Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



December 2012

“Use the post office. Publishers won’t knock on your door, asking for a poem.”

Donald M. Murray, writing teacher

From Genesis to Publication: A Poem’s Long Road

Dear Readers,

Welcome to a landmark Judy’s Journal: #100.

In May 2000, a story appeared in the newspapers that caught my attention. Dead plane robber’s identity still unknown - Manila, Philippines. Another headline read: Man robs jet passengers, flees by parachute. Desperation and sadness were in the stew of details that made saving the articles a necessity: He was “weeping and distraught,” as he moved through the plane, collecting money from passengers. His “homemade parachute” was “lavender.” His body was recovered after jumping from 6000 feet “with only his hands and knees protruding from the mud.”

The two articles prompted me to create lists of impressions and emotions, as well as theories about the man’s state of mind. Please remember that this happened before September 11th, when the word “hijacker” would be transformed forever.

I felt sorry for this guy. Really sorry. I was determined to make a poem from this man’s experience.

In 2000, I was even less Internet-savvy than I am now, so I enlisted the help of poet Francine D’Alessandro, who knew how to use some weird entity called search engines. She emailed me ten versions of the story as it appeared in the world press. Some details conflicted, which made it all the more interesting. A poem’s separate truth grows from soil rich in facts, which can be slippery.

The plane robber’s story became heavy with details. That was a good thing because details begat associations in my brain. I visualized the Henri de Miller sculpture, “l’Ecoute,” outside St-Eustache Church in Paris (a huge bronze head and hand), recalled Hamlet’s eulogy for “poor Yorick,” and thought about Tennessee Williams’s tragic Blanche du Bois.

Draft after draft evolved. The next month, I brought the poem to our response group. I felt sure enough to send it in to a contest, The Glimmer train Poetry Open. They soon informed me that “Elegy for a Plane Robber, Manila 2000” was a finalist. However, the poem would remain unpublished, even though it was in the top 22 of 1500 entries. They only published the prize winners. Sigh. That was good news and bad: unpublished meant that I could continue sending it out.

In January 2001, I was inspired to make a reciprocal painting, “His Only Song.” Now the painting and poem resided in my art and poetry manuscript, Reciprocity.

His Only Song
His Only Song

But I still wanted the poem published in a journal. I continued to send the poem out. I did this THIRTY-FOUR TIMES, as a matter of fact! A few years ago, an editor from The Beloit Poetry Journal jotted “Elegy is the most interesting poem among those submitted” on the standard rejection note. This was the only response during TWELVE YEARS of submitting the poem for publication. Each time, I might tweak a word or a line here or there, but its essence remained the same.

In July, I submitted “Elegy for a Plane Robber, Manila 2000” and two other poems to The Comstock Review 2012 Muriel Craft Bailey Contest. On November 6th, I went on the web site and saw that the poem won second prize, which means that it will be published in the Fall/Winter, Issue 26-2. FINALLY!

When you believe in something, do not let go.