Sunday, March 30, 2014

Where I'll Be This Week: Tales from the South and Harding University

47º ~ a wee bit late, but spring sprang sprung, all the hardwoods are budding, the flowering trees are flowering, and things are right with the world for the moment

It's going to be a busy week for the Kangaroo.  I've got regular classes, two extra meetings for committee work and professional development. (Somehow, by the grace of the syllabus gods and goddesses, I didn't make anything major due in any of my classes this week.) At home, we are having a wonderful landscaper come in and take our scrubby yard down to nothing and build it back up again. And I have two writer events of my own.  Hold on to your hats!

Writer Event One

Tuesday night (April 1) I'll be reading a piece of non-fiction for Tales from the South. If you are in central Arkansas, I hope you'll consider coming out for a great meal and a chance to hear about "Gracie's Great Adventure." Yes, I wrote the narrative about one of our cats. Chuck is always teasing me about how I need to write some cat poetry, and since he features at the center of Gracie's adventure and will be in the audience, I figure this should suffice.

While I won't be reading poetry, I'll bring a few copies of the books in case anyone is in the mood to support the writer!

Tales from the South is produced and recorded for airing on KUAR and KUAF (Arkansas NPR stations) at Starving Artist Cafe in the Argenta District of North Little Rock. Doors open for dining at 5:00 p.m. with music from The Salty Dogs from 6:00 - 7:00.  I go on at 7:00 and the whole thing will wrap by 8:00.

*This event is ticketed with limited seating.

Writer Event Two

On Thursday (April 3), Angie Macri, poet-colleague-friend, and I will carpool up to Harding University. In the late afternoon Angie and I will conduct a workshop with creative writing students, and then in the evening we will read for faculty, students, staff, and, I believe, the public. If you are in the vicinity of Harding, feel free to message me for details about the reading.

I'm super excited to read with Angie because her first book is coming out soon. Fear Nothing of the Future or the Past is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. You should pre-order your copy today. I blurbed this book, and I can tell you that you won't be disappointed!

I can already predict that I won't be back to blog writing this week, but it is on my list of priorities starting in May. As always, I'm thankful to all of you for reading!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Angie Macri: Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Sandy Longhorn for including me in this tour and being willing to host me on here.  Since this is her blog, I won’t speak in introduction of her or her accomplishments, and since I’ve known her so long, I’m at a loss because there’re so many things to say.  So I will say what she might not even realize:  that she is an earnest woman, concerned with not only place but justice, and that is something that comes through not only her poems but her self.  Such a genuine heart is a rarity, and it is at the core of her words.

What am I working on?

Lately I’ve been trying to promote my first book, a chapbook, Fear Nothing of the Future or the Past.  To keep overhead low, pre-order sales determine the press run, and I’ve been trying not to worry about that.  I’m also beginning to plan readings for the book.  My idea is to reach out to small libraries in Arkansas this summer.  I was awarded an Arkansas Arts Council fellowship years back and that is how I thought I might give back to the state.

There are other manuscripts, too, full-length collections.  One is making the rounds and seems well received but not enough to be selected for publication.  One has developed from the chapbook, with those poems as its core.  Another is called Walking Liberty, which explores issues of freedom for the American woman.  And another seems to be forming from poems related to apples and roses.  The pieces come as they may and I sort them when I can.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

When I was studying creative writing in school, a professor told me, you know, successful poets aren’t nice people.  With the possible exception of Bishop.  Bless him, half the time he didn’t even call me by the right name, but what he said stuck so well that my first thought when I saw this question was still this:  the way that I differ from other poets is that I’m not as good as other poets.  I might be nice, but I’ll never make it.

At first, his comment led to efforts to make my work match others.  To push myself to Do What I’m Supposed to Do.  I struggled with that for a long time.  And then I said forget that, I’ll write how and what I want.  Through this liberation, I have written pieces that are mine.  But I still have phases when I struggle.

Why do I write what I do?

My father started his education at a community college.  His first class was in composition, and he had to analyze the poetry of Robert Frost.  My father had grown up in Brooklyn, a first-generation American, and poetry wasn’t part of his world.  He had gone to a technical high school so he was well educated in math and science, but not in reading or writing.  He was being trained for a technical job, so literature wasn’t thought as being important for his well being.  He had lost his mom to cancer and then was lost himself, bouncing around, ending up in the Midwest working in a cannery.  That wasn’t the future he wanted, and he knew college was the key to something different.  But there he was and poetry was alien to him. 

He only got a C in the class, he would tell you, but he swore that if you could understand poetry, you could understand anything.  No text intimidated him after that.  He took his newfound powers of analysis and continued his education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in educational philosophy.  His students’ lives were better because of that one class, and so was mine.

