With GDS Digital Edition #34 about to bring a whole new bunch of artists to our door, we got to thinking about all the people whose work has found a home in GDS’ most recent publications. Since Issue 26 Hawaiian author Eric Paul Shaffer’s writing has again and again popped up amongst our pages. We started to wonder how it was, that from the opposite side of the world, this guy managed to figure out what GDS was all about and write works we couldn’t resist.
In December 2011, a man was arrested for allegedly attempting to purchase goods at a Lexington Wal-Mart in North Carolina, using a million-dollar bill of his own design. Reading of this sad crime, I was electrified, astounded at the criminal innocence of a man who not only decided to forge money, but to forge a denomination of bill that doesn’t even exist in America.
I toured the U.S. Mint when I was in elementary school, and we each were allowed to hold, for a short moment, a ten-thousand-dollar bill, but as far as I know, no bill larger than a one-hundred-dollar bill is currently in circulation. The thrilling ignorance of a man inventing and spending a million-dollar bill underscores not only the desperation of poverty, but challenges our servile worship of wealth and our confidence in the paper on which our dollars and poems are printed. I sketched the first lines immediately and completed a draft within the hour.
“A Million-Dollar Bill” embodies the odd circumstance, atypical topic, and oblique perspective of poems I submit to Going Down Swinging. Such work is a joy to produce and a pleasure to see among other works of similar edge, point, and design. For these features, I have come to regard the editors of GDS as my first choice among editors.
I was drawn to GDS the moment I saw the name. “Going Down Swinging,” as a phrase, suggests a commitment to complete engagement in and dedication to a vigorous and energetic pursuit, despite the possibility that one might, on occasion, find oneself knocked down or out. No other attitude appeals to me.
GDS also attracted me because of my publishing circumstances in the mid-2000s. When I returned to the U.S. from Japan in 1998, I began to regularly submit my work for publication, starting with the reviews, journals and magazines I was reading in order to discover the dimensions of the poetry scene: Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, Southern Review, and Harvard Review, among others, which inexplicably (yes, I’m joking) still remain impervious to my words.
I was annoyed that my submissions were returned in their self-addressed, stamped envelopes with the original creases un-unfolded and cover letters still included. I wondered if some magazines were simply blindly ‘turning submissions around’, so I tracked for a year how many of my submissions were returned apparently unread, and the figure was a surprising 55 per cent. Under the circumstances, I found rejection difficult to take seriously, let alone personally, since more than half the time nobody even read the poems that editors were ‘rejecting’. I was frustrated, and I cast eagerly around for other options.
The local university library included a number of international poetry publications, and I realized that I found most of what I read in many appealing. I began to think editors in other nations might find my work interesting. When I now look over my publications in the U.S. and in other countries, I see a higher percentage of international publications than domestic ones. That fact has kept me reading international magazines and submitting work to their editors. I have now been published in more than thirty magazines in Canada, Costa Rica, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Japan, New Zealand, and, of course, Australia, and I admit to finding much to like within those pages.
These days, I have a good idea of what GDS editors are seeking because I read every poem in every issue I receive. Before I was a contributor, I suppose I was guessing based on my reading of the editorial descriptions. That the poetry I read in GDS takes risks and flights of all kinds while remaining open to readers determines what I send now. In fact, the moment I finished the earliest draft of “A Million-Dollar Bill”, I knew I would submit the final draft to GDS first. The dramatic monologue, the spectacular facts, and the quirky point of view, both sympathetic and ironic, convinced me I should send the poem to GDS.
No matter what, the many editors at GDS through the years have my great gratitude for their close attention to submissions and for maintaining a notion of the magazine’s mission so clear that it endures as editors come and go. Without those two factors, I would not, and neither would anyone else, have such a fine idea of what good literature lines the pages of GDS.