In My Big Little Break, we ask authors to talk about the first piece they ever had published, how it felt to finally break through, and what they’ve learned since then. This week we’re pleased to be speaking with one of the featured authors at our upcoming (getting close to sold out) conference outside DC on April 27, Kyle Dargan.
What was the title and genre of your first-ever published piece?
Aside from things published in U.Va. campus magazines like VLR, Rag & Bone or 3.7, I think my first publication was a poem titled "Of the Sun," which was a part of my undergraduate thesis and went on to be the proem for my first book, The Listening.
Who published it? Are they still around?
It was in the Denver Quarterly, which I believe is still publishing.
Give us some context: how old were you? How long had you been writing and submitting? How many times had the piece been rejected? Anything else we're missing.
I was twenty-one, and I'd met the then editor Bin Ramke at the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. (He was a visiting poet and I was one of the younger fellows.) I can't say I'd been trying much. Rita Dove had been encouraging me to send out work as a way of toughening me up for the rejection that comes with being an emerging writer. When Bin Ramke asked me to send him some poems, it did feel unreal--even more so when he accepted something.
Did getting that acceptance feel as triumphant as you'd always hoped? Walk us through the moment when you found out.
Again, most of my submitting activity up to that point had targeted on-campus publications at U.Va. I was mostly concerned with getting my work in places where my friends and peers and rival poets would see. But the Denver Quarterly was a foray out into a wider literary world. It felt different, even if I couldn't put my finger on just how it was so at the time. It was frightening too because it was wider exposure and people who did not know me would be reading my work.
Are you still proud of that piece? Have you re-read it recently?
It's the opening poem of my first book, and I still stand by that decision. I don't read it as much, but other people who dig back through my work often want to talk about that poem.
Now that you've been doing this for a while, collecting plenty of rejections and acceptances along the way, what advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
The best advice is the advice Rita Dove gave me but I had to grow to understand, which is don't submit to any venue you wouldn't want to be published in or any prize you would not want to win. Young, beginning me could not understand that because ... well, when wouldn't you want to be published or win a prize!? But as you grow as a writer and publishing author, you realize that opportunities build on opportunities, and you want your best work in the places where it can do the most "work" for you as opposed to merely being in print. So learn to be judicious about the work you really believe in, and know that--if you are still willing to grind away at the craft--your best work is likely ahead of you rather than behind you, so make sure you are using your publishing opportunities to make someone want to read that future work.