But more important than the tangible success of his education is what I also mentioned:  that after his mother’s death, he was lost.  Poetry was the way he found solace, freedom, hope, even in the face of his grief.  Through poetry he realized he wasn’t alone, and that such communion is timeless and even beautiful.  He never articulated this to me in these exact words, but I realized them through him in time.

He wrote in the margins of his books, and as soon as I could hold a pencil, he let me draw, then write in the margins of his notebooks.  He loved nature and science, art and philosophy.  Nothing was out of our reach, nor why should we assume that it should be?  Such exploration, such harmony, such basis on tradition and then reaction and movement out and back is natural to me. 

These are things I have come to understand as he suffers now with Alzheimer’s.  I write what I do because of him. And I work to honor him and my mother who loves him, and to offer hope, even in the face of this horror.   

How does my writing process work?

It doesn’t work the way that I wish it could.  I would like to be able to concentrate.  I wonder, if I could, what could I do?  But it isn’t in the cards right now.  Working at a community college, teaching a composition-heavy load, takes time and energy.  Helping parent four children does as well.  These aren’t complaints but matters of fact, and I am thankful to be a teacher and a mother.  So my writing process has become the last hour in the day, and not all days, when I read a few poems in whatever book has come through interlibrary loan.  Sometimes I mull over a phrase or image that caught in my head earlier in the day, maybe during my commute.  Then I see what follows.  I use the Notes tool on my iPhone because that way as I’m falling asleep I can still work and not feel like I’m working.  Then, on mornings on the weekends if I’m lucky, or after I come home from a day at work if I’m very lucky, I have an hour when my head and the house are quiet enough that I can take the Notes to the computer and formalize them into a poem.  These are poems I never thought to write.

This isn’t my ideal process, but it seems to be working for now.  And now is all we have.

The next writer on the tour will be Christina Stoddard, whose webpage is  Her manuscript Hive won the Brittingham Prize from the University of Wisconsin Press and will be published soon.  Christina reached out to me about a year ago to take part in The Next Big Thing Interview Series, and reaching out to her now seems like a great way to catch up and see where we’ve been and gone in the past year.  Please look for her responses next week.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Where I'll Be: Tales from the South, April 1, 2014

42º ~ dark sky just barely thinking (what a typo! I meant "thinning") toward dawn, trees all skeleton, the tiny leaf buds invisible in this non-light

In my office at work, there is a 4" x 4" printed piece of paper that says "Just Say No." I put that piece of paper there several years ago to remind myself that it is okay to say no. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Lately, it doesn't.

Still, it's hard to complain when so many opportunities present themselves. Last weekend, one such opportunity sprang up in my inbox from friend and colleague Paula Martin Morell, the creator, executive producer, and host of Tales from the South. Paula had a cancelation and wanted to know if I was interested in appearing on the program for April 1. With that sign hovering somewhere in the back of my mind, I replied "sure!" unable to turn down such a fantastic offer.

For those unfamiliar, Tales from the South is "a radio show created and produced in conjuction with Temenos Publishing Company. The show is presented by The Argenta Arts Foundation with additional support provided by AY Magazine, The North Little Rock Visitors' Bureau, and William F. Laman Public Library.  The show is taped live on Tuesday nights at Starving Artist Cafe' in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock, Arkansas. We offer dinner and a show, and shows are $7.50 admission and open to the public. The night is a cross between a house concert and a reading/show, with incredible food and great company. Tickets must be purchased before the show, as shows are usually standing-room only." 

The show happens once a week, and three weeks out of the month it features three readers per show. The fourth week is devoted to The Tin Roof Project, which "features a well-known Southerner reading his/her own true story," a casual interview, and a Q & A session with the audience. Paula had invited me to be on The Tin Roof Project.

So, I won't be reading poems (gulp!), and I need to live up to the phrase "a well-known Southerner" (double gulp!).  An amazing opportunity and an great writing challenge!

If you live in central Arkansas, or will be passing through on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, I hope you'll consider attending the event. The information on purchasing tickets is linked here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

52º ~ leaden skies, not a slip of wind to speak of, spring buds advance in the face of possible snow and ice in the forecast for tomorrow, this is the winter that just won't quit

Dear Readers, as most of you know, my Midwest, puritan roots run deep, even though I’m now living south of the snow line. It is with much guilt and self-recrimination that I confess to you all that I missed a deadline this week. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I let a commitment fall through the cracks; I can’t even remember the last time I showed up late for a meeting.

But that’s what I’ve done to my wonderful poet-friend, Erin Coughlin Hollowell. Erin invited me to participate in a blog-a-thon, and normally I pass on such things, but this one sounded fun, a series of questions about one’s own writing process. Each person is supposed to answer these questions and then pass them on. I’ve passed the questions to another great poet-friend, Angie Macri, whose first chapbook is forthcoming. Angie doesn’t blog, so watch for her answers here at the Kangaroo on Saturday, March 22.


I first “met” Erin through poetry and blogging. Erin writes at Being Poetry and is the author of Pause, Traveler released by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. You can read my thoughts on this fabulous book here.

