I have long been interested in the question of third-party submissions. I remain convinced that we as poets are not the best submitters of our own work for a variety of reasons, which is partly why I instituted the practice of accepting third-party submissions at Whale Sound. Although Whale Sound regularly receives third-party submissions, they are usually ad hoc affairs by a generous poet making one or two friendly gestures of recognition to others whose work they admire. So when I received a submission from Kathleen Fitzpatrick on behalf of her husband, W.F. Lantry, that clearly came out of an institutionalized – and to me fascinating – process of collaboration between the two, I knew I just had to interview her. My questions and her answers are below. Thank you for your time and patience, Kate!
Why did you start submitting for your husband?
Bill was a university administrator when I first met him. One afternoon sitting behind his oversized desk, he disclosed in hushed tones that he was a ‘Poet.’ I laughed out loud. Don’t poets have recent publication credits? He wasn’t even writing much at the time, and hadn’t been for years. It was like calling yourself a singer because you sing in the shower. Then he wrote a few poems for me, and I was converted. But after the initial flurry of lines to lure me in, he only scribbled on Birthday-Anniversary-Valentine’s Day. The Muse didn’t visit very often.
We like to browse bookstores after we go out to dinner. When we’d land in the Poetry section, Bill would pull books off the shelves by former professors and colleagues. He’d see the book by the graduate school classmate who’d invited everyone over to his house for dinner, greeting them at the door dressed in all seriousness as a woman. Or the one by the very famous poet who’d stolen his girlfriend away for the evening after a reading. Twice. With two different girls. My standard return was, “So, where’s the one by that guy? You know. What’s his name…Lantry?”
On the eve of his something-or-other birthday in 2009, I suggested a pact. If he wrote a poem every day, I would make a submission. I believe in Bill’s work and felt it needed a wider audience; Bill needed a motivation to write.
What have been the high points and the low points of your experience since then?
What could be sweeter than the first acceptance? Like a first kiss. Within a week, Kathryn Rentala of Anemone Sidecar accepted a poem. Before four weeks went by, we’d heard from Mary Ann Sullivan of The Tower Journal, Kate Bernadette Benedict of Umbrella, and Charles Musser of Soundzine. I still hold all four editors in a special place. We arrived at their threshold without calling card or letter of introduction, and they welcomed us in on the strength of Bill’s work.
It seemed like forever to wait for their upcoming issues, but on June 1st, Bill was the featured poet in The Tower Journal, had two poems in Umbrella, and saw three, with audio, appear in Soundzine. The Champagne corks were popping.
I really enjoy corresponding with editors. I tend to be very formal with the initial submission. But once I have my toe in the door, I like to build a personal relationship. Don Zirilli of Now Culture and Doug Basford of Unsplendid are two editors who come to mind. I shared a very playful series of messages with them after they accepted Bill’s work. Being accepted into a publication is like entering a new world: a new community of contributors and readers, maybe a foreign country or even continent, perhaps a different aesthetic based on the editor’s palate. I love breaking in with Bill’s work, and feel like the editors, contributors and readers become part of an ever widening circle of friends.
Most editors remain virtual friends, but several, Jen Michalski of JMWW, Sarah Busse at Verse Wisconsin, and David Landrum of Lucid Rhythms, we have met in the real world. Steven Allen May invited us to his local monthly poetry reading after Bill was a finalist in the Plan B Press contest. These interactions are cool, too.
I get discouraged and impatient when we haven’t had any good news for a few days. It usually spurs me on to send out more work. And when my lazy mule isn’t making enough progress, I coax him along with apples and sugar cubes.
Would you advocate for the submitting-for-others model? If so, why; if not, why not?
I honestly can not fathom how writers are able to do both the creative and administrative work needed to get published. They require vastly different strengths and skills. And each is extremely time consuming. There are already a number of writers familiar with our ‘model’ who are lined up for a ‘Kate’ clone once they become available, though I’m told the first one out of the lab is spoken for.
I know that some editors will not receive work from a third party. Is that to discourage a barrage of submissions from agents? What poet can afford to hire an agent to submit their work? To avoid trouble, I have a separate email account dedicated to submissions that must be made in Bill’s name. All other work comes out of an account in both our names, and I submit ‘on behalf of’ Bill.
Why should an editor prefer to deal with me rather than directly with the writer? I can afford to be more dispassionate about the work, and I’m a bit of a slut when it comes to editors’ whims. They want to change a word, or some punctuation? It’s their publication, I’m game. Bill may go into his eenie meenie chili beanie state when he writes, and sweat blood over his words, but they are not sacred to me. I only serve one god: the Editor, who has the power to put the words on the printed page or screen. I have seen discussions in online Poetry forums where poets bristle over proposed changes by editors, even withdrawing their work over it. I wonder why they would submit their work to editors they don’t trust, publications they don’t admire. By the time I send out a submission, I have done a great deal of research about the publication and editors. I always know who I’m jumping into bed with before I switch off the lights.
We can go back to what Bill wants when we send out a manuscript, or not. Mary Baine Campbell made an inspired edit to one of Bill’s poems that appeared in the Ellen LaForge Poetry Prize Annual. And Sarah & Wendy from Verse Wisconsin didn’t like the couplet at the end of a sonnet, so I had Bill write three possible alternatives. The ending they chose suddenly ‘made’ the poem. And here’s a little secret for all you contemporary poets out there: according the Elizabeth Savage of Kestrel, the three most overused words in Poetry today are “ancient,” “caress” and “porcelain,” words to avoid unless you want to end up in the cliché rejection pile. Bill replaced ‘ancient’ and voila! Publication. My job is to get the words published and I have no scruples at all about pleasing my clients.
