Editor Diana Whitney and Poet Lynn Melnick create a courageous space for writing poetry centered around taboo emotions, rewriting stigma and living life uncensored. Using prompts inspired by the collection, You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, which features a poem by Amanda Gorman, you will gain insight into constructing an anthology and learn that no matter the age, your raw, unique voice can be a gift to the world.
Prompt #1: Rewriting stigma
Write a poem rooted in a taboo emotion. EX: SADNESS, RAGE, LONGING, DESIRE, SHAME, ETC.
Prompt #2: Say what you’re not supposed to say
Write a letter to someone who would never get it.
Write a poem that is a series of text messages.
How did you move into publishing your poetry?
Lynn: My trajectory was not a straight line because I went to an MFA and had early success in publishing. I sent out to some magazines, got accepted and then I had a real mental health crisis and trauma I hadn’t dealt with. I had to take a break before getting back into it but, when I did, it was really hard. I give credit to my husband, who is also a poet, who really was like “you really need to keep writing and you need to keep sending them out.” You just need to have those people in your life that really believe in you.
As far as the process, I cast a wide net when I submit. 95% of the time (or more) I’m rejected and that’s just part of it. Think of it as a momentary stub of your toe; it’s going to hurt a lot for a few seconds and then you move on. In all my years of teaching grad students, the one or two that have been the most successful haven’t necessarily been the most talented but the most dedicated and persistent.
Diana: I still find rejection really brutal. I wish I had thicker skin. I just recently went through this with a prose piece I just published and it faced a lot of rejection before being published. There were some dark times of intense self-doubt. You have to come to a place of understanding that that doubt is always going to be there and you just have to sit with it and you’re going to keep trying.
Do you edit your poems much?
Diana: I do! I enjoy editing. Once in a while I feel like I’ll get a gift poem that comes out almost in its final form but a lot of them get worked over. I enjoy that process. Even if it’s just changing one word or line, that revision of seeing it again helps.
Lynn: I’m a compulsive reviser. I’m constantly tinkering. I write first in prose, that’s just how it all comes out because it’s faster for me. If I stop and think about what the lines are going to be like and how the stances will be… it slows me down and my brain can’t keep up. Then I have to find its proper form so even beyond the words, I have to find how it’s going to look best.
Lynn Melnick is the author of the poetry collections Refusenik (forthcoming 2022), Landscape with Sex and Violence (2017), and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), all with YesYes Books, and the co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015). I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive, a book about Dolly Parton that is also a bit of a memoir, is forthcoming from University of Texas Press in 2022. Her poetry has appeared in APR, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and A Public Space. Her essays have appeared in air/light, LA Review of Books, ESPN, and the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. A former fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and previously on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, she currently teaches poetry at Columbia University and the 92Y.
Diana Whitney writes across the genres in Vermont with a focus on feminism, motherhood, and sexuality. Her first book, Wanting It, became an indie bestseller and won the Rubery Book Award in poetry. She was the longtime poetry critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she featured women poets and LGBTQ+ voices in her column. Her essays, op-eds, and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Kenyon Review, Glamour, and many more. She won the 2015 Women’s National Book Association poetry prize and has received grants and fellowships from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Vermont Arts Endowment Fund, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. Diana also works as a feminist activist in her community and beyond. Her advocacy for survivors of sexual violence has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other press outlets.