With great delight, I was able to make my personal, physical introduction with Erin at AWP several years ago, and I made sure to seek her out in Seattle this year for a quick hello and a hug. Erin’s poems are the best kinds of poems: genuine, authentic, and cathartic. I can’t wait to read more of her work, and I’m thrilled when I find her name on the back cover of a journal or in the preview list for an online mag, flipping/clicking to the table of contents immediately to find her new poems. Lately, those journals include Alaska Quarterly Review,, and Sugar House Review.

Read all about Erin at:

Now to the blog-a-thon questions.

What am I working on?

Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

To clarify, at the moment, I’m experiencing a fallow period. I finished the sickly speaker series and am sending that manuscript around and around and around (on the oh-please-pick-this-manuscript carousel go-round). The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths is alive and well, which means I’ve been doing readings, working with my publisher Jacar Press on getting the word out there, and revisiting these old poems that are suddenly new again. Yes, I worked on the angry sisters for a bit late last year, but they really haven’t stepped up to the forefront again.

All of this is to say, I am a poet in search of an obsession. Blood Almanac and The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths are all about the prairie and the people of the prairie (in the contemporary sense rather than the Laura Ingalls Wilder sense). The sickly speaker broke whatever spell the prairie had on me by weaving her own voice into mine. Now, I’m searching, scanning the horizon for something new.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?*

In terms of my poems about the Midwest, many poets write about place and do it well. When I wrote those poems, I knew I was following in a tradition and I had amazing mentors and models from whom to draw. With that being said though, my poems differ by being about a quiet, some would say repressed, place. Yes, those poems are not poems of rebellion, not poems of trying to break free, as I never felt trapped by that quiet and that wide-open, weighty sky.

The sickly speaker poems, many of which are now seeing the light of day in journals, may be considered different by some as I adopted and adapted the “baroque complexities” of language used by poets such as Lucie Brock-Broido, Lisa Russ Spaar, and Mary Ann Samyn.

*I am a bit suspect of this question, as I wonder about the need to “differ.” Of course, each poet should establish his/her voice, and no one wants to simply imitate others. However, poetry has broken wide open these days to embrace everything from spoken word art to the “difficult” poets. We all may differ to one degree or another, but we are all exploring language through concision/precision and sound, we are all of us attempting to give voice to the unsayable condition of being human.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I read what I read, I know who I know, and I am who I am.

Reading: It is the number one piece of advice I give to anyone who asks me how they too might become a published writer. If you aren’t reading (both in your genre and widely outside of it), you are not exploring your medium. Reading, and listening by extention, expands our vocabularies and exposes us to varying syntaxes. There is as much to be learned about writing from a book by my fellow poet as there is from listening to a spoken word poet perform or attending a play, as much to gather from reading an article from Nature, or even, shudder, Forbes.

Networking: This is not a dirty word and writers need to get a grip on this. We do not exist in a vacuum. Our friendships, both within our writing worlds and beyond, inform what we write. I have many poet friends whose work differs from mine in theme or form, but reading their work and talking with them about poetry (be it in person or online) make me a better poet.

I am: A person who identifies with the land and the weather; this is a direct result of my formative years. A woman, a daughter & auntie, a wife, a co-guardian of two cats, a community college instructor, a homeowner, a liberal Democrat living in a red state, and a Law & Order (the original) and Big Bang Theory addict. And I am so much more. My point is that every part of my life bubbles up and through my writing.

How does my writing process work?

I have to have a largish amount of time (at least an hour but preferably several hours) first thing in the morning. I have to have this time before the cares, worries, and tasks of the day get their talons sunk into me. For whatever reason, after I’m fully interacting with the world, I can no longer set aside my to-do lists or my worries about family, friends, students, etc. to focus on writing. However, if I can get to the desk before any of that, I’m good. I can set all of that aside and just get lost in language.

I need a cup of coffee (breakfast blend, super hot, Silk French vanilla creamer) and a glass of orange juice (30% juice, 70% water, lots of ice).

I need either quiet with just the sounds of birds, wind, squirrels, and the occasional car going by. Or I need instrumental music, usually strings (see Yo-Yo Ma and Steffen Basho-Junghans).

I need a window onto something green and alive.

I need books and journals piled around and tipping over on me. I need my own writing journal and a good pen (currently I’m using a Uni-Ball Signo 207 in blue-black or in red-black). *There can be nothing on my desk from my “other” life, no bills that need paying, no papers that need grading, no letters from friends, no wallets, scraps, or other clutter outside of poetry.

I need the cats to leave me in peace.

