at the summer residency, Sarah McKinstry-Brown (author of the award winning Cradling Monsoons) gave some advice that happened to strike a personal chord. In telling people how to get involved in a professional writing life after graduation, she advised that they should “always say yes.” The context behind this was that we never know when a writing-related opportunity that doesn’t sound like what we want can often end up leading to the very ones for which we’ve specifically been searching.
The reason that this struck me was it reminded me of a situation I encountered only a few months prior. A blog editor of [Pank] (as well as author of Women Who Pawn Their Jewelry and A Woman Traces the Shoreline), Sheila Squillante, shared a submission call on Facebook for a Two of Cups Press bourbon poetry anthology: Small Batch.
My first reaction was to dismiss the idea because I don’t really write poetry. However, though I don’t drink anymore, bourbon is something to which I’ve been quite close. I have a reverence for bourbon that made me want to get involved (even though I don’t really write poetry). Unable to help myself, I wrote what I believed to be a witty comment on Sheila’s post to the effect: “I thought bourbon was already a poem.” I felt very self-satisfied and thought that was it until a saw a follow up comment: “Looks like someone has a submission.”
At that moment, I sat back from the computer. Did I have a submission? Since I actually responded to the prompt, however flippantly, should I actually try to sit down and write a poem?
Well, I did. I didn’t just stick with that line, instead making an actual effort at turning it into a real (though short) poem. I kept it simple, trying to recreate what I felt from when I saw the post to when I gave what (I felt) was my koan-like response. Then I submitted and decided that the experience itself was something I needed even if it didn’t go anywhere further.
However, I then got a reply to my submission. They loved “A Bourbon Poetry Submission.” They wanted to include it in the anthology. More surprisingly, they wanted to use my poem in the forward to the book. I was surprised. I was flattered. Heck, I was ecstatic.
This all came back to me when I heard Sarah’s words at the panel. I need to take her of advice more, but this popped into my head as proof of what can happen when you do what she said. Say yes to opportunities that you hadn’t really considered, because you just never know what is going to happen.
David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt and the forthcoming The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (EAB Publishing, expected spring 2014). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.