By: Holly Moseley
I first joined SDSPS when I moved to South Dakota in 1987. This history amazes me somewhat, because I’m not sure I thought of myself as a poet way back then, even though I’d had a piece accepted for my high school collection. Perhaps someone at the writers’ group in Sioux Falls encouraged me to join. I must have reached out to them to help recover from an unexpected move from what I considered my true home, Michigan, after a too-brief stay there.
The copies of Pasque Petals that I still have show that my membership was brief. The responsibilities and financial challenges of young parenthood probably shifted my priorities. I kept writing in a journal, off and on, through the many years of raising three boys, returning to school for a teaching degree (yeah, that non-teaching English B.A didn’t exactly get me where I expected), and then teaching full-time. I didn’t rejoin the Society until 25 years later. It was probably a presentation at the Festival of Books that sparked my interest anew. And I almost didn’t go that first year I learned of it. What a gift the Festival is to the readers and writers of our state – and it’s free!
The next year, my first poem was published by the Black Hills Writers’ Group. Soon after that, I retired and my husband and I began volunteering at a monastery outside of Milwaukee (we called it snowbirding, though the Wisconsinites never understood why we’d choose a cold place). We drove back to South Dakota regularly. We’d recently inherited a home on a northwestern ranch and would spend our days sorting through the stuff that came with the house and property. In the evenings, we enjoyed the solitude, beauty, and quiet of the wide open plains. I started writing more poems and began submitting them to SDSPS.
And that is why I belong. Submitting poems is painless in this organization. Well, once I got past the agony of “what ifs” (What if I’m not good enough? What if I don’t really have something worthwhile to say? What if I really don’t know what I’m doing?). As a member, there is no fee to submit, or a minimal one for contests, and one may submit up to five poems to each of the two issues of the annual publication, Pasque Petals. Since I was already writing poems, why not try them out? What could it hurt?
Very little, really. Because our editors are volunteers, they don’t have time to make comments or suggestions for each poem. While some people don’t like the lack of feedback, I find it a refreshing response to my “what if” doubts. Since nothing in my poem is singled out, it is easy for me to accept that the most basic reason a poem may not be accepted is that it didn’t resonate, at this time, with this particular editor. The solution? Try again, at a different time or with a different editor (Hint: the spring and fall issues each have their own editor). I am learning to submit based on the seasons, if that figures in the poem, and on what kind of poem and material seems to be accepted by each.
Another reason may be that the poem still needs work. One way to determine that is to read it out loud, or have someone else read it to me. Problems with rhythm (and or rhyme, if used) tend to jump out then. Another solution is to have trusted readers. In the northern Black Hills there are now three writing groups I know of, plus at least one based in Rapid City. A writing group is a huge help in refining our work. The trick is to find a good fit for you and your style. If there isn’t one in your area, start one. Online classes and groups are readily available. Even the University of Iowa’s famous summer workshop is now available year-round online. Another resource is reading poetry. And the old advice to “sit in your chair and write” or, as I am calling it, “practice, practice, practice” will help develop your eye and ear for your own good work. This might also take care of the third “what if” mentioned above.
As for having something worthwhile to say, if the topic was important enough, or the image beautiful or haunting enough, or the thought fun enough for you to spend some of your precious time on it, then go ahead and put it out there in the world. Who knows who else needs to read/hear/feel it? Let other readers and editors be the judge of that. And, with the pieces you really believe in, keep trying. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right match.
The biggest “what if” is “What if my poem is accepted? It’s a thrill every time that happens! My husband knows when I’ve received an email informing me a poem (or two, or three) has been accepted. I do a little Snoopy “Happy Dance” of joy. And when the mail comes, with my copy of the magazine or anthology or book, I do a bigger one. There is something magical about seeing my work, with my name above or below it, in print. Every. Single. Time.
And that’s why I belong to SDSPS – it encourages me to write often so that I can submit regularly and, more than I dared hope, see my work in print and do my happy dances of joy because my poem, my thoughts, my heart are sending their best through the world. On a very basic level, it makes me a better person.