Once all of that is in place, I usually begin as so many others do, by reading. I might gather words in my journal; I might stare out the window. Inevitably, something snags in my brain; two or more words smash together like steel on flint, and shazam, a line begins to form. There will then be much scribbling, by hand, in my journal. There may be lines, arrows, boxes, circles phrases. There will certainly be cross-outs and slash marks overtop of nearly illegible words. It’s a total mess of a page. Eventually, there will be lines of words forming themselves into something like stanzas. When those lines gather enough weight, I move to the computer and draft until I “think” I have a “complete” poem. I have found that if I stop before the poem feels “done-ish,” I can’t go back and “finish” the poem. There is a certain organic energy to drafting for me, which perhaps explains why my poems are usually a page or less in length. The long poem eludes me, like the proverbial big fish lounging around in the mucky bottom waters.

There’s a lot about this process that is hazy, but the process is a result of years of work, years of training my brain to shift into writing mode, and years of being alert and aware of the world and the people around me when I’m not at my desk.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How to Make a Reading a Performance

60º ~ sunny beauty ahead of another whack from another polar vortex headed our way later today through Wednesday..."uncle"!

As many of you know, I was on the road last weekend, giving readings with Jacar Press in North Carolina, and then, I had my Little Rock launch of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths on Tuesday night. Despite winter storm Pax disrupting the beginning of my NC trip and causing us to have to cancel the reading at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, the rest of the readings were thrilling, with wonderful audiences and, in the case of NC, amazing co-readers.

During one of my readings, a poet-friend asked for advice on how to read well. I know that much of this has been said elsewhere, but here are my tips and tricks.

1. Think about the poetry reading you have enjoyed the least and analyze why. If it wasn't a matter of poetics and/or subject matter, it was probably a matter of performance. If it was a matter of performance, jot down all the things you would have done differently and implement that list the next time you read.

2. I want to be entertained at a reading. Yes, I know there is a difference between performance poetry (i.e. spoken word) and page poetry, but if folks are going to come out to hear me read, then I'm going to read like I mean it, and that means adopting some elements of performance, first and foremost, projection (of the voice). I'm a terrible actor, but I do remember the brief lessons in speaking from the diaphragm that I received in a college acting class. Those lessons have been priceless whenever I read.

3. If you are nervous about a venue, check it out in advance. The best option is to attend a poetry reading at the same venue before your own event so you can see the layout and watch how things run. In this past week I read at a coffee shop (espresso maker whirring, dish washer behind the bar chugging, chairs scraping, & etc.), at a restaurant with a stage (and a Southern debutante birthday party going on to my left as I read), and in the quiet cathedral of Richard Krawiec and Sylvia Freeman's home. In all three places, those who were there for poetry were amazing audiences. In the coffee shop and restaurant, it was my job to deliver for those who had shown up to support poetry and me. Here is where 'teacher voice' comes in handy in being heard over coffee machines and debutantes alike.

4. If you don't have experience using a mic, find a way to get some. Ask a friend who has access to a PA system let you practice. Ask the venue operator to let you come early for an event and do a sound check. Find out if there will be a podium or not. (I prefer not, but that's just me.) Be prepared to read with a mic and without, with a podium and without.

5. Know your poems. Know them backwards, forwards, and inside out. At every reading I did in the past week and a half, I flubbed one or two lines (in one case leaving out an entire line!) due to sound or movement distractions, but because I had the poems near-memorized I just kept going. I didn't have to fumble to find my place. When kids getting ready for music recitals are told to "just keep playing," there's a reason for that. Fumbling by the performer causes the audience to dis-engage, to check their text messages, to whisper to the people nearby, etc. Don't give them a chance!

6. Practice your performance. Just like an actor would mark up a script, I mark up the poems I will read. Yes, the enjambment and end-stops should be clear on the page, but when I'm in front of an audience, I don't want to have to guess, AND I don't want to have to scrutinize the page. I also make breath marks (sometimes a carrot mark, sometimes the abbreviation "br.")

7. Know the limits of your own eyesight. Many poetry books and journals use 10 point font. In the weird lighting of some venues, especially if a spot light is on you, there can be a shadow on the page. Do not hesitate to print your work out on regular paper in larger font. Even if you have a book, you can hold the book as a prop and as a publicity tool, then, just set it down and read from the larger font. I promise you, the audience will understand.

8. Acknowledge your audience. Try to make eye contact in between poems or in major pauses within a poem. The best trick for me is to locate one receptive person in the audience on my left, one in front of me, and one on my right, and read to them. These people might be friends or acquaintances; however, they are just as likely to be strangers. I pick them because of body language and their own eye contact with me. I use these folks as my thermometer to gauge audience reaction to certain poems and to tell me when the audience has had enough.

9. Let the audience know where you are in terms of your set list from time to time. For example, I might say, "I'm going to read two poems from my first book, and then focus on The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths."  Then, when I'm winding down, I will say, "I've got three more poems for you all." (Be sure to check the temperature of the audience and drop a few poems from your intended reading list if they seem restless.) As an audience member myself, this is reassuring and lets me know the poet is conscious of my presence in the audience. It will also give anyone pause if he/she is tempted to text or step out to use the wash room or the like.

10. Try to have fun. If you are tense, the audience will be tense. If you are calm and collected (or can fake it until you make it), then the audience will give you their trust.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

February: The Month of Travels, Readings, Panels, and More

29º ~ 3 inches of perfect snow, no wind, struggling to get above freezing, our "new normal" 20 - 30 degrees below our "old normal"

The weather has been downright Midwestern of late, but February is marching on, and it is chock full of poetry adventures and readings to celebrate the publication of book #2: The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.

This past Thursday, we hosted Jericho Brown at the Big Rock Reading Series at PTC. It was a spectacular reading, and while a wee bit of snow earlier in the day dampened our turnout a bit, we still had about 50 folks there.

Next week, my travels begin. At the end of the week, I'll fly to North Carolina for the following events.

Thursday (2/13): Flyleaf Books Second Thursday Poetry Reading
Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.

Featured readers at the monthly Second Thursday poetry series will be Maura High, author of The Garden of Persuasions, winner of the Jacar Press 2013 Chapbook Contest, and Sandy Longhorn, author of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, winner of the 2013 Jacar Press Full-Length Poetry Book Contest. 

Friday (2/14): Wake Tech Community College
Visiting Al Maginnes' classes at Wake Tech.  Wahoo!

I'll get to read to and talk with Al's students and also spend time with my po-brother!

Saturday (2/15): Second (Third!) Saturday at Tate Street Coffee House
Tate Street Coffee House, Greensboro, 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Jacar Press poets Maura High, Edison Jennings, and Sandy Longhorn will be traveling to Greensboro to read for us at Tate Street Coffee House on Saturday, February 15, at 7:00pm. 

This trip means I'll get to meet Richard Krawiec of Jacar Press in person and continue by onslaught of thanks for his publishing of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths. I also get to spend time with friends I don't get to see nearly often enough, and I get to meet spouses and/or children I've only known through Facebook.  Wahoo!


Back home in Little Rock, I'll be gearing up for my Little Rock launch of the new book on Tuesday (2/18). I'm so honored to be launching the book here with a reading at South on Main, the restaurant associated with the Oxford American. As part of the extravaganza, my PTC colleague and friend, Dr. Barry McVinney will perform with his jazz ensemble, Trio Cabrito, from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Then, I'll take the stage (yes, there's a stage!) at 8:00 for some poems and some Q & A.

Double bonus...the food at South on Main is deeeviiiiine.


Then, we wind up the month with all things AWP (2/26 - 3/2). Seattle, are y'all ready for this?

At this point, I don't have any readings scheduled, but I'll have copies of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths in my backpack, and a Square reader attached to my phone. Anyone want a copy?

I have one panel, so here is where you are guaranteed to find me. The panel will talk about setting up a reading series or festival at two-year colleges, which present unique hurdles; however, I'm sure much of the information will transfer to community events, four-year colleges/universities, or high schools.

vent Title: Here We Gather: History and Advice on Setting Up a Writers Conference, Festival, or Colloquium at a Two-Year College
Scheduled Day: Saturday, 3/1/2014
Scheduled Time: 12:00:PM - 01:15:PM
Scheduled Room: Room LL4, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level

Otherwise, I'm playing this one by ear folks. If you want my cell number, send me a message. Texting is the best and surest way of planning once my sneakers hit the concrete floors of the convention center.


My one request of y'all, Dear Readers, please do whatever weather dance, prayer, sacrifice, or ritual you do to make sure this winter weather blows itself right on outta here early next week, so we may all arrive safely and soundly, AND ON TIME, wherever it is that poetry/writing is taking us in the days to come.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Another Contributor Post, A Cool Subscription Drive, and More

35º ~ a wicked wind brings the cold in close beneath the layers and sinks it deep...many sympathies to friends and family in the north country...brrrrrrrrrrr

Last year, I was thrilled beyond measure when the North American Review published "Having Been Outside the Body," one of the early fever poems from the sickly speaker series. The editors have given me a chance to say some words about the poem and the project on their blog, and the post is up today.


I mentioned this in November or December, and it is happening NOW. Hayden's Ferry Review is having a super cool subscription drive. Several contributors to the most recent issue provided paper airplanes with handwritten work, in my case with a spontaneous, never-to-be-published poem. If you want my airplane/poem, subscribe on February 3. (I made 5 planes...all with the same poem.) Other contributors and corresponding dates are provided on the link.

Image belongs to HFR, but that's my poem/plane
front and center, nose-dived in, on dusky blue paper.

Holy Poets, Batman! Next week, I host Jericho Brown at the Big Rock Reading Series at PTC. Tons to do before the big event, but looking forward to it in a BIG way!


It is official. I can read mass market fiction on an e-reader, but I have to have a hard copy book for poetry, literary fiction, essays, etc.