Do you make the edits, or does Bill? Who has the final say if there is disagreement? Do you ever suggest edits to his work to him before you send it out? Do you ever hold any of his poems back from submission? If so, why?
When the Muse whispers words in Bill’s ear, she often neglects to mention commas and periods. He likes to leave that to me – it may be his strategy for getting me involved in the creative process, or it may simply be his rotten character. When I think a poem needs edits, or a publication has asked for them, Bill and I sit down together, I read it aloud, and we fix things, side by side. I rarely touch anything without his approval because he is the Wordsmith. But I am reading for meaning, if it doesn’t make sense, I will press for changes until it does. Of course, we never disagree.
There are a few reasons why I might refrain from sending a piece out. I’m a little uncomfortable with anything that reveals too much about our intimate lives, or is too steamy in general. Must be my puritanical New England upbringing. Of his older poems, there are several that never seem to make it out of my computer. One concerns a former girlfriend wearing an ankle bracelet. Apologies to all who wear them, but I find them cheap, so no matter how often Bill tells me of their appeal, I can never bring myself to send that poem out. There is an entire batch of others that Bill deems unworthy, but I smuggle them out sometimes anyway, and they get taken.
If you do advocate for the model, what is your advice for putative-submitters-for-others?
Bill gave me one piece of advice when I started: use a data base. I didn’t listen, and if you promise not to mention it to him, I will reluctantly admit it was probably a mistake. My record keeping is labor intensive. And the work isn’t quickly enough at my finger tips for Bill’s taste when we sit down to pick out poems together, which gives him the opportunity to remind me that I should have used a database when I started. I need to give him something to complain about.
Has your success (ie publication) rate been higher than your husband’s when he was submitting for himself? If yes, why; if no, why?
Well, considering that Bill never submitted anything for himself – it seems he always got his girlfriends to do it – his publication rate has gone up astronomically since I started. So, yes, my success rate is much better. I began about 18 months ago, and have averaged a submission a day. The acceptance rate, excluding competition submissions, is over 40%. Duotrope doesn’t even figure his averages into their calculations anymore. I don’t think they believe me.
What has been the benefit to your husband as a poet?
Bill writes at the end of the work day. My rule is, don’t come home unless you have written me something. My appetite for new work is voracious; I never have enough fresh produce to send out. We have a private blog where he posts all his writing. He clicks ‘save,’ heads for home, and by the time his tires hit the driveway pavement, the poem is on its way to an editor for consideration. He claims this stimulates his creativity, but I suspect he’s just hungry. After a particularly successful week, I throw on a little pleated skirt, lace up my high heeled leather boots, and do a quick twirl on the carpet before we rush back out the door to celebrate.
Do I understand this to mean his poems are usually composed and submitted on the same day?
Is that unusual? Bill does not make a first draft. He writes the final product the first time. He likes to tell me the story of someone in graduate school who reworked the same poem for an entire semester. Doesn’t make for much of an Opus. His philosophy is: write it, move on to something else the next day. But let’s face it, he has had a lifetime to perfect his craft. When he sits down to write, he brings that skill to the table, like a woodworker turning a bowl. After half an hour, it’s done, all the cuts are made. All that’s left is to slap on the varnish and let it cure. The curing can be done while it’s sitting on the editor’s desk.
Your ‘model’ is collaboration between a poet and a non-poet. What difference do you think it would make if you were also a publishing poet?
This question may be best addressed on an analyst’s couch. I’ve heard it said that while making marks on the page, one should feel like the only and most important person writing. It might be difficult to be convinced of that if there were another ‘important writer’ in the house. In a Master Class in graduate school, the presenter suggested that all of us had become singers because at a certain point in our lives we fell in love with our voice and wanted to share it. I imagine it is similar for writers. But you need to be confident in the beauty of your voice and your skill as an artist, not looking over your shoulder, or comparing yourself to others. I think it’s easier for me to be the principal promoter and most devoted groupie of Bill’s work when my field is parallel but different.
On the other hand, if I were a publishing poet, I would be busy getting my own stuff out there, and might not have the time to submit my husband’s work. As I said, and I’m sure most writers know, it is extremely time consuming to make successful submissions.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a coloratura soprano with an extensive sacred repertoire, performs regularly as a liturgical musician and soloist. She works as a church Director of Music & Choir Conductor in the Archdiocese of Washington. As a featured vocalist, she has sung opera and oratorio, as well as Slavic liturgical and folk music in the critically acclaimed 12-member a capella vocal ensemble, Slavic Mosaic. She has given solo public performances in Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Polish, Russian, Latin and Slavonic. She studied French at Barnard College, and holds a Masters of Music in Vocal Performance from the Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America. She spent a year studying in Paris at the same time W.F. Lantry was teaching in Nice. She even traveled to the Côte d’Azur, where he swears he saw her dancing one evening on the Promenade des Anglais. In her spare time, she manages her indolent mule’s literary career, and sings Weddings and Funerals.
W.F. Lantry, a native of San Diego, received his Licence and Maîtrise from the Université de Nice, M.A. in English from Boston University and Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. In 2010, he won the Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (in Israel), the Crucible Editors’ Poetry Prize and the CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize. During the past year, his work has appeared online and in print in fourteen different countries, including Texas, by journals as diverse as Prairie Fire, Ellipsis, Permafrost, protestpoems.org, New Verse News, Kritya Journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The French Literary Review, Istanbul Literary Review, Damazine, Literal Latté and The Wallace Stevens Journal, and is forthcoming in Aesthetica. He currently works in Washington, DC. and is a contributing editor of Umbrella: A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose.