I’m waiting in line to be processed. The boss woman’s been checking us off one by one, writing out our real names in her excel spreadsheets, giving us nifty nickname tags to make sure we don’t accidentally figure out who belongs to whom. Our parents dropped us off earlier, but we’re not supposed to know each other’s names. We’re anonymous here. Like art camp where everyone gets a code name, only we’re not the campers – we’re the art.
Me, I’m a poem.
My mom wrote me for some creative writing class she took last semester. Her professor kept telling her, you should submit this to AmLit! She wasn’t so sure. She’d heard bad things: it’s hard to get in and editors just pick each others’ work to go in the magazine. No, no, no, her professor insisted. AmLit has a whole process to make it super fair. And your poems are good. Trust me.
So she filled out some form that said my name, her name, yada yada, and sent it along with me to AmLit’s submission drive email. Then the boss women, the “editors-in-chief,” take all the other poems like me and put us in a big packet. All the people who are going to read us know our names, our titles, but not the names of our parents, the people who wrote us. Apparently they have a ton of these really big packets: there’s mine for poems like me, one for prose submissions, one for photography, and one for art. Also, this year they added a film section, and the movies go out online too.
The packets get sent out to this long list of AmLit staff members. Anyone can be on staff, even mom, she just can’t talk about me or vote when it’s my turn for discussion. AmLit plans a bunch of review sessions to talk about the packets. It’s been about two weeks since I got put in the packet, and now it’s my day.
I’m nervous. I don’t want people to say mean things about mom because she worked really hard on me and she loves me and she’s going to sit there and hear what everyone says about me and this is really stressful is this what beauty pageants for toddlers feel like? But the EICs and poetry editors are great. They calm me down and say no one’s allowed to say anything mean about mom. They are only allowed to talk about me, and even then, they have to be respectful and offer constructive criticism on how I can grow. They can’t just say I’m ugly or short or have a funny accent.
When it’s my turn, the poetry editors ask everyone to say whether they think yes, I should be in the magazine, no, I shouldn’t be, or maybe. It’s pretty mixed – some people like me and others don’t think I’m ready for publication. So then they start a discussion about my merits. Everyone’s reading from notes they wrote up before today in preparation. Some like how I sound when read out loud, others think I might be a bit immature. The maybes like it when someone starts showing them examples of my voice. What spirit, they say. They pick me apart for little phrases that sound like honeyed song, for moments that make them swoon. Then the poetry editors call for the final vote and this time, no one says maybe. Out of the 14 people there, 5 say no and 9 say yes! I’m ecstatic and so thankful for mom and the staff people are smiling and I could kiss the moon and thank her for being the nicest image in my ribcage of a third stanza since everyone liked her so much and said so.
The next couple of weeks are a little dull in comparison to that moment. They send mom a congratulations email but of course she already knows. She submitted a couple of other poems that didn’t get in. One gets 7 people who vote yes and 7 who vote no. Then the EICs get so excited because they get to decide if it goes in or not as the tiebreakers. I was a little worried cause they knew she was mom’s, but since there’s two EICs, they look for bias in the other to balance it out so it’s fair. After, some nice editors read me for any spelling mistakes and suddenly I’m not just a poem but a part of something bigger. I’m part of a book of art chosen by artists and art appreciators, and when we come in from the printing press our binding smells fresh and the colors they decorated us with are so lovely that mom takes three copies home for her family.