For everyone's health and safety, I'll be getting up at 5:00 a.m. from Monday - Thursday only. Last Friday, I was in near zombie mode. Still, I LOVE the quiet and the words at that hour.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Draft Notes: Little One Records the Family History

31º (feels like 22º) ~ oh wicked wind chills why have you sunk so far south?

I have no confidence in the poem I wrote this morning. Zero. None.

However, I am dancing in my seat because I did write a draft. After all, that's what I'm waking up so early to do, no? I have been spending my morning time sending out submissions of both individual poems to journals and of the fever book to publishers. I have been reading books of poetry and journals and blogs when I can. Yet, I really mean for this time to also serve as drafting time.

So, this morning, I started by collecting words from my edition of Emily Dickinson's Selected Letters and from a collection of poems I've been reading. As the words built in my journal, I had an idea and I turned the page to draft a poem. A little waft of hope rose up in me as I've been away from drafting for far too long. Alack & Alas! That draft turned into vapor.

So, back I went to my gathering of words, and slowly, torturously, phrases began to build. There were many false starts in the journal. Then, I felt like I had the beginnings of a solid body for a draft, so I turned to the computer. After I'd typed out what looked like the first stanza (which was tight and singing), the second stanza foundered. So, I put the cursor in between and hit enter a few times to create some open space. I fiddled. I cast about in my word bank. I began to despair.

And then, I heard what came next and how to keep the lines tight and singing rather than lumbering and foundering. Now I have three stanzas of what I think constitutes a whole draft. It features "Little One," the youngest of the angry sisters, and it begins this way.

When our lives are transcribed
into the permanent record,
Little One omits the foreign
courtship... .

I suppose I was in a reflective mood and pondering this idea of both genealogy (family trees in the family Bible, that sort of thing) and how we script our own stories, how much we leave out, how much we cast in the best light possible.

I really have no idea if this one will survive during revision, but at least it is there. And now, the sun is struggling to lighten the gray mass of cloud-cover, which means I must turn my attention to other things.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

5:30 a.m. Wake Up Call

38º ~ beautiful sun for the past few days and onward, even as temps fluctuate up/down/up/down/&etc.

5:30 a.m., yes, it works! I started the new semester with a new wake up time, and for a week and a half I've been getting in at least one hour at the poetry desk before going in to school. See, I've proven over and over that I can't be trusted to focus on poetry after about 4:30 in the afternoon, when my brain has become crammed with all things student-related or committee-related or house-related.

Yet, just like every "how to" article has ever said, getting up an hour earlier provides a brief time of "uncrammed" brain. I learn so slowly, but I learn.

In any case, I've been successful at sending out submissions this week and even making a few minor revisions to poems I thought long since "finished." I've read one book of poetry (split over two mornings) and made my mini post about it on Facebook, and, more importantly, I've felt much more balanced than last semester. All of this equals a much happier me!

Now, maybe I can coax a few poems out into the light.


In other news, at PTC, I'm preparing for our spring lineup for the Big Rock Reading Series, and it is going to be phenomenal.

We start in February with Jericho Brown. Ah, yup, Jericho Brown! If you live in the area, Jericho will read at 6:00 p.m. on February 6th. All the details are on the FB event page, or you can email me for details.

In March, we have a trio of local writers/editors talking about how to make a living with an English degree. We will have Annie Bergman of Heifer International, Bobby Ampezzan of the Democrat Gazette, and Eliza Borne (who should have an accent over that "e" but blogger is bad that way) of the Oxford American.  Woo Hoo.

And in April, in conjunction with the Arkansas Literary Festival, we have fiction writer, Adam Prince, and poet, Charlotte Pence.


And now it is time to go out into the world and cram my brain with school-stuff and house-stuff and stuff that may be the future makings of a poem-stuff.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Contributor Spotlight Up at Hayden's Ferry Review and an Update

35º ~ cold rain overnight, iced down the trees and plants, kept the skies gray all day, rumors of 60º on Saturday

Today, I have a contributor spotlight up at Hayden's Ferry Review. In this spotlight, I talk about the sickly speaker series and about the two poems in HFR, "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country" and "I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep." All thanks to Sam Martone and the other folks at HFR for the opportunity.

In the meantime, I have been successful at making poetry time happen each morning this week. I've spent it sometimes reading and sometimes working through a pile of papers having to do with submission opportunities. In fact, I've submitted some poems from The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths to places looking for previously published poems. My next project is to figure out what poems I have that are ready for submission and send a few out there to see what happens.

Monday, classes begin at PTC, so I must make hay while the sun is shining.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Central Arkansas, You're Invited!

36º ~ a cold rain, perhaps snow this afternoon, the wrath of winter is upon us

I've spent the morning, creating this postcard invitation for the Little Rock launch of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.

If you live near Little Rock, consider yourself invited! All of the details can be found in South on Main's event on Facebook, or you can message me for more information. There will be jazz from 7 - 8 p.m., and then the reading and signing at 8! I'll have books for sale (cash or charge) and I'll be happy, happy, happy to sign for those of you who have already purchased from Jacar, too. Of course, Blood Almanac will make a showing as well.

If you haven't had a chance to dine at South on Main, the restaurant associated with the Oxford American, this is a great time to remedy that situation. If you have been there, then you know the food will be stellar. Not up for a full meal that night, rest assured, the bar is charming and well-stocked, as well.

Speaking of the book, many thanks to Jessie Carty for posting her thoughts here.

Slowly but surely, this "little book that could" is making its way in the world. Wahooooooooo!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Angry Sisters Make Their Debut & Some Miscellany

36º ~ thin gray cloud-cover, temps trying to rise to 50º ahead of the Arctic blast that will send us to near 10º tomorrow night (might not seem cold to those above the snowline, but remember, it's similar to your dips below zero)

The angry sisters have made their poetic debut! I have two poems out in the new Arsenic Lobster, a journal I've long admired. "Penance Assigned to the Adulterers" is from the very beginning of the angry sisters series, so they don't actually make a named appearance. "The Angry Sisters Experience a Conversion" is from the beginning of their story. I can't place the draft notes for the former, but the latter post is here.

I hope you'll read the whole issue, as it is chock full of wonderful and amazing poems.

With this publication, while I have a few accepted poems still waiting to make it to print or online publication, I have zero poems out for consideration. ZERO. This has not been the case for me since sometime around the turn of the century. And while I don't condone the making of resolutions for I have a tendency to perfectionism and can beat myself up quite badly for failing..., I do see the need to get back in the swing of things. Roughly half of the sickly speaker manuscript remains unpublished in journals, and I have a good half dozen more angry sisters poems that could be sent out.

So here are my two goals for the spring semester:
1. To make submissions a part of my weekly routine again.
2. To make drafting a part of my weekly routine again, being open to whatever subject matter may be coming next.

That being said, I foresee this blog becoming a weekly item as well.  There is simply too much to do in too little time. I've already shifted my reading responses to Facebook. My "What I'm Reading" posts have been a great delight to me, and I've seen them as part of my duty as a poet, sharing the work of others. However, having taken on teaching at the graduate level, on top of my community college, full-time gig and working on Heron Tree, something's gotta give, as they say. So, I've started a series of "mini reading logs" on FB. There, I try to summarize a book of poems in 1-3 sentences and provide a brief excerpt. In this way, I retain a list of what I've read an my reactions (albeit a bit less stable and less searchable than on the blog platform), and I'm still sharing the work of other poets.

Also coming up in the next few months will be all things The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, including a long weekend of readings in North Carolina with Jacar Press, a Little Rock launch of the book, and AWP (no reading scheduled, but I'll have copies for sale out of my backpack, no worries).

As for Heron Tree, we've been on a hiatus from posting new poems each week, but we will return late Sunday night (1/5). We are in the midst of reading our fall 2013 submissions, and I'm reminded again of how much I have to learn as an editor and how much being an editor informs my view of the poetry world. Time and time again, pre-Heron Tree, I read comments from editors in articles and interviews. Every time, editors proclaimed that they really did read the submissions with great anticipation of finding publishable material there; every time editors talked about submissions from poets who clearly hadn't read the journal and figured out its aesthetic; every time editors talked about sloppy work being submitted, containing typos and grammar errors that got in the way of accepting the work. And, every time I read these comments, I wasn't quite sure I could believe them. I knew I should believe them, but without the experience, I wasn't 100% there. Now, I am.

We read blind (which I highly recommend to all editors) and break our reading up into "packets" of anywhere from 10 - 20 poets at a time (each poet assigned a number, and each poem numbered sequentially from there: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, etc.). As I open each packet, I begin to read with nothing less than joyful anticipation. After going through one whole submission cycle last year, and being about half way through our submissions this year, I now know the feel of a Heron Tree poem. The Heron Tree poem combines the tastes of all three editors, as we must reach a unanimous decision for publication. I try to read every poem in the packet with clear and accepting eyes. I want to find poems to publish. I do! However, I now see how easy it is to tell within a line or two, or after the first stanza, if something is really, really not right for us. This cuts down on reading time, but it also lets the air out of my joyful anticipation. Lest I be too hasty in my decision, I've got my two co-editors, the publishers of Heron Tree, to catch a poem that might slip through my fingers. In this way, I believe we are careful, attentive readers, giving each poem a chance to make us say "YES!"

All of this is to say, trust it when editors make comments as I outlined above. They aren't just saying these things to fill space. If you want to publish poems in a certain journal, follow the age-old advice: read the journal to be sure your work fits, revise & revise & revise, proof & proof & proof, and send only your best work, being careful to abide by the guidelines.

I report back to work on Monday. The graduate workshop I'm leading starts online on Wednesday, and my PTC classes begin on the 13th. Here's hoping for a calm and productive semester for us all!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Problem of Going Digital (eBooks)

48º ~ bright sun, crisp breezes, all is well with the weather world as the year closes

Today, I have hit upon the one, true problem that I have with going digital, by which I mean switching to eBooks and internet journals.

The problem is this: there is no towering, life-endangering, stack of things to be read. At this moment, three stacks of books, mostly poetry hover over and around me. Add to that a stack of articles ripped from magazines, as well as articles and poems printed from the web, a slippery, slide-y kind of stack that makes a mess of my desk. While these stacks can sometimes inspire guilt and self-admonishment, they are always within reach, and I cannot "forget" that there is something I want to read.

Recently, though, I've been trying to cut down on paper and ink consumption by not printing as many things off the internet to read and by buying more eBooks or eSubscriptions to journals. My big exploration into reading poetry books as eBooks has been with Lucie Brock-Broido's latest, Stay, Illusion. I have access to it, and all the rest on both my iPad and my laptop; however, both iPad and laptop are slim, trim, and easily lost amid the clutter of life. Also, they don't scream "Read Me. Read Me Right Now" like a print version of almost anything else does.

Sidebar: C. and I recently visited a friend in the hospital. Said friend is slightly younger than we are, and when we arrived, he had a few other visitors of the younger variety. When I asked if our friend needed any magazines or anything, another visitor burst out laughing. He reminded me that with a smartphone, which our hospitalized friend had, there was no longer any need for magazines. I laughed along but a little part of me was so sad.

As for my desk and my "to-read pile," I don't know how this will all turn out. I suppose I will adapt to the changes, as humans are wont to do (or not, if we are the curmudgeonly kind). For the time being, I will search for some kind of visual indicator to remind myself of the eVersions waiting for me. Perhaps, I should print out color copies of the covers and tape them to my devices? Any other creative ideas?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Draft Notes: The Angry Sisters Make Use of the Swarm

55º ~ bright sun for basking in, a cold front on the way to knock us down to size

Today's draft came about as usual, from reading, word gathering, and then several words sparking on the page. In this case, it was the idea of "women," "seed," and "city." Of course, the women instantly became the angry sisters and then I had the sound of them "seeding the city," but with what? Well, the husks of cicadas, of course.

Confession: I find cicada husks to be horrible and slightly terrifying and wouldn't touch one unless given piles and piles of money. C., on the other hand, loves them and likes to collect them for the man cave.

At first, the angry sisters were going to seed the city with the bodies of the dead women/girls that are their obsession (those women/girls killed by men either in domestic violence or in those more infrequent stranger killings). However, that seemed a bit too unfeasible, as they are often searching for the remains. Perhaps it was the sound of "seed" and "city" that led me to "cicada" as it does not appear in my word bank.

However it happened, the poem begins like this.

All summer we thread
the shed husks of cicadas ...

The seeding of the city doesn't happen until the third stanza, when the sisters hang their "garlands" at the homes of "straying men."

The poem is in tercets with short, clipped lines that I'm made uncomfortable by.

I don't know if the angry sisters are going to work any more. They are so, so angry and accusatory. I found myself staring at my journal wondering what else I might have to write about, what other obsessions I might have. Nothing is calling to me now, and I'm not even sure the angry sisters were calling today or if I forced the poem out, knowing their obsessions.

In other words, where do poems come from?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Draft Notes: The Angry Sisters bury their mother

45º ~ sheer gray cloud-cover, no wind to speak of, my best window covered with a sheet to save a kinglet bent on attacking its own reflection

Today's draft did not come easy, and I'm sure I know the reason why. I had all the time in the world open before me, and I began as usual, by reading and gathering words. Then, I re-read all the "angry sister poems" that I had worked on (so sporadically) this past year. I fussed and faltered. I picked up another book to read, and wham, I knew I had to write a poem about the burial of the sisters' mother. In one of the poems I'd re-read in the series, the sisters proclaimed themselves "motherless," and that I suppose was the spark.

However, it became very hard to write the poem. The problem is that the angry sisters are a set of peronae based much more on my real life than the sickly speaker ever was. So, I had to keep reminding myself that my mom is alive and well (if socked in by snow and cold!). I also screwed up the process by jumping on the computer too soon.

Ah, well, at least there is a draft. The title bleeds into the first line, which is the reason for the odd capitalization in the title of this post as well. And, the first two lines are giving me fits so I won't quote them here, except to say that what follows the title is this, "in secret ... ." The burial takes place at night, and the last line explains why the secrecy and lack of a cemetery plot.

I'm hoping more reading and more quiet time over the next week will lead to more drafting. I'm hoping to figure out a schedule for the semester to capture more quiet/reading/writing time as well. Oh, the folly of a New Year's